The Thing from Another World

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The original 1951 promotional poster. Note the "above the movie" billing given to Howard Hawks.

The Thing from Another World is a science fiction movie released by RKO Radio Pictures Inc. in 1951 and considered a classic of the genre.[1] Produced by Howard Hawks and marking the directorial debut of Christian Nyby, the movie features Hollywood's first "space-age" monster and is credited with kickstarting the decade of similarly themed U.S. movies which followed.[2] Filmed in Montana's Glacier National Park and an ice storage plant in Los Angeles,[3] the movie revolves around a group of US scientists and servicemen stationed in the Arctic who investigate a crashed UFO and unwittingly release an almost invincible extraterrestrial lifeform. Loosely based on the novel Who Goes There? (1938) by John W. Campbell, Jr., it was later remade by John Carpenter as "The Thing" in 1982.

Cast

  • Margaret Sheridan - Nikki
  • Kenneth Tobey - Captain Patrick Hendry
  • Robert Cornthwaite - Dr. Carrington
  • Douglas Spencer - Scotty
  • James R. Young - Lt. Eddie Dykes
  • Dewey Martin - Crew Chief
  • Robert Nichols - Lt. Ken McPherson
  • William Self - Corporal Barnes
  • Eduard Franz - Dr. Stern
  • Sally Creighton - Mrs. Chapman
  • James Arness - The Thing

Plot summary

The movie opens in a US military base in Anchorage, Alaska. A request for assistance is received from a group of scientists stationed in an isolated Arctic outpost who have detected, via seismic instruments and radiation-triggered remote telescopic cameras, an unidentified aircraft, weighing approximately 20,000 tons, which has crashed 48 miles from their base. A military team, accompanied by a journalist, respond to the request, and at the crash site discover a frozen spacecraft embedded in the ice. Attempts to melt the ice using thermite explosive charges result in the destruction of the craft, but they subsequently discover the body of its pilot and bring him back to their station still frozen in a block of ice. Unintentionally, they thaw the body, an eight-foot tall humanoid composed of a plant-like material. Despite displaying homicidal behaviour, the scientists want to preserve and study him, while the military personnel want to destroy him. These competing interest groups come into conflict to determine the creature's fate, until finally the military personnel win. By rigging up a section of the metallic flooring to a high voltage electrical supply, the creature is eventually defeated.[3]

The movies closes with Scotty, the journalist, relaying his report to fellow newsmen via radio: "Every one of you listening to my voice, tell the world, tell this to everybody wherever they are - Watch the skies... everywhere! Keep looking... Keep watching the skies!" The final frames, like The Blob seven years later, are filled not with a "THE END" title card, but with a question mark.

Analysis

The movie was released only 4 years after the Roswell Incident, and coincided with McCarthyism and the "red scare", the Korean War, and the beginning of the Cold War. It was released in the same year as another classic sci-fi movie, The Day the Earth Stood Still but the two were polar opposites in how they dealt with Man's first contact with extraterrestrial life. Mark Bourne's retrospective (2003) analysis of the two movies summarizes: "In The Day the Earth Stood Still, a Christ-like man from space, on a mission to save us from our "petty squabbling" and "strange, unreasoning attitudes," is besieged by trigger-happy, paranoid militarists before appealing to the superior minds of Earth's scientists, then flies away having given us food for thought. Meanwhile, all namby-pamby First Contact niceties were torched to the ground in The Thing from Another World, where the worst way to deal with its flying saucer pilot is to let the eggheads trump our men in uniform in the name of some fatally wrongheaded "communication" and "understanding." This taut and entertaining thriller is to The Day the Earth Stood Still what Alien is to Star Trek, or the Rolling Stones to the Beatles."[4]

The clash between the military and the scientist has been a recurring theme in many films of this type, and The Thing... portrays "one of the rare occasions in sci-fi/horror film history where the military is actually the level headed side of this equation."[5] The "brilliant yet blissfully naive Dr. Arthur Carrington... naturally, assumes 'the Thing' is only homicidal because he is misunderstood... [but] as the truly frightening potential of the creature reveals itself, it becomes a race against time to destroy it, before it kills everyone, leaves the base, and reproduces countless seedlings of itself to conquer the world."[6] The movie portrays Dr. Carrington as "driven only by the 'quest for knowledge', his desire to protect the monster, even to the point of sacrificing his fellow humans, com[ing] off as murderously naive. When he says admiringly of the Thing, "Its development was not handicapped by emotional or sexual factors," we suspect that Carrington's was."[4]

Stephen King writes, in his authoritative study of horror fiction, "Danse Macabre": "The Thing... is the first movie of the fifties to offer us the scientist in the role of the Appeaser, that creature who for reasons either craven or misguided, would open the gates to the Garden of Eden and let all the evils fly in (as opposed, let us say, to those Mad Labs proprietors of the thirties, who were more than willing to open Pandora's Box and let all the evils fly out - a major distinction, although the end results are the same). That scientists should be so constantly vilified in the techno-horror films of the fifties - a decade that was apparently dedicated to the idea of turning out a whole marching corps of men and women in white lab coats - is perhaps not so surprising when we remember that it was science which opened those same gates so that the atomic bomb could be brought into Eden - first by itself and then trundled on missile carriers. The average Jane or Joe on the street during those spooky eight or nine years that followed the surrender of Japan had extremely schizoid feelings about science and scientists - recognizing the need for them and at the same time loathing the things they had let in forever. On the one hand, there was their pal, that neat little all-round guy, Reddy Kilowatt; on the other hand, before getting into the first reel of The Thing... down at your local theater, you could watch newsreel footage as an Army mockup of "a town just like yours" was vaporized in a nuclear furnace."[7]

Bourne points out that although "the film's conservative stance was criticized as pro-martial law and anti-science, countering The Day the Earth Stood Still's more high-minded aspirations [such] an argument forgets that the film presents both the Military and Science camps as working pros who [eventually] join together to defeat the unquestionably deadly Big Bad. The soldiers bungle when they follow "standard operating procedure" and verbal barbs fly at the expense of military bureaucracy... If the film is "anti" anything it's rigid dogmatism. The scientists and the military men defeat the Thing only when both throw out their respective rule books and act from situational common sense."[4] Similarly, Kawin deduces: "The film's bias is in favor of [the] friendly, witty, sexy, and professionally effective - Hawksian - human community, and opposed to the dark forces that lurk outside (the Thing as Beowulf's "Grendel"). The film... opposes the lack of balanced professionalism [as depicted by] the scientist who becomes indifferent to the human coimmunity and whose professionalism approaches the fanatical, as opposed to the effective captain and the klutzy, but less seriously flawed, reporter."[8]

Directorship

Although Nyby is credited as the director, Hawk's receives "above the movie" billing and is generally believed to have directed the movie. Hawks is known to have been on set throughout filming, and when interviewed cast members have said "Hawks ran the entire show."[6] Critics observe that "Hawks’ fingerprints are all over The Thing; it is a "Howard Hawks film" in everything but name. Characteristically, the story revolves around a group of people under pressure, who overcome adversity thanks to their common sense, their ingenuity, and above all their ability to band together and work as a team in the face of danger. Hawks was one of the screen’s leading humanists, evincing a simple and enjoyable faith in the ability of human beings to rise to any occasion and deal with whatever crisis confronted them."[9] That Hawks directed also seems apparent from his trademark avoidance of expressionism and frills, and his well-known use of overlapping, conversational dialogue. As is typical for a hawks movie, scenes are staged for efficiency and filmed from an objective viewpoint, typically from eye level.[10]

External links

References

  1. Review at rottentomatoes.com Retrieved 25 November 2008.
  2. Delapa, Thomas Reel to reel - Weekly Pick Boulder Weekly. Retrieved 25 November 2008.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Justice, Chris. Review at classic-horror.com Retrieved 25 November 2008.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Bourne, Mark Review dvdjournal.com Retrieved 25 November 2008.
  5. Review houseofhorrors.com Retrieved 25 November 2008.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Burgraff, Ben Reviews imdb.com Retrieved 25 November 2008.
  7. King, Stephen "Danse Macabre" (Berkeley, 1987) ISBN 0-4251-0433-8
  8. Kawin, Bruce "The Mummy's Pool" p.6 "Planks of Reason: Essays on the Horror Film" ed. Grant, Barry Keith (Scarecrrow Press, 2004) ISBN 0-8108-5013-3
  9. Review And You Call Yourself A Scientist!. Retrieved 25 November 2008
  10. Christensen, David Nobody trusts anybody now: Some views of The Thing From Another World (1951) and John Carpenter's The Thing (1982) MonsterZine.com Retrieved 25 November 2008