Them!

 

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THEM! summons up an affectionate smile of recalled childhood delight-chill from all who saw it as youngsters, and retains effect decades after its–or rather, their—first creepy assault in distant 1954. Radioactively-mutated giant ants emerge from their desert nest and colonize the storm drains of Los Angeles. Flight’s not going to work, so Fight is our only option. You cannot negotiate with ‘Them’. Get the Army on the horn: maybe they’ll have better luck with homegrown critters than they did with War Of The Worlds equally merciless Martians.

CORONER :I finished the autopsy on Gramps Johnson. Do you want it technical or plain? TROOPER: Just plain, Doc. Get to the verb.  CORONER: Well, Old Man Johnson could’ve died in any one of five ways: His neck and back were broken, his chest was crushed, his skull was fractured… and here’s one for Sherlock Holmes – there was enough formic acid in him to kill twenty men.

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Tautly directed by unheralded action journeyman Gordon Douglas, the best and most famous of 66 features he held the reins on, this sci-fi thriller clocks in at an efficient 94 minutes, and doesn’t dawdle with the sort of twiddle-thumbs/who-cares? romance sap tacked into many of the eras monster fests. Really, did we halt play on a sunny afternoon or stay up late on Saturday night to watch some dork make goo-goo eyes at a lady scientist/reporter/professors daughter?  No, we wanted tarantulas, scorpions and lizards–and grasshoppers in a pinch–and we wanted ’em big and hungry. Since we still trusted the government, the FBI and the Army, we wanted flamethrowers and artillery, too. Bring it on, amok nature!

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The doomsday dawn of the Atomic Age fed dread, and this movie is handled with enough smarts to make acceptable that maybe repeated tests of amazing colossal bombs  (dirty ones to boot) might have unintended consequences. It’s one thing to let the insidious Russkies and the lunatic Red Chinese know we can stand and deliver, but this whole 12-foot tall, 3-ton, armor-plated, formic acid-injecting, carnivorous insect issue makes one rethink the benefits of a military-industrial complex.  Simply put, if it has something called a ‘thorax’, stings, bites and lives in a hive, then dry-run those H-bombs in something safe—like the ocean.  What possibly harmful could rise from the depths there?

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Douglas lucked out by having good actors like Edmund Gwenn and James Whitmore, playing it straight, with a no-nonsense James Arness and a steady Joan Weldon keeping it focused.

Good-as-it-got special effects mock-ups of the big bugs work quite well, complete with fearsome mandibles and hairy antennae (“hit the antennae!”). Super-cool are the matchlessly eerie sound effects, high-pitched and pulsating hackle-raisers, which were recordings of a chorus of tree frogs (hell, leave them alone, too, then!).

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Smartly played as a detective mystery for the first third, building tension from the very start. The immortal moppet, vacant-eyed and shrieking, is Sandy Descher, and the ants also gave us Davy Crockett after Walt Disney screened the film and was taken by a bit player named Fess Parker.

Along with Onslow Stevens and Sean McClory, showing up in uncredited gigs are Leonard Nimoy, Dub Taylor, John Beradino, Willis Bouchley, Ann Doran, Richard Deacon and William Schallert.

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A classic and a hit, bringing in $2,200,000 and an Oscar nomination for Special Effects. Great scenes: the opener at the ransacked store in the duststorm; one of Them casually tossing aside a lunch snack of a clean-picked rib cage; the battle in the storm drain.

We leave you foolish mortals with a warning: “We may be witnesses to a Biblical prophecy come true – ‘And there shall be destruction and darkness come upon creation, and the beasts shall reign over the earth.

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2 thoughts on “Them!

  1. barely remember this one, and after your great write up I have to try to watch it again after over 50 years since last seen.
    great job Mark.

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