Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.
Thursday, July 12, 2012
"A Horror Horde of Crawl-and-Crush Giants Clawing Out of the Earth from Mile-Deep Catacombs!" -- Ad copy.
"You just found your missing persons."
In the desert near where atomic testing took place, several people have gone missing, and a catatonic little girl screams about "Them!" when exposed to formic acid. There are oddly shaped footprints in the sand, as well as strange noises in the distance. Of course, due to the advertising campaign, the audience knows long before the principals do that there are monsters on the loose, specifically giant ants. Sgt. Ben Peterson (James Whitmore), FBI agent Bob Graham (James Arness), scientist Harold Medford (Edmund Gwenn) and his daughter Pat (Joan Weldon) are among the people assembled to combat this deadly menace of huge and carnivorous insects. It has to be remembered that Them was the first movie to deal with this subject matter -- not only giant insects, but the mutated results of atomic testing -- and was fresh, original* and frightening for its day. This was the second early fifties "thrill-picture" for Warner Brothers after The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, and together the two films, both of which were wildly successful, ushered in what became known as the creature/insect cycle of the fifties. [Oddly the ad campaign for Them is just as lurid as the ones used for subsequent big bug movies like The Black Scorpion and Tarantula.] Although there are moments of humor in the film, the general tone is admirably serious [perhaps making it less" fun" than later films in the genre]. Although they are limited in their mobility, the ants look good and scary, and the sound department has turned them into cackling and chittering horrors. The discovery of the missing persons is still gruesome, and the trip down into the giant ant hole is creepy and memorable. An appropriately eerie musical score by Bronislau Kaper adds to the chilling atmosphere. Smaller roles are taken by the likes of Ann Doran [Meet John Doe] as a child psychologist, Sean McClory [Plunder of the Sun; Valley of the Dragons] as a major, Fess Parker as a man who sees the flying queen ants in his plane, Olin Howland [The Blob's first victim] as a patient in a hospital ward, and, Leonard Nimoy [Zombies of the Stratosphere] as an Air Force sergeant. Joan Weldon had a few movie and TV credits, but was essentially a singer. Gordon Douglas had a long list of credits, but Them was his most memorable film.NOTE: For more about this film and others like it, see CREATURE FEATURES: Nature Turned Nasty in the Movies. * The concept of giant insects was first used in fiction by H. G. Wells in his novel "The Food of the Gods," which also had giant rats, chickens, and children!
Verdict: A sci-fi-horror -- and very influential -- classic. ***1/2.