Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Released on June 19, 1954
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)