Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Them (1954) Gordon Douglas

“It’s them all right.” This is another wonderful 1950s science fiction film that spawned many subsequent radiated/mutated creature movies. It’s the cold war era, and this movie was one of the earliest to look at possible effects of nuclear technology, with a good, well-acted cast.

James Whitmore and Chris Drake (one of whom stays with us for a while) are officers on patrol in New Mexico when suddenly they see a young girl (Sandy Descher) carrying a doll, wandering alone in the desert. She can’t speak and has apparently been traumatized. It’s a memorable beginning and you won’t forget her face. “She’s a classic case of hysteria conversion.”

The little girl is a mystery but when the owner of a general store is found dead, with nothing stolen but sugar, the mystery deepens. Here is the coroner’s report:
“He could have died 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.”  Now we have a real murder mystery.

The professionals are brought in, scientists Edmund Gwenn and his daughter, Joan Weldon (how nice to see a smart woman who doesn’t become a screaming victim). They have their suspicions, which are quickly and terrifyingly confirmed. And now, what to do about it? Gween is terrific as the eccentric but brilliant doctor. Before his Gunsmoke fame and after playing the creature (Thing from Another World, 1951), James Arness is here as an FBI agent.

Mary Alan Hokanson has a small role as Mrs. Lodge, the mother of missing boys that may or may not be alive. Olin Howland is remarkable as an alcoholic ward patient who reveals crucial information, along with his repeated line: “Make me a Sergeant in charge of the booze!” And look quickly for Leonard Nimoy as a Telex Sergeant in army headquarters. Noted character actor Lawrence Dobkin plays a Los Angeles City Engineer. Before his TV fame as Davey Crockett and Daniel Boone, Fess Parker appears here in a small but very effective role as a patient in a mental ward, institutionalized because of what he claims he saw.

You will hear the famous Wilhelm Scream four times in this movie so listen for it. The musical soundtrack was composed by Bronislau Kaper, a well-known Hollywood composer with more than 100 credits to his name (Green Dolphin Street, Life of Her Own). Cinematography by Sidney Hickox is excellent. (Hickox made one more film after this and then moved successfully into television.) Los Angeles in the 1950s is the final star of the movie. The settings, including downtown and a river basin, are beautifully photographed.

Viewers today may find the special effects less than adequate, but in 1954 they were nominated for an Academy Award (no individual credited). Don’t miss this movie if you are a fan of old science fiction films. It has an exciting conclusion down in the storm drains of Los Angeles.

“We may be witnesses to a Biblical prophecy come true: ‘And there shall be destruction and darkness come upon creation and the beast shall reign over the earth.’ "
 

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