Friday, August 3, 2007

Gordon M. Douglas - 1954 - Them!

taken from

THEM! (director: Gordon M. Douglas; screenwriters: story by George
Worthing Yates, Russell S. Hughes/Ted Sherdeman; cinematographer: Sidney
Hickox; cast: James Whitmore (Sgt. Ben Peterson), Edmund Gwenn (Dr.
Harold Medford), Joan Weldon (Dr. Patricia Medford), James Arness
(Robert Graham), Onslow Stevens (Brig. Gen. O'Brien), Chris Drake
(Officer Ed Blackburn), Fess Parker (Crotty), Sandy Descher (The Ellison
Girl), Olin Howland (Jensen), 1954)

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

One of the better sci-fi'ers to emerge from the 1950s. This one was has
ants that have become mutants because of the radiation from atomic bomb
tests in 1945, White Sands, New Mexico. They have reached giant
proportions between 8-to-20-feet, and are attacking people at night,
during the day the bright light and intense heat bothers them, so they
remain in their nest.

The only part of the film that is in color, is the red letters of the
title. The action starts off in melodramatic form, as a traumatized five
year old girl (Sandy Descher) is picked up by Sergeant Ben Peterson
(Whitmore) and Officer Ed Blackburn (Drake), as she is walking in the
desert. Soon they discover a trailer with the girl's dead parents, and
unusual footprints that no one can determine what it is and the trailer
smashed by a terrible force. No money is taken, only sugar. Go figure
its ants that did this! So you can't blame Sgt. Peterson for leaving his
state highway partner Blackburn to watch the general store that was
destroyed, with Gramp's murdered body, as he goes back to interview the
girl who is too petrified to speak, hoping to get her to tell him what
happened. The ants do their thing with the officer, as soon as Peterson
leaves him. This lays a guilt trip on the sergeant, even though his
precinct captain tells him he followed procedures and did the right

Since the girl's father was a F.B.I. agent on vacation, this makes it a
federal crime and the F.B.I. is called in to investigate, in the person
of, Bob Graham (James Arness).

When Graham sends the footprint to the F.B.I. lab, they send them
father-and-daughter entomologists Dr. Harold Medford (Edmund Gwenn) and
Dr. Patricia Medford (Joan Weldon). She departs from the plane showing
us her pretty calves, as she comes down the ladder, this is enough for
her to get agent Graham's attention for the remainder of the film. Now
Dr. Medford is a real ornery character, in a rush to get started in
investigating his theory to the cause of the deaths. But first they
revive the comatose girl with a concoction of folic acid, as she awakens
startled and frightened out of her wits yelling, "It's THEM."

Back to the desert and a sand storm at night for the cops and
scientists, as Pat is attacked by one of the giant ants and we hear the
frightening cricketlike sounds they make, which is the language they use
to communicate with each other. Dr. Medford directs the cops to kill the
ant by destroying its antenna, thereby it can't see and loses control.
He also tells them we got a national crises on our hands, as air force
intelligence General O'Brien (Onslow) enter the crime scene, with Dr.
Medford telling him that this has to be kept top secret or else there
will be a panic in the country.

What ensues is a story relating both to a biblical prophesy (the world
will be destroyed) and to a science gone amok (radiation will destroy
the world).

Under Dr. Medford's direction the ant's nest is spotted and bombed with
cyanide and sprayed with flame throwers, but two queen ants escape and
fly off undetected, as Dr. Medford explains that this could be the end
of mankind if these ants are not destroyed immediately. They could give
birth to thousands of ants and their strength is 20 times their weight,
which means they could lift a ton; also, they are very dangerous because
they are the only animals other than man who are capable of making war.

One queen ant is spotted by a pilot (Fess Parker) in Texas, who thinks
he saw a UFO in the form of a giant ant flying, but is locked up in a
mental ward so the secret could be kept from the public. Soon one of the
queen ants attacks a naval ship and is destroyed, which leaves one

A patient (Olin Howland) in an asylum, sees them entering the sewer
system in Los Angeles, as he comically keeps telling the military people
questioning him about what he sees, as he keeps saying the following
refrain: "make me a sergeant and give me the booze!" It is these
constant little touches throughout the film, more so than the special
effects, that make this film come to life.

The film ends in fast-paced action after hitting a long stretch of
tedium, as the public is finally alerted to the dangers and the army
goes into the Los Angeles sewers to get the queen ant. By now 2 months
has elapsed since the first ants were spotted and there are scores of
other ants in the sewers. The only catch to the army attacking them, is
that two little boys are in there and it becomes a moral dilemma whether
they should lose their lives for the greater concern of the masses or
should someone try to rescue them, risking the chance that some ants
might escape. It is decided that Sergeant Peterson should go in first
and try to rescue the children, which he does heroically, giving up his
life to get the kids to safety, as an ant crushes him.

This film was intelligently presented, the special effects were
effective enough, and the cast, especially Edmund Gwenn, all provided
fine performances, all this adding up to a really decent and subtle


Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews