Friday, May 27, 2011

On Screen -- Them! (1954)

During the 1950s the effects of nuclear and atomic radiation helped to spawn many monster films from around the globe.  One of the best, with one of the most recognizable sound effects of any science fiction/monster film, is "Them!."  There's a great cast to keep the film moving along and at no time does it leave the viewer bored.  And there are a couple of fun surprises if you really pay attention.

The story begins in the New Mexico desert.  Two policemen, Sgt. Ben Peterson and Patrolman Ed Blackburn (James Whitmore and Chris Drake), find a young child wandering in the desert apparently suffering from shock.  As they investigate where the child could have come from they discover mysterious and unexplainable deaths, disappearances, and property damage.  When the local authorities find strange animal prints at all the crime scenes they call in FBI agent "Robert Graham" (James Arness) to help.  The FBI in turn seeks the help of two scientists, "Dr. Harold Medford" and his daughter "Dr. Patricia Medford" (Edmund Gwenn and Joan Weldon), who are Department of Agriculture entomologists.  As the investigation progresses everyone's worst fears come to light and the search begins for "Them."  The tension builds until the final showdown which takes place in the claustrophobic system of storm drains beneath the streets of  Los Angeles.

All the starring actors do a great job as do the supporting players.  The script and dialogue is exceptional and very prophetic at times.  The elder Dr. Medford quotes "'And there shall be destruction and darkness come upon creation and the beast shall reign over the earth."  And to balance out the serious overtones of the demise of the human race, some dry humor seeps through unexpectedly.  In my opinion the film comes across as fairly believable, probably because the theories seem to be based on actual scientific fact.

As for the surprises, see if you can spot a young Leonard Nimoy as an Air Force sergeant, and look for a quick glimpse of the "Superman building" from the opening credits of  "The Adventures of Superman" (in reality it's the LA city hall) in the distance of a shot of downtown Los Angeles.  And don't forget one of the hardest working people in the business William Schallert in a brief appearance as an ambulance attendant and Fess Parker in a small role as pilot "Alan Crotty."

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