Director: Gordon Douglas
Writer: Ted Sherdeman
Cast: James Whitmore, Edmund Gwenn, Joan Weldon, James Arness, Onslow Stevens, Sean McClory, Chris Drake, Sandy Descher, Mary Ann Hokanson, Don Shelton, Fess Parker, and Olin Howlin
Composer: Bronislau Kaper
Release Date: 6/19/1954
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Upon locating a young girl in the middle of the desert, New Mexico State Police Sergeant Ben Peterson (James Whitmore) conducts an investigation with the aid of FBI Agent Robert Graham (James Arness) and myrmecologists Harold and Patricia Medford (Edmund Gwenn and Joan Weldon). Thereafter, Peterson and his acquaintances discover that violent, enormous ants—having been affected by the atomic testing of 1945—are to blame for the attacks on a local community.
The quintessential giant-insect movie, Them! should be commended for its topnotch performances, rousing action scenes, and outstanding creature effects—at least by the standards of a 1950s horror picture. Additionally remarkable is the nuclear metaphor presented in this feature, which will appeal to fans of science fiction stories that contain a social or political message.
Though occasionally slow-moving, Them! generates a thick layer of creepy, atmospheric tension with which to absorb the audience. Throughout the nest sequence, for example, the dim-lit surroundings of a foggy, hollowed-out space work to accentuate the claustrophobic nature of Pat, Graham, and Peterson’s inevitable confrontation with the mutated ants—a scenario that would be replicated to similar effect in Aliens, wherein Ripley (also equipped with a flamethrower) faces off against a colony of ant-like creatures (i.e. xenomorphs) while defending a small child.
Also praiseworthy are the mystery elements that enhance the first half hour of this film. Specifically, the early speculations of Graham and Peterson suggest that a homicidal maniac is most likely responsible for the bizarre, inexplicable crimes committed at the general store—a compelling use of misdirection, especially for a 1950s sci-fi/horror production.
During the second act of Them!, the main characters spend an inordinate amount of time tracking down, researching, and interviewing those who claim to have personally encountered the nuclear ants—an aspect that somewhat hampers the pacing of an otherwise exciting and suspenseful creature feature.
Similar to Gojira/Godzilla, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, and other monster movies produced during the Atomic Age, this offering provides a thoughtful commentary on the potential biological and environmental consequences of nuclear testing—a frightening issue for viewers to consider at the time of Them!’s initial release.
Them! is a creepy and well-acted, if unevenly paced, contribution from director Gordon Douglas. Especially terrifying are the confrontations between the giant ants and their human rivals, adding a unique and personal edge to the oft-employed giant-monster theme.
Overall Quality: 9/10
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