THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD, THE(director: Christian Nyby; screenwriters: Charles Lederer/1938 story by John W. Campbell Jr. “Who Does There”; cinematographer: Russell Harlan; editor: Roland Gross; cast: Kenneth Tobey (Captain Patrick Hendry), Margaret Sheridan (“Nikki” Nicholson), Robert Cornthwaite (Dr. Arthur Carrington), Douglas Spencer (Ned “Scotty” Scott), Dewey Martin (Bob-Crew Chief), James Arness (“The Thing”), Eduard Franz (Dr. Stern), David McMahon (Gen. Fogarty), James Young (Lt. Eddie Dykes), Robert Nichols (Lt. MacPherson ), Bill Self (Corporal Barnes), Sally Creighton (Mrs. Chapman), Nicholas Byron (Radioman Tex Richards); Runtime: 87; Winchester/RKO; 1951)
“This is one of the better science-fiction cheapie films…“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
“The Thing” was long suspected of being directed by Howard Hawks–much later on this was confirmed by the actors. Christian Nyby was Hawks’s longtime editor and was looking to advance his career but had trouble handling the directing chores, which induced Hawks to step in and help his friend out.
This is one of the better science-fiction cheapie films, one that became a cult classic. It is a wonderfully inane film about a flying saucer landing on the North Pole and a superior alien emerging who looks like Frankenstein. The alien will be thawed out by a group of scientists on an expedition to the Arctic Air Force outpost, and then the alien will attack the scientists and Air Force personnel. Hawks wastes no time with any liberal messages about why this creature came here, instead the film has a jovial Air Force crew snappily banter at each other, a sparring romantic relationship develop between the womanizing captain and the scientist’s independent-minded secretary; and, for sheer quirkiness, we see plants as monsters crying for more blood to spawn more monsters. The cast is perfect, their non-nonchalant attitude gives the film its raucous mood and allows the warlike atmosphere between beast and man to be a battle over brawn versus wits.
The film opens with General Fogarty (McMahon) at the U.S. Air Force base in Anchorage receiving an urgent call from Dr. Carrington (Cornthwaite) at his scientific outpost for botanists and experimental lab scientists at the North Pole telling him to send a search party, that an unidentified metallic flying object crashed near-by. Captain Hendry (Kenneth Tobey) is dispatched with his genial crew and with a wisecracking journalist, Scotty (Spencer).
The bumbling military men detonate the found spacecraft but accidentally destroy it, but they capture the alien (James Arness) who is frozen in a lump of ice and bring it back to their outpost to await orders from General Fogarty. They store the monster in a freezing storeroom, but accidentally while on guard duty their electric blanket gets too close and it thaws out. It escapes and kills their sled dogs. But the monster loses an arm.
After the brilliant but misguided Carrington experiments on the recovered arm he sees no blood or nervous system and boldly concludes it is some form of a vegetable that through evolution lives on human or animal blood, and has developed a more superior intelligence than humans.
A nice little confrontation takes place between the Air Force men and the scientist over what to do with the monster. Dr. Carrington wants to communicate with this superior being. He states, “There are no enemies in science, only phenomena to study.” But the military is only interested in the safety of everyone concerned and see no redeeming value in communicating with the alien. Captain Hendry takes charge of the outpost; and, because of his professional duties, he curtails his romantic advances on the pretty secretary, Nikki (Margaret Sheridan). She is trapped in the Arctic with the brainy scientists, until the arrival of the military. Hendry says the scientists are like kids with a new toy, making a big fuss over this alien, and he proceeds to treat them like children who need a father to discipline them.
While Carrington retreats to the greenhouse and discovers the alien was there, he decides not to tell Hendry where it is and goes ahead trying to raise new monsters by feeding them with frozen bags of blood plasma. Meanwhile, Hendry can’t kill the monster by shooting it, so he asks out loud “How do you kill a vegetable?” Nikki snaps back, “You boil it.” When the inept military men try to douse it with kerosene and set it on fire they nearly burn down their building and hardly harm the creature, though they do incur its wrath.
Warning: spoiler to follow in the next paragraph.
The monster comes back to the greenhouse and kills the two scientist doing guard duty. Then, as an ironic twist, the monster cuts off the heat in the building. Hendry now follows the advice of a scientist who suggests they electrocute it with the power from their generator. But Carrington has gone crazy and is clamoring “I want to understand it,” and has shut off the generator. The monster rewards him by swatting him away as if he were a fly. But in its pursuit of blood, the monster steps on the electric trap and sizzles to death.
The film closes with the excited Scottie breaking the story to the world, screaming into the microphone: “I bring a warning–to every one of you listening to the sound of my voice. Tell the world, tell this to everyone wherever they are: watch the skies, watch everywhere, keep looking–watch the skies!”
This is a fast-paced and enjoyable B-film, giving us a feel for the cold war paranoia taking hold of the country at the time. It is about how anyone different is viewed as an enemy, and how there is a sense of isolation for intellectuals in the country. It also shows how rational people are when just trying to do their professional jobs, but they still can act irrationally. This is evidenced by the conflict between the scientists versus the military, with this reactionary film clearly looking at the common man types who are in the military as a better alternative than the arrogant intellectual-minded scientists. The scientists are skeptically viewed as being so different from the man in the street, that they are not to be trusted.
REVIEWED ON 7/17/2000 GRADE: A
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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