Recently on one of the very few groups on Facebook that I participate in, there was a discussion about the movie THEM!, mostly because a very young Leonard Nimoy had a small, uncredited role in the film. I remember watching this film a couple of times as a kid and have some distinct memories about it. So I sat down and watched it over the weekend, with my daughter.
THEM! is one of the first post-atomic SF films involving mutated creatures as a result of atomic bomb tests. Watching it today I was amazed at how well written and produced the film is, with some very good performances by some young actors who went on to star in some major films and television over the next couple of decades.
The film opens with James Whitmore, starring as a New Mexico State Trooper named Ben Peterson, on patrol with his partner Ed Blackburn (played by Chris Drake), and supported by another trooper in an aircraft. The trooper in the aircraft spots a kid in the desert, all by herself. Peterson and Blackburn pick her up and find that she is in a state of shock, unable to talk, or even respond.
Up ahead is a car and trailer, it has been torn apart and the occupants missing. A gun is found, as well as plenty of blood, but no bodies. Cash is also found. An odd print is found in the sand near the trailer; Peterson rules out it belonging to a bobcat due to its shape and being too far from the mountains where bobcats can be found. Forensic experts and medical personnel are called in to the scene. The girl is taken to a hospital in an ambulance. Peterson and Blackburn head up to Gramps store to see if he knows anything.
At Gramps store, they find it has also been torn apart. Gramps rifle, a .30-30, is found bent at rendered useless. Gramps is found dead, in a small basement under the store.
So far we have the makings of a good suspense story. We see a lot of evidence, a lot of clues, but we don’t actually see the source of the attacks until later.
Robert Graham (played by James Arness) comes on to the scene, an FBI agent assigned to the area and put on the case. Soon we are introduced to a pair of scientists, one played by Edmund Gwenn (Dr. Harold Medford) whose voice is recognizable from his role as Kris Kringle in The Miracle of 34th Street. The other is played by Joan Weldon, Dr. Pat Medford. Later on we are treated to a spectacular performance by Fess Parker as pilot Alan Crotty who saw flying saucers that looked like ants, which helped get him the role in Disney’s Davey Crockett. His performance alone makes this film worth watching, and it is a darn good film overall.
Granted, the mechanical ants are a little dated in their appearance, but for the time it was made, 1954, they would have been considered quite good.
THEM! was nominated for an Oscar for its special effects, and won a Golden Reel Award for sound editing. Not bad for what today would be considered a ‘50s B-picture.
It was planned to be shot in color and 3D, however those plans were scrapped in favor of black and white. Quite frankly, I think that was the right decision. Black and white filming can convey some pretty interesting effects, especially when building up a suspenseful feeling, a feeling that color film often loses.
There is a lot of interesting trivia about the film on the ‘net. One bit I found that interested me is that the VB-25J used to transport the Doctors Medford (father and daughter) was the personal transport for a Major General. Being an warbird buff, I would like to learn more about that aircraft.
After watching the movie, I asked my daughter what she thought of it. Her response: “Awesome!”. I agree with her assessment 100%. THEM! is a classic SF/Horror thriller that any SF buff should see.