Ok, well they can’t all be winners. This time, the 101 Sci-Fi Movies list brought me one that just barely held my interest. I just couldn’t get into it.
It was about giant ants, so created because they came from the White Sands nuclear testing grounds, and the story was a thinly veiled film against the threat of communism, even if you have to give up your civil liberties to stop it!
It’s called Them!
Now admittedly, I am not growing up in the time that this film was made, when such a thing as the Red Menace existed, and the Cold War held the threat of nuclear destruction over our heads. No, nowadays, the threats, and the air over our heads is much murkier, and probably more frightening from some perspectives.
The story actually starts quite well, with a police plane, and accompanying patrol car, cruising the Nevada desert until they come across this poor little shell-shocked girl. When they back track her journey, they find a trailer that has been torn apart, but by what, they have no idea.
As the police, including Sgt. Ben Peterson (James Whitmore) continue to investigate, they find similar incidents beginning to crop up throughout the desert area. The only evidence they have are odd prints on the ground and missing sugar.
They call in the help of the FBI, who send Robert Graham (James Arness – last seen as The Thing From Another World), to figure things out. He’s baffled as well until two scientists, the Medfords, Harold (Edmund Gwenn) and Pat (Joan Weldon), a father and daughter team arrive and start their investigation.
Harold has a theory but he’s keeping mum until he’s gathered all of his evidence, and Graham seems intent on just making at eyes at Pat for the time being.
The team is able to wipe out the colony, but not before two queen ants escape and make their way to the Los Angeles underground! Where they threaten to start all over again!
The Communist threat shown in the film starts right away with the film’s title card, the only thing in colour for the entire run of the film, the word Them! in brilliant red! Then of course, there is the hive mind, of the ants, and the fact that they now threaten the American way of life!
When the army warned by the Medfords and others are warned of the impending threat to the people of Los Angeles, they establish martial law, and the people look rather bland and accepting as the Army just rolls through the city unchecked. Hey, different times.
As a film, I just couldn’t get into it, I liked the first half, when they are actually investigating all these strange occurrences, before they know what is going on, and Gwenn as Harold Medford is probably my favourite character, he’s a little absent-minded, but committed to science, investigation and the truth.
But once the threat is revealed, there’s no effort made to contain these creatures, study them, understand them, the answer is quite simple – we have to wipe every single one of them out. I did like the sequence when they discover their ant hole in the desert, and there’s one giant ant carrying the skeleton of a human ribcage and spin in its mandibles and then just tosses it on a huge pile of growing bones. That made me chuckle.
The ants are kind of fun, giant beasts that make weird sounds. It’s too bad they really didn’t do anything with the ability to carry more than its body weight, but they were fun monsters none the less.
But Medford has the last word on that as well, as he ponders at the end of the movie, what else may be out there in the desert, our atomic children…
This of course, is probably the best known of the nuclear accident monster creations that came from our fear of The Bomb, but I know there were plenty more where that one came from…
Do you have a favorite?