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THEM! (1954) on TCM Sat Feb 2

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Dewey1960
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THEM! (1954) on TCM Sat Feb 2

Postby Dewey1960 » January 23rd, 2008, 8:33 am

The 1954 science fiction horror classic THEM! makes a rare TCM appearance on Saturday morning, February 2. Along with the original 1956 version of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, this is my all-time favorite science fiction film and has been since I first saw it at the Royal Theater in Detroit in the summer of 1954. Up until that time my parents had only taken my brother and me to "safe" and wholesome family films and I had yet to develop a taste for the truly terrifying and nasty films that would very soon come to dominate my very life.

I couldn't have been less prepared to see THEM! Despite not being all that interested in movies at that point (I was six at the time) I jumped at the chance to tag along with my big brother and his buddies on that fateful summer afternoon. Practically from the moment it began I was engulfed in fear unlike anything I had ever known; I thought my little heart would explode right out of my chest! By the time it was over I felt as if I had been thrown off the top of a ferris wheel. I just knew I'd never get to sleep that night and I jumped nervously at the slightest unfamiliar sound. I couldn't think straight and I had a difficult time stringing words together to form a simple sentence. I couldn't wait to see it again! I think it's safe to say that I've seen it at least 100 times since.

THEM! is still, after over 50 years, a profoundly terrifying and brilliantly made film, perhaps one of the finest examples of what I like to call "nuclear noir." One of the relatively few big studio (Warner Bros) science fiction films of the time, it is intelligently written, sharply directed (by the otherwise erratic Hollywood veteran Gordon Douglas) and beautifully filmed in stunning black & white, THEM! also benefits from a sterling cast including James Whitmore, James Arness, Edmund Gwenn and Joan Weldon. Each of these actors etch characterizations that are totally removed from the annoyingly stereotypical cops and scientists that populate so many later science fiction films and bring a fresh feeling of authority and honesty to their roles. Bronislau Kaper composed the memorable score and the eerily horrible shrieks that would announce the arrival of THEM! still haunt my dreams.

THEM! unfolds tensely in the manner of a noir crime film and quickly escalates into something altogether different, so much so that it is likely to catch the uninitiated completely off-guard. That is only part of the beauty of this astonishing film. Beneath the trappings of a calculated science fiction thriller lies a thematically dense human drama with a chilling atomic age warning to all of mankind.

I know there are any number of Oasis denizens who already love and admire this film (MrsL chief among them, I believe) and I look forward to reading comments from others who are already fans of THEM! and those who choose to discover it for the first time on February 2.
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f8xSo2MEPzQ[/youtube]
Last edited by Dewey1960 on January 23rd, 2008, 8:27 pm, edited 2 times in total.

Ollie
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Postby Ollie » January 23rd, 2008, 9:29 am

This is one of those films that remind me how irrational and emotional I can be, completely ignoring so many smaller ludicrous events once I've started enjoying the Really Big Ludicrous Event!

For example, seeing an FBI agent and a New Mexico highway patrolman battling the monsters with US Army gear and personnel around them. "Sure, c'mon - join in the fun - maybe some of the hotdog vendors on the street want to join in, too!"

Wearing those great heels out into the desert, too - really beautiful, well-turned legs, tippy-toeing thru the New Mexico sands in heels and hose.

Yet, none of those dumb choices reduce this film's appeal whatsoever, and I've never understood why I can accept a film like this so readily and yet nitpick other films - with no more or less ludicrous points - to death. Is it because I basically like James Whitmore and James Arness? That Edmund O'Brien is just about perfect for that role? He looks COMPLETELY out of place with the mis-placed goggles - and I'll bet that WAS his first instance of wearing those! (Which may be a surprise - Santa might have really used something like those!)

And the girl eerily sitting upright in the back of the ambulance as "the wind" carries the ant-calls. SO excellent.

Are there just too many excellent points that brush aside all the dumb ones? I don't know.

Thanks for the heads up. I have to make sure the popcorn is ready.

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Postby mrsl » January 23rd, 2008, 11:27 am

Yes, Dewey, you nabbed me on this one. I guess I feel like Ollie about thinking this is such a terrific movie when I can so easily tear other mediocre movies to shreds. One of the few things I can reasonably say is that although Edmund Gwinn had been around for a while, James Whitmore, and Arness were relatively unknown , and nobody realized they were going to be around for another 40 or 50 years. The lady I'm not sure of, but Fess Parker sure made an impact.

Just as I have 3 or 4 westerns that I will recommend even though I know the person I'm talking to is not a fan of westerns. Them is a movie I will recommend to people who are not sci-fi fans, just for the thrills, laughs, and pure enjoyment you will get out of it.

Anne
Anne


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Dewey1960
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Postby Dewey1960 » January 23rd, 2008, 12:21 pm

Anne correctly observed: "...but Fess Parker sure made an impact."

Parker not only made an impact with audiences with his brief but memorable part in THEM! but also with Walt Disney, who saw him in the film and, on the strength of it, cast him shortly thereafter as Davy Crockett. The rest, I guess, is history.

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Postby MikeBSG » January 23rd, 2008, 12:42 pm

I think one reason "Them!" works is that, as Dewey said, it is basically set up like a police procedural/war movie, and because it follows that format, the viewer buys into this story as if it were the story of a Communist spy ring operating in the desert.

It is a very grim movie. It threatens children, which horror movies in the studio era tended not to do because of the response to the girl's death in "Frankenstein," and it kills off a sympathetic character. Even the end of the movie is hardly triumphalist.

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Postby Mr. Arkadin » January 23rd, 2008, 6:36 pm

MikeBSG wrote:It is a very grim movie. It threatens children, which horror movies in the studio era tended not to do because of the response to the girl's death in "Frankenstein," and it kills off a sympathetic character. Even the end of the movie is hardly triumphalist.


Well, with a synopsis like this, how can I not watch? :P

Thanks for the info guys. This one will be new for me and I can hardly wait!

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Dewey1960
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Postby Dewey1960 » January 23rd, 2008, 7:40 pm

Mike, your comments regarding how THEM! affects children is key to an overall appreciation of this film. Because even though this is basically designed as a film for grownups, its most vulnerable and put upon characters are children. From the moment we see little Sandy Drescher wandering catatonically in the New Mexico desert it is immediately apparent that something dreadfully horrible is wrong. Much later in the film, two young boys are trapped in the storm drain, seriously caught in harm's way. Whether or not they're rescued almost doesn't matter at this point: the experience they are put through (and the actual circumstances that put them there) is unimaginably terrifying.
My favorite character in the film is James Whitmore as Ben, the New Mexico highway patrolman who seems to be, metaphorically at least, the protector of the small and the weak (think Lillian Gish in NIGHT OF THE HUNTER). He is specifically linked to each of the young victims in the film in a touchingly paternal way; he is the first to approach and comfort the little girl in the desert and the one who is called upon to save the boys in the storm drain. A point is made that Ben is unmarried and, hence has no children of his own. He takes warm delight in hearing that a colleague's wife is expecting another child early in the story.
As I mentioned in my first post, I've seen this film countless times. But it wasn't until many years and many viewings later that it sunk in that the little girl wandering in the desert was the sole survivor of her tragic occurance at the beginning of the film and (as it is casually referred to in a piece of throwaway diaglogue) she has not only lost her mother and father, but her two little siblings as well.

jdb1

Postby jdb1 » January 24th, 2008, 9:59 am

So true about this movie's effect on children, Dewey. I have read all these posts with great interest, but I wasn't able to bring myself to contribute until now, because although I love it, this movie scared the stuffing out of me when I first saw it (and I was a year younger than you in 1954 [and I still am, I suppose]).

There was so much fear and paranoia then (of the "Red Scare" kind), and we were subject to City-wide air raid drills, and public service announcements in the media about A Bomb attacks and all. We little pitchers listened with wide eyes and big ears to the adults around us talking about "the Commies," and we were alarmed, without really understanding. So many movies dealt with invasion and subjugation of mankind in the 1950s, but when you saw one that targeted children, it was really, really frightening.

The calm and reassuring presence of the adults in the movie is what makes it bearable, but how I shudder when James Whitmore bravely approaches "Them!" to meet his fate. (And how everyone in the neighborhood kept yelling "Them! Them!" [and some wags yelled "They! They!"] for months after the movie ran.)

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Postby Ollie » January 24th, 2008, 12:11 pm

I keep forgetting about Fess Parker's performance. And who's the hilarious fellow? "Make me a general!" (Is that Olin Howland as "Jensen"?)

The film's great fearful moments get tossed around by these two funny 'interview' moments, almost like giving us comic relief so we can laugh a little before we face the real terror again.

The opening discoveries of the torn up market, with the bent-in-two rifle, the swinging overlight light and the howling wind.

The film starts off with an atmophere that's just terrific.

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Postby ChiO » January 24th, 2008, 12:40 pm

jdb1 wrote:
There was so much fear and paranoia then (of the "Red Scare" kind), and we were subject to City-wide air raid drills, and public service announcements in the media about A Bomb attacks and all. We little pitchers listened with wide eyes and big ears to the adults around us talking about "the Commies," and we were alarmed, without really understanding. So many movies dealt with invasion and subjugation of mankind in the 1950s, but when you saw one that targeted children, it was really, really frightening.


The Red Scare probably had a greater impact on my film viewing habits than anything else I can think of. I credit it for my continuing fascination with film noir and paranoia films, and my general lack of interest in romantic and musical films. When my parents were building a new house in 1959 on our farm in the middle of nowhere Indiana, once the foundation was laid, I pleaded that they forget the house and just go with building a bomb shelter. That's paranoia.

THEM!, EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS, and 50% of The Twilight Zone episodes gave me nightmares for years. And those school air raid drills sure didn't help.
Everyday people...that's what's wrong with the world. -- Morgan Morgan
I love movies. But don't get me wrong. I hate Hollywood. -- Orson Welles
Movies can only go forward in spite of the motion picture industry. -- Orson Welles

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Postby knitwit45 » January 24th, 2008, 1:13 pm

Judith, how were your school air raids conducted? Sometimes we lined up in the halls, and sometimes we just sat at our desks AND PUT OUR HEADS DOWN, WITH ARMS CROSSED OVER OUR HEADS......sure to save someone in a nuclear blast, right? YIKES!!!!!!!

jdb1

Postby jdb1 » January 24th, 2008, 2:20 pm

knitwit45 wrote:Judith, how were your school air raids conducted? Sometimes we lined up in the halls, and sometimes we just sat at our desks AND PUT OUR HEADS DOWN, WITH ARMS CROSSED OVER OUR HEADS......sure to save someone in a nuclear blast, right? YIKES!!!!!!!


We had to get under our desks, and sometimes, yes, we just put our heads down. In the halls, we had to sit with our backs pressed against the wall and put our heads in our laps. I always wondered why the teachers got to just stand there. The under the desk drills were often done as a surprise, just to make sure we could get under there in ten seconds or less. I can still hear the sound of chairs being pushed away and falling to the floor as we scrambled.

In my early youth we had actual, full-scale air raid drills in NYC. In some of the movies from the 50s where you see a deserted Times Square or Wall Street, in daylight, with abandoned cars, it's footage of the streets during such drills. You had to go into the subways if you could, or try to get into a basement. In Manhattan, most people just milled around in the lobbies of office buildings. I don't think we went into a basement at home (I may not even have been in school yet at that age). But everyone had to stay indoors. Civil Defense Wardens and police would patrol to make sure everyone was off the street. (Remember when all radios had those Civil Defense triangle emblems on the dial?) During the entire drill period, the air raid sirens were wailing all over the City. It was terrifying.

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Postby knitwit45 » January 24th, 2008, 3:45 pm

I was in seventh grade when Russia launched "Sputnik". Everyone I knew was convinced that bombs were hovering. We were so naive, we really thought it would be the East Coast (NYC!!) and Washington DC that would be hit. Who would bother with the Midwest? And I agree, it was absolutely terrifying. I saw "Them!" at the Oak Park Theater when I was 12, and old enough to go to the movies with girlfriends on a Saturday. It was all I could do not to get under my seat.

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Dewey1960
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Postby Dewey1960 » February 2nd, 2008, 6:33 pm

So...did anyone happen to catch THEM! this morning?

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Postby knitwit45 » February 2nd, 2008, 6:36 pm

I DVR'd it, looking forward to watching tomorrow morning (BRIGHT sunlight, no shadows, etc.... :oops: :oops: )


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