The classic 1950's science fiction film of cold war paranoia
Lawrance M. Bernabo | The Zenith City, Duluth, Minnesota | 02/13/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
""The Thing From Another World" remains the best of the 1950's black & white science fiction films, avoiding both the fake monsters of "Them," its ideological counterpart, and the piety of "The Day the Earth Stood Still." I still remember the first time I saw this movie and realized that here were characters who talked as fast as I did. I know Robert Altman and "M*A*S*H" get the credit for "inventing" over-lapping dialogue, but that seems a bit absurd to me after watching the conversation and group discussions throughout this film. I am teaching a Science Fiction literature class for the first time this semester and I wanted them to also watch an example of a classic 1950s science fiction film and this film was my immediate choice.As John Carpenter reminded us in his 1982 "remake," the 1951 version is not even remotely faithful to John W. Campbell, Jr.'s classic sci-fi short story, "Who Goes There?" Campbell wrote of a stranger visitor from another planet who could take on human appearance, so that the problem was that you never knew if the guy sitting next to you was your buddy or the monster. "The Thing" offers a monster from outer space, but with atmosphere, pacing and wit rarely seen on the silver screen. Charles Lederer gets screen credit for the script, but we know know both Howard Hawks and Ben Hecht had a hand in the writing as well (you can find Lederer's original script on line to check out the differences for yourself), and it has been taken as gospel for years that Hawks had some hand in the direction as well (as did Orson Welles according to some). After all, this was Christian Nyby's first screen credit as a director and he went on to direct mostly television series from "Gunsmoke" to "Kojak." Whatever the background of the story, what is important is that this film manages to combine claustrophobia, xenophobia, paranoia and hypothermia into a first rate chiller.The story is relatively simple. Something crashes in the arctic near a scientific station and Air Force Captain Patrick Hendry (Kenneth Tobey) and his crew fly on up to see what is going on. The station is run by Dr. Arthur Carrington (Robert Cornthwaite), who may well be the haughitest scientist on the planet. Just to make things interesting Hendry has a relationship with the good Doctor's secretarial assistant, Nikki Nicholson (Margaret Sheridan, technically the "star" of the film). The group heads out to the crash site, where they find something buried in the ice. In one of the most famous (not to mention inexpensive) special effects shots of all time, the group traces out the shape of the buried object and discover'it is round. When attempts to use thermite to thaw out the space ship only end up destroying it, the crew finds the "pilot" has been thrown clear and frozen in a block of ice, which they obligingly take back to the station and where an electric blanket used so the armed guard does not have to look at that thing in the ice serves as the deus ex machina for getting the creature out and about. Mayhem then ensues. Note: I remember people referring to the Thing (played by James Arness, who avoids monster makeup as the heroic FBI agent in another classic 50's sci-fi film, "Them!") as the "carrot monster" movie because the creature is more like a sentient vegetable than any animal. Unlike "Them" where the military willingly listens to the nice elderly scientists to get the big bad giant ants, "The Thing" has a more complex socio-political sub-text. Dr. Carrington declares "Knowledge is more important than life" and pontificates about how "There are no enemies in science, only phenomena to be studied." Offering a more objective point of view is Ned "Scotty" Scott (Douglas Spenser), a reporter who came along for the ride and stumbled onto the story of the century, who pointedly asks, "What can we learn from that thing except a quicker way to die?" Thus we have a conflict in the group between the scientists and the military men, although in the end it is Carrington alone who refuses to see the errors of his freethinking ways. But more importantly, Captain Hendry is not the true hero of the piece, and one of the great running gags of this film is that he is always trying to catch up with the plots of his crew, especially Bob (Dewey Martin) the crew chief, whether in regards to finding a way of dealing with the carrot monster or trying to get their captain to settle down with Nikki. Another great thing about this film is that the romantic subplot is one of the most unromantic subplots in movie history, having to do mostly with what may or may not have been said during a drinking engagement on a previous weekend. This is one of those science fiction films where if you do not love it then you probably have not seen it, although you have probably seen people watching "The Thing" since it pops up in both "Halloween" and "Scream." Not until "Alien" do we have such a superb combination of science fiction and horror, and I would still pick the simple elegance of this 50 year old film over the special effects of Ridley Scott's film. Just compare two scenes from these films to prove by point: the chest-buster scene from "Alien" and the gieger-counter scene from "The Thing." In 2001 "The Thing" was added to the National Film registry, which is a totally appropriate piece of timing. Finally, remember: "Watch the skies, everywhere! Keep looking. Keep watching the skies!""
After a Half-Century, Still a Joy!
Benjamin J Burgraff | Las Vegas | 08/08/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD...the title conjures up lurid images from the countless 'B' SciFi flicks of the 50s, but as many SF, Howard Hawks, and Classic Cinema fans can attest, this is no sleazy schlockfest, but one of the most entertaining and exciting films ever made, by one of Hollywood's greatest directors.Yes, the credits list Christian Nyby as director, but Howard Hawks was on the set nearly every day, each scene has elements of style unique to Hawks, alone, and even the cast members, when interviewed, have said Hawks ran the entire show. Perhaps, as Science Fiction films were not highly regarded in the early 50s, he felt his reputation might suffer if he acknowledged his contribution; perhaps he thought it might help Nyby's credentials if he were given credit for this masterfully crafted tale. Who knows? But rest assured...this IS a Howard Hawks film! The story, based on John Campbell's short story, 'Who Goes There?', is a nifty, claustrophobic tale of a group of soldiers and scientists in the Arctic, discovering a giant 'flying saucer' under the ice. When the ship blows up during the excavation, the 'pilot', a huge green chlorophyll-based humanoid (played by a young James Arness), is recovered, frozen in a block of ice. Bringing the ice-encased figure back to the base, it is then accidentally thawed out...and all Hell brakes loose!While the cast lacks big-name stars, each actor is wonderful, delivering wryly funny Hawks' dialogue at a breakneck pace. The military commander, Capt. Hendry (Kenneth Tobey), is a no-nonsense boss, respected and lovingly chided by his men, led by Dewey Martin, who constantly try to 'set him up' with a pretty scientist he had 'struck out' with, on a recent 'leave' (Margaret Sheridan). She is now at the base, assisting brilliant yet blissfully naive Dr. Arthur Carrington (Robert Cornthwaite), who, naturally, assumes 'the Thing' is only homicidal because he is misunderstood! As the truly frightening potential of the creature reveals itself, it becomes a race against time to destroy it, before it kills everyone, leaves the base, and reproduces countless seedlings of itself to conquer the world!The FX are low-budget, but very effective, as is the extensive use of light and shadow, sound effects, and an eerie Dimitri Tiomkin score. Unlike the benevolent 'visitors' of THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, this alien doesn't warn of total annihilation as the final option, should we carry our nuclear weapons into space; it's ONLY agenda is to KILL!This is a truly amazing film, one that has aged little, and is every bit as enjoyable today as when it was released.As the tag line to the film warns us, "Look to the sky...""
Back when flying saucers roamed the earth . . .
Scott Grau | Iowa City, Iowa United States | 05/05/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a great movie. The earlier reviews do a nice job of summarizing the plot and characters, and the isolated world of this little Arctic base really does capture the viewer's interest, however implausible the notion of the world under attack by a giant vegetable. What makes this film especially enjoyable is the interplay between the characters, who represent the classic sci-fi melange of a brave military officer, his irreverent but loyal crew, intellectuals and scientists devoted to the pursuit of knowledge even when it places the whole group in danger, and of course, a very smart and beautiful woman who serves coffee because she decides she wants to, not because it's just the thing that the woman is supposed to do. Combine a solid cast with a fast-paced dialogue, and a great visual experience, and you have an entertaining movie that works. Apparently it wasn't much of a hit when it was first released at the height of Cold War tension in 1951, when the Korean War was still raging and people were still talking about flying saucers after the 1947 Roswell incident (whatever THAT was all about!), but it stands up very well 50 years later, especially when it is compared to some of the other sci-fi films of that period (and no, I won't bring up "Robot Monster" here). Great film; break out the popcorn and soda and have fun!"
At Last - The Complete Version !!!
Doug Roberts | Toronto, ON Canada | 01/12/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The Thing (From Another World) has always been one of the best of the 50's science fiction films. Now acknowledged as having been directed by Howard Hawks (although he only took a producer credit to help his film editor Christian Nyby), it contains all of the best elements of Hawks' works - the comradarie of the group solving a mutual problem and the strong woman who invades the group and falls for their leader (see Only Angels Have Wings and Rio Bravo, among others). The movie works on several genre levels, including sci fi, haunted house horror, adventure, war picture, etc. There is even a school of thought that the scientific leader was proposing Communistic ideas regarding The Thing that were resisted by the Army fliers, as represented by their patriotic American leader Captain Patrick Hendry (Patrick Henry?).The problem with any VHS video release up until now has been the deletion of approximately seven minutes of the movie, including the famous bondage scene between Kenneth Tobey and Margaret Sheridan. This was quite significant for a movie that only ran 87 minutes originally but also deprived Margaret Sheridan of enough screen time to justify her receiving top billing. The 50th anniversary edition not only restores all the missing footage (available for years on laserdisc only) but only shines in a newly remastered print. For anyone who despairs of today's "Blood and Guts" sci fi and horror films that have been bankrupt of imagination for years, this a return to a time when a small budget and unknown cast didn't necessarily mean a poor picture. Now that my wishes have been granted, I only have one question left. When can we expect the DVD?"
The scariest movie I have ever seen
Frisco Nolan | Westminster, Maryland | 07/06/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is one movie that really scared me as a kid when I first saw it and still gives me the creeps. I love the actors, dialog, scenery and the story. This movie will give anyone the "willies". Everytime it is on tv I get caught up again watching it. Hollywood cannot make movies like this anymore. The new movies I watch (maybe) once and forget about them. The Thing I can watch over and over. Margaret Sheridan is so cute."