Review of “Them” (1954)

from YouTube

This was last Saturday pizza and bad movie night’s offering. Good pizza and a flawed but enjoyable movie.

Plot:

A pilot (an uncredited John Close) in a spotter plane searches the New Mexico desert for a child who’s been seen wandering alone. Following him in a patrol car are Sergeant Ben Peterson (James Whitmore) and Trooper Ed Blackburn (Chris Drake). When they find the girl (Sandy Descher), she is walking along in her bathrobe, clutching a broken doll. She does not answer the officers’ calls or respond to them in any way. They surmise she’s in shock and call for an ambulance.

The pilot alerts them to a trailer and a car not far away. He doesn’t see any people around. The officers guess the little girl came from the trailer and drive there.

When they arrive, they find one wall of the trailer collapsed, as if it were blown or pulled out. The inside of the trailer is in shambles. They find bloody clothes. This was not a robbery, as piles of money remain untouched. A recently-fired handgun turns up. All its ammunition has been expended. They also find cloth fragments and pieces that match the little girl’s damaged doll. Oddly, sugar cubes are spilled all over the floor.

As the little girl is being loaded into an ambulance, they hear an odd, high-pitched noise. Is it the wind? While they look elsewhere, the little girl sits bolt upright.

Thoughts:

The opening scenes of the movie are creepy, long before there’s a hint of danger. The viewer sympathizes with the little girl, wandering around in the desert by herself, clutching her broken doll. What has happened to her? What scared her so badly?

Later, it becomes apparent that her entire family is dead, and she must have witnessed their deaths. It’s not clear whether Sgt. Peterson has children, but he immediately takes care of her. He fits the pieces of her doll together, confirming the worst. It won’t be the last time he acts to protect a stranger’s children.

Finding the trailer and later a wrecked drugstore adds the air of creepiness. A wall in the drugstore has been ripped out, like the wall of the trailer. With a windstorm blowing, the lights sway inside the store. A radio news program blares. There’s no sign of life. Once again, there’s sugar all over the floor—this time from a knocked-over barrel.

A couple of things detracted from the nice creepy atmosphere. First was the sight of the ant-monsters. They’re supposed to be nine to twelve feet long. They just looked… goofy. There’s no other word for it. I suppose it’s hard to come up with a convincing nine-foot ant, so I won’t belabor the point.

However, when the viewer first sees scientist Dr. Patricia Medford (Joan Weldon) descending the ladder from the military plane that brings her and her scientist father (Edmund Gwenn) to New Mexico, her skirt gets caught on something, exposing her legs. This gives everyone a chance to ogle her. The first view of the giant ant head appearing over a hill is above Pat’s head. Of course, she’s initially oblivious. When she does see it, she screams, then starts running away in a skirt and heels. She falls. Twice. Oh, dear. What a clumsy, hysterical little girl. She needs someone big and strong like Sheriff Matt Dillon—I mean, Agent Graham—to watch out for her. Later, when scientific knowledge is required, Pat gets a chance to stand up to him.

Having said all that, I have to add this is overall a solid, engaging film. The viewer cares about the characters. Some thought went into the plot. Except for a single scene where an ant plays with a human ribcage, the ants are scarier off-screen than on. It’s the first of the radiation-induced giant bug flicks.

One treat is a few brief appearances by actors who would become well-known for different roles. Fess Parker is a gung-ho Air Force pilot who would later go on to play both Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone. As a resident of California, I remember him from jury duty orientation films. Dick York, the first Darrin Stephens on the television show Bewitched, shows up in a don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-it part. Another don’t-blink goes to Leonard Nimoy, he of “Live long and prosper” fame.

I liked this movie, goofy ants and all.


Title: Them (1954)

Directed by
Gordon Douglas

Writing Credits
Ted Sherdeman…(screenplay)
Russell S. Hughes…(adaptation) (as Russell Hughes)
George Worthing Yates…(story)

Cast (in credits order)
James Whitmore…Sgt. Ben Peterson
Edmund Gwenn…Dr. Harold Medford
Joan Weldon…Dr. Patricia Medford
James Arness…Robert Graham
Onslow Stevens…Brig. Gen. Robert O’Brien

Released: June 19, 1954
Length: 1 hour, 34 minutes

Published by 9siduri

I have written book and movie reviews for the late and lamented sites Epinions and Examiner. I have book of reviews of speculative fiction from before 1900, and short works in publications such Mobius, Protea Poetry Journal, and, most recently, Wisconsin Review and Drunken Pen Writing. I'm busily working away on a book of reviews pulp science fiction stories from the 1930s-1960s. It's a lot of fun. I am the author of the short story "Always Coming Home," a chapbook of poetry titled "Sotto Voce," and a collection of reviews of pre-1900 speculative fiction, "By Firelight."

3 thoughts on “Review of “Them” (1954)

    1. It was a lot of fun. Yes, the big bug films do tend to blend together. Big bug usually eats people. Resists the usual means of destruction. Finally have to call out the Marines. Have to keep them from having larvae. Usually goes out in a blaze of glory.

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