Review of “The Thing from Another World” (1951)

movie trailer from You Tube

Yummy pizza and a creepy black-and-white movie for Saturday pizza and bad movie night with Svengoolie.

Plot:

At an American military installation in Anchorage, Alaska, word comes that some odd aircraft has crashed at the Pole. General Fogarty (an uncredited David McMahon) assigns the job of recovering it to Captain Patrick Hendry (Kenneth Tobey). Lieutenant Eddie Dykes (James Young) goes with him. He also gets permission for reporter Ned “Scottie” Scott (Douglas Spencer) to join them. Scottie had come around the officer’s club earlier, looking for a story. He’d found a poker game.

A group of scientists is already at the Pole, studying (among other things) botany. Before introducing himself to the science expedition leader, Dr. Arthur Carrington (Robert Cornthwaite), Hendry catches up with an old flame, Nikki Nicholson (Margaret Sheridan), a scientific assistant.

The craft is about fifty miles from the scientists’ outpost. The group finds it sunk in the ice it must have melts when it crashed, only a stabilizer fin protruding. They decide to melt the ice with thermite explosives, which do, indeed, melt the ice. It also destroys the ship in the ice in a spectacular explosion.

(I noticed in the immediate aftermath of this that the humans lay flat on the ground, but the sled dogs stood upright, some with wagging tales.)

As they are about to leave, they notice something else in the ice: the body of a man, presumably the alien pilot of the craft they’ve just accidentally blown to smithereens. Not wanting to risk any more wanton destruction with the thermite, they dig him out in a block of ice and haul him out on a dog sled.

Back at camp, the frozen man is put into a storage shed and kept their under a rotating guard. Hendry breaks a window to keep it cold. The guard gets an electric blanket. The guard later reports the man’s open eyes spook him.

The guy who relieves him, Corporal Barnes (William Self), unthinkingly throws the electric blanket over the block of ice to keep from having to look at the open eyes. (Come on, guy, there was really nothing else to throw on top of the ice block?) He turns his back to the man on ice to read a good book, not noticing the growing puddle of water on the floor.

Hearing movement, Barnes jumps to his feet and fires his service revolver to no avail. He flees and, hysterical, tells Hendry and the others the alien is alive and has attacked him. When they inspect the storage room, they find a human-shaped hole in the ice. To add to the creepiness, they hear the dogs start howling. They rush out, firing weapons at the creature, who escapes. Some dogs have been killed. A severed arm is recovered.

After analyzing the arm, the scientists realize the creature’s cell structure is plant-based rather than animal-based. It has no major organs and cannot be killed by gunfire.

While they debate the implications of all this, the arm twitches.

Thoughts:

I enjoyed the growing creepiness of this movie. As things went on, the relatively small party of humans found themselves under siege by, as Scotty describes it, “an intelligent carrot.” Not only is it ruthless in its quest for life-sustaining blood, but it also catches on to how things work for the humans, figuring out how to cut the heat in the building complex, quickly threatening the lives of all inside.

There is little gore. The attack on the dogs is seen only through falling snow. It’s difficult to make out exactly what’s happening. Later, two people are hanged upside down with their throats slit. This is never shown before or after the action.

Trouble reaching the generals for clarification of orders or for further instructions only adds to the atmosphere of isolation, the idea they really are at the edge of the world. The cavalry is not coming to their rescue. Garbled messages leave Hendry in a quandary. What should he do?

Complicating things is a disagreement between Dr. Carrington and Hendry. The former believes they should try to communicate with the creature, whom he sees as human’s obvious superior. Hendry wants it killed before it can kill more people or—worse yet—propagate. Carrington is wound a little tightly. In arguing against destroying the creature, he goes so far as to say, “We owe it to the brain of our species to stand here and die… without destroying a source of wisdom.” At least one analysis of the film saw this reflecting public distrust of science, which has just ushered in the atomic age.

The cute—if perhaps a little kinky—romance between Hendry and Nikki keeps the movie from taking itself too seriously. Additionally, there are instances of genuinely funny lines among the men. For example, when Scotty asks one lieutenant if he knows how to use his gun, the man replies, “I saw Gary Cooper in ‘Sergeant York.’”

The movie was based on the 1938 novella Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell, originally published under Campbell’s pen name Don A.  Stuart in Astounding Science Fiction. The original story featured a shape-shifting antagonist rather than a plant-based life form.

Granted, the monster is goofy-looking. However, I find that forgivable when there is so much right with this movie. The tension builds. The creepiness is convincing. The humor is funny and silly. I enjoyed it.

In 2001, The Thing from Another World was deemed “culturally significant” and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

More importantly than that, of course, this movie was fun.






Title: The Thing from Another World (1951)

Directed by
Christian Nyby
Howard Hawks…(uncredited)

Writing Credits
Charles Lederer…(screenplay)

John W. Campbell Jr….(based on the story “Who Goes There?” by)
Howard Hawks…(uncredited)
Ben Hecht…(uncredited)

Cast (in credits order)
Margaret Sheridan…Nikki Nicholson
Kenneth Tobey…Capt. Patrick Hendry
Robert Cornthwaite…Dr. Arthur Carrington
Douglas Spencer…Ned Scott
James Young…Lt. Eddie Dykes

Released: April 7, 1951
Length: 1 hour, 27 mins

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."

2 thoughts on “Review of “The Thing from Another World” (1951)

  1. It was a lot of fun. I’d watch it again.

    One question I wasn’t able to answer definitively was that none of the dogs was harmed. I assume not, because they were trained dogs and valuable assets as such. In some of the scenes, the actors are petting and playing with them.

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