Cinema Monolith

Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.

Them!

Cinema Monolith: 9/10 This film is part of the Cinema Monolith collection!
IMDb: 7.2/10
Popcorn Nights: 8.2/10

Released on June 19, 1954
Not rated
94 minutes

Directed by Gordon Douglas

Written by Ted Sherdeman and Russell S. Hughes

Cast: James Whitmore, Edmund Gwenn, Joan Weldon, James Arness, Richard Deacon, Leonard Nimoy, Dub Taylor, John Beradino, Fess Parker, Onslow Stevens, William Schallert, Willis Bouchey, Sandy Descher

Superior Warner Bros. science fiction of the 1950s, and by far the best of the spate of mutant insect films of the era. As silly as the idea of giant marauding ants may seem, this was truly a well-made, serious, and at times frightening presentation, that begins as if it were a crime mystery, then slowly morphs into pure science fiction, as a colony of monstrous, irradiated ants are discovered in a New Mexico desert, at first wreaking havoc in the area, then quickly making their way west towards California, where they’re discovered nesting deep in a Los Angeles storm drain.

Hats off to director Gordon Douglas and screenwriters Ted Sherdeman and Russell Hughes, who went out of their way to make sure everything about the film focused on realism, as if the situation were an actual threat; there was an ominous tone to every scene, and Douglas’s stellar use of the camera and building sense of tension had you believing every minute of it. Same goes for the actors, who never regarded the material as beneath them; they played it as stone-cold real, and if you keep your eyes on James Whitmore and Edmund Gwenn, you’ll get a good sense of what I’m talking about.

Snicker all you want at the so-called antiquity of the ant effects, but I’d say for the 1950s, they were surprisingly well done, and unsettling as anything seen before or since. The filmmakers were smart in keeping the creature appearances to a minimum, but that’s not to say the life-size ant models weren’t effective; paired with the nerve-jangling screech of the ant ‘voice’ (which was actually a recording of tree frogs!), the image of these nightmare monsters delivered a jolt even today, and credit again should go to the director for filming scenes for visual dramatic impact.

Even before the ants were revealed (a truly bowel-loosening encounter if you can imagine yourself in Joan Weldon’s shoes), Douglas kept you nervous with shots of ravaged buildings, dust storms, mysterious footprints, and most chilling for me, a catatonic child walking a straight line across a barren desert landscape, a battered doll clutched tightly in her arm. With top-notch direction, a story efficiently and expertly told, spooky images, and science mixed with scares, Them! is truly a classic monster movie, and a cautionary tale of the dangers of atomic testing; if you’re a fan of sci-fi cinema both entertaining and intelligent, be sure to check this one out.  (9/10)

Them!

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4 comments on “Them!

  1. Popcorn Nights
    4/15/13

    I saw this a long time ago as a kid and loved it. Your review makes me want to go back and watch it again as soon as possible!

    • Todd Benefiel
      4/15/13

      Yes, you must watch it again! It had been years since I’d last seen it, and this recent ‘critical’ viewing helped me to see just how well-made and well-directed it was. Besides that, it’s a heck of a lot of fun. Maybe this should be your #0030 review, eh?

      • Popcorn Nights
        4/16/13

        I’ve got it queued up now, so will try and watch later this week. Cheers!

      • Todd Benefiel
        4/16/13

        Have fun, Stu! Can’t wait to read your review!

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