Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, April 18, 2013


The alien advances upon the earthlings

THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951). Director: Christian Nyby. Produced by Howard Hawks.

"An intellectual carrot. The mind boggles."

Scientists and military men at an Arctic research station discover a spaceship buried under the ice, but when their attempts to free it only cause its destruction, they find that one of its occupants was thrown clear and is frozen. The alien accidentally defrosts and causes havoc ... The first film version of John W. Campbell's classic short story "Who Goes There?" isn't especially faithful but was very influential on science fiction films to come. Why have I never been carried away by the movie, despite the fact that it isn't half-bad and has some interesting elements? The big problem for me is that everyone is so casual -- there's no sense of fear or terror; the Army is in flippant control [even when they're not] and that's that, perhaps making this more of an action film (without that much action) than a horror flick. There are a couple of quick eerie shots of James Arness as the creepy alien monster, but the movie is never very scary. The shape-shifting alien of the story has been replaced by an interesting enough vegetable being that subsists on blood, and grows others of its kind from seeds beneath its fingernails. [The gruesome moments, such as the Thing hanging up victims in the greenhouse to use their blood to feed the seedlings, are described but never seen; too bad.]

In one of his very few leading roles, Kenneth Tobey is perfectly okay as the stalwart Captain Pat Hendry, although it's interesting that Crew Chief Bob (Dewey Martin) seems more intelligent. Margaret Sheridan is likewise okay if nothing special as "Nikki," a secretary who dallies with Pat; she had few credits. Robert Cornthwaite does the best he can with the rather silly role of Dr. Carrington, whose theories about the alien seem poorly thought out and who is the stereotype of the cold scientific moronic "intellectual," another serious flaw in the film. Douglas Spencer as "Scotty," the reporter, is simply irritating. George Fenneman and Paul Frees are cast as other scientists, and Robert Nichols is pudgy Lt. MacPherson. Dimitri Tiomkin's music is a plus, although there are times it gets a little hokey.

The movie was remade twice as The Thing (1982) and again as The Thing in 2011, which served as a prequel to the 1982 version. Both were more faithful to the original story, although not without flaws.

Verdict: Okay, but something's missing ... **1/2.


Gary said...

What's missing may be in the viewer not bringing enough open innocence to "Thing From Another World." An acceptance of the characters as uncontrived and easily presented, and the premise that a group of professionals working at a remote scientific lab would be slow to yield to panic. My view of the film is that it is, even though made in the fifties, one of the purest, best, and most memorably effective SF film stories ever made. A classic. (However, every audience member brings separately suiting reactions.)

William said...

I understand what you're saying and you make good points, but I've always felt "Thing" lacks tension and terror -- not good for what is essentially a horrific premise -- and that great "sense of wonder;" no one seems terribly awed that they actually have a visitor from the stars among them.

Let's just say that while I can appreciate its good points it's never fully worked for me and leave it at that.

Thanks for your comment.

Gary R. said...

I have to agree with the other Gary's general assessment. Also, I don't think the film's intent is one of horror as much as suspense, which it certainly supplies. There are "shock" moments, however, such as the discovery of the dead husky and the abrupt doorway appearance of the Thing. Actually, the latter scene caused an adult friend to jump in his seat at a first (fairly recent) viewing! The "casual" efficiency of a group working together for a common purpose was a recurring Howard Hawks theme, so not surprising to see in the film. I wouldn't describe the first crewman's reaction to the defrosted Thing as casual, though. Among the cast, one standout for me is John Dierkes, only because his role as a respectable scientist was very atypical for the actor.

William said...

I think "The Thing" is one of those movies that works for some viewers and doesn't quite work for others. Even when I first saw it as a child I thought there was something ... missing. Maybe because it's always been seen as somehow superior to cheap "creature features" and monster flicks, but -- to me at least -- it isn't. But everyone gets a different impression. I'd love to know what the two Garys thought of the remakes.

Your comments are much appreciated.