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From the DVD case: Arctic researchers discover a huge, frozen spaceling inside a crash-landed UFO, then fight for their lives after the murderous being (a pre-Gunsmoke James Arness) emerges from icy captivity. Will other creatures soon follow? The famed final words of this film are both warning and answer: “Keep watching the skies!” (1951, b&w)

Mark says: It would be difficult to find a vintage sci-fi movie enthusiast who doesn’t rate this film as one of his favorites. Not only is it a fantastic story (based on John W. Campbell Jr’s Who Goes There?) but it is supported with capable acting and excellent overlapping dialog that keeps the plot moving. The Arctic setting gives the film a powerful sense of isolation, even more than the desert motif used in many later films of the genre.

Kenneth Tobey (It Came from Beneath the Sea, The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms) stars as competent military man, Captain Patrick Hendry. This is easily my favorite role for Tobey. He is so strong in his portrayal that a myriad of sci-fi films of the 50s also incorporated “Tobey-type” military heroes into their stories.

Capt. Hendry’s love interest is Margaret Sheridan playing the role of Nikki. She’s smart and courageous and a fine match for the Captain.

Douglas Spencer (This Island Earth) is Scotty, a newspaper man. Spencer gets some of the best lines in the film, including the famous warning at the conclusion.

Robert Cornthwaite (The War of the Worlds) is the lead scientist, and generally unlikable guy, Dr. Carrington. His passion for science and knowledge puts the entire party at risk. In his own words, “Knowledge is more important than life.”

James Arness (Them!) plays The Thing. Special effects for the creature are unimpressive, but the film compensates by not showing clear shots of the monster. Rather than detracting from the picture, this adds to the mystery of the beast. It also helps build the already superb use of suspense established in the movie.

You will recognize several of the other cast from sci-fi films made later. Of special note is Paul Frees in the role of Dr. Vorhees. If his face doesn’t look familiar, you’ll remember his voice work in such sci-fi classics as Earth vs. the Flying Saucers and The War of the Worlds.

It has always been my feeling that one of the great moments in sci-fi movie history is when the exploration party spread out to determine the size and shape of the craft they find under the ice. That silent moment when they realize they’ve discovered a flying saucer is pure science-fiction gold.

Of all the sci-fi/horror films of the 1950s, The Thing from Another World really withstands the test of time. You’d be doing yourself an injustice not to see it. Even my wife likes this one!

Directed by Howard Hawks and Christian Nyby.

Scene to watch for: Margaret Sheridan (Nikki) ties Kenneth Tobey’s (Capt. Hendry) hands behind his back so she can share a drink with him without getting pawed.

Line to listen for: “Watch the skies, everywhere! Keep looking. Keep watching the skies!”

Bonus: Read the script.

Personal note: John Carpenter’s remake of this film, The Thing (1982), is one of the few remakes I like almost as much as the original. They are quite different films, but I highly recommend both.

Mark’s Rating: ! ! ! ! ! out of 5.

IMDB Link

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2 Comments

  1. I know that I am in the great minority here, Mark, but I have always felt that this film is overly talky and just doesn’t deliver the goods (those much-discussed, Hawksian, overlapping dialogues just don’t work for me, either). The few scenes with The Thing itself are just OK at best. What is most egregious about the picture, for me, is the fact that it completely throws out John W. Campbell’s source novella, “Who Goes There?”. The Thing is supposed to be a shape shifter, not a “walking carrot,” a fact that the Carpenter remake happily remembers. For me, this is one of the very few instances where the remake is superior. I DO love that hand-holding scene on the ice, though…certainly the best moment in this overrated film….

    • Turbo, I really love this movie, though I’ve never read Cambell’s story, and so that might work in the film’s favor. It has taken me years, but I’ve reached a point where I don’t feel the film has to relate too much to the source material. I’m sure this sounds like sacrilege to any writer, but movies are a different beast. This reminds me of my feelings for The Incredible Shrinking Man. I love both the movie and the novel for completely different reasons. I do have to add, though, I thoroughly enjoy Carpenter’s remake of this film. I think we can both agree that the remake is a classic and worthy of the hype. ;)


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