Eve Of The War

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Author:  Alland [ Sat Dec 09, 2006 12:46 am ]
Post subject:  Them!

This sci fi/horror movie from the Fifties is still a classic. Giant ants, created by nuclear testing and rampaging in the US Southwest: the premise alone will excite you. And it was also an example of excellent directing, as the movie is scary even though it used inferior special effects for the monster ants. Having them in the dark or off-screen as often as possible was a clever move.

Favorite scenes:

1) When James Whitmore's police partner is left alone in the ruined grocery store, and slowly stalks outside to investigate the weird sounds. The scene ends with the sound of gunshots and his own screams, to be replaced by the weird noises once again.

2) When the heroes' headquarters gets the news of an ant nest hatching out on board a ship, and the camera zeroes in to give a close-up of the military man listening to the bizarre and terrible news as he types it out.

3) When Los Angeles is placed under martial law. Even as the authorities are explaining things live on the news, convoys of troops are seen moving through the streets of LA.

A few cameos to look for:

1) At the headquarters scene where a young officer rermarks on a recent report from Texas with a comment about Texas tall tales. That officer was played by Leonard Nimoy: "Mr. Spock" from the original "Star Trek" series and I don't know how many movies.

2) Fess Parker, TV's Daniel Boone and Disney's Davy Crockett, playing Scotty, the pilot who claimed a run-in with "flying saucers that looked like ants".

3) Bald, bespectacled Richard Deacon, whose main claim to fame was being a cast member in the original "Dick Van Dike Show", as a reporter at the beginning of the martial law report, asking why there was a special press conference being held on a Sunday afternoon. Hitchcock horror fans may also remember seeing him, minus his glasses but with a mustache, in "The Birds", as a neighbor of Rod Taylor's character telling Tippi Hendren where he went for the weekend, and would she please take that birdcage full of lovebirds with her when she leaves. The only other time I've ever seen him was a bit part near the end of the Jerry Lewis movie "Who's Minding the Store?", as a bald guy who literally flips his wig and loses it to an out-of-control vacuum cleaner. (That film's a classic as well, albeit in comedy, and I can't BELIEVE it isn't out in DVD yet!)

Author:  morrisvan [ Mon Dec 11, 2006 8:49 pm ]
Post subject: 

Oh yes I remember "Them". It used to be on TV regularly, and I do recall it went out one evening as part of a sci-fi season at 7pm! My favourite scenes involve the little girl; first seen wandering the desert in her dressing gown, carrying her broken doll and her eyes and mouth wide open. Later when the strange chirping is first heard the police and ambulance crew turn in it's direction: puzzled by what it is. Unnoticed the girl sits up in the back of the ambulance with a look of horror on her face.

"Them" works because of it's realistic, near documetary style which was common of British sci-fi films of the same period ("Seven Days to Noon" "The Day the Earth Caught Fire" and the "Quatermass" films being the best known examples) and that it starts off as a straight-forward thriller and little disconcerting touches are gradulary worked in: the traumatised girl, the wrecked caravan, the ransacked store and the disapperances. It's four principals also give no-nonsense performances. James Whitmore has a stocky toughness that adds to the reality while Joan Wheldon is not the shrinking violet of fifties sci-fi. I've always been surprised that James Arness is embarressed by his genre credits as next to "Gunsmoke," "Them" and "The Thing" are his best known film credits. You don't forget Edmund Gwenn; perhaps one of the finest and underatted film actors with extensive credits both in Britain and America. Joan Wheldon recalled that he was crippled with arititus throughout the film but he seems surprisingly agile for a man in his late seventies. Look at the way he runs after Whitmore, shouting instructions when the first ant appears.

There are also some marvellous lines of hard-boiled dialogue. "I think we've found your missing persons" Wheldon says grimly after seeing an ant deposit a rib cage on to a pile of bones. And when the frightend girl's missing father turns out to be with the FBI there's the line: "Get on to the FBI and tell them their man's just had his holiday extended: indefinitely."

If you have the DVD of "Them" then there are some interesting outtakes mainly of the props being set up and test shots. One is of the ant emerging from the tunnel just after Whitmore and Arness are dropping gas bombs down it. You can see the rods supporting the prop and also a bellows. At the end the camera pans up to see the crew in what looks like the studio.

Happy to discuss any more sci-fi and horror classics.

Author:  Lonesome Crow [ Tue Dec 12, 2006 9:36 pm ]
Post subject: 

:lol: that reminds me of a classic Flash Gordon line, There's a space-craft chase scene and someone, probably the Captain or Flash says "shovel on more Uranium" as if it were coal. :lol:

Author:  Alland [ Wed Dec 20, 2006 12:55 am ]
Post subject: 

THAT reminds me of the technology in "The Space Beyond", the title story in a trio of unrelated sci fi short stories written by the late giant John Wood Campbell, Jr. (editor of ASTOUNDING STORIES during the "Golden Age" of the late Thirties and early Forties, and author of "Who Goes There?" the short story inspiration for both movie versions of "The Thing". In "The Space Beyond" itself, his characters assume that atomic energy merely burns atoms as though they were coal (the stories were written in the 1930s, then lost until the Seventies and finally printed). Humanity had found a more powerful energy source called "The Eternal Flame", or simply the Flame for short, which burned iron as fuel. In a way, that's better, as iron is far commoner on Earth than uranium.

Author:  Lonesome Crow [ Wed Dec 20, 2006 8:04 pm ]
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That's what I like about Wells, at least he tried to apply a little scientific knowledge to his stories, quite often that science hasn't stood the test of time, such as the 'nebular hypothesis' but at least he was up with the science of the day.

Author:  Loz [ Wed Dec 20, 2006 10:20 pm ]
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Them is a great film. It has Joan Collins in it. But Phase IV is the best inteligent ant movie ever.

Author:  Lonesome Crow [ Thu Dec 21, 2006 9:32 pm ]
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Loz wrote:
Them is a great film. It has Joan Collins in it. But Phase IV is the best intelligent ant movie ever.

Agreed, there is some wonderful photography in that film.

Author:  Alland [ Fri Dec 22, 2006 12:22 am ]
Post subject: 

Joan Collins? I think you're thinking of "The Empire of the Ants". Oddly enough, THAT movie was based on an H.G. Wells short story, though the filmmakers only used the title and the concept of ants threatening humans. I've read the original story: the ants were only a couple inches long, but they were intelligent, wore uniforms, and fought with spears made of solidified poison. The story took place in Brazil, with settlers in the interior gradually being driven out by the ants, and the government sent in a gunboat to do what it could. Since this was long before the development of pesticides, there was nothing they could do, and the story ended inconclusively.

Author:  morrisvan [ Fri Dec 22, 2006 10:57 pm ]
Post subject: 

I had the misfortune to see "Empire of the Ants on television years ago. It was produced by Bert I Gordon who is best known for the fifties sci-fi film "War of the Colossal Beast" and whose films are characterised for being done on the cheap and looking tatty. As for Joan Collins, I'm amazed that in a career lasting over fifty years she's never once given a standout performance.

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