From the DVD case: Them! is a landmark movie about giant radiation-mutated ants that gets better with age and boasts remarkable, Academy Award-nominated special effects. Starring James Whitmore, James Arness and Edmund Gwenn, Them! begins in New Mexico with a child wandering in shock, a ransacked general store and a battered corpse full of enough formic acid to kill 20 men. It ends with an epic struggle in the 700 miles of storm drains under Los Angeles, where the insect hordes are beaten. But they’re not conquered because they spawned a generation of films about radioactive creatures. Some approximate the terror but few have equaled the artistry of Them! (1954, b&w)
Mark says: Them! rates at least a few notches higher than your standard giant bug flick for its intelligent dialog and above par acting. It’s also the original radiation-mutated monster movie. Today, many aspects of the film seem cliche, but that’s only because Them! has been emulated so often.
This film is as much of a detective movie as it is a creature feature. Usually, the sleuth portion of the film is just as interesting as the battles with the mutated creatures.
I’ve often wished I could watch Them! without previous knowledge of it being a film about giant ants. That way I could enjoy the picture unfold as it reveals its terrible secret. But even with foreknowledge, this movie manages to hold my interest. Admittedly, the monsters themselves are not that impressive, but certainly not bad for the era.
My biggest complaint about the film is the character played by Edmund Gwenn, Dr. Harold Medford. I just don’t think he portrays the part very well. Dr. Medford is a cranky and annoying old man, which does not help endear him to the viewer, though I think it is supposed to give him a lovable quality.
Luckily, James Whitmore and James Arness (The Thing from Another World) play their parts without any monster movie campiness, and this proves to be a great boon to the film.
Joan Weldon plays the strong-willed scientist, Dr. Patricia Medford, and gives us an early glimpse into what the women’s movement was all about.
Them! is one of my favorite giant bug/animal pictures, and it gets bonus points for being a prototype for so many films that followed. I also give it some credit for killing off one of the major stars in the final battle scene.
See some great behind-the-scene shots here.
This film is directed by Gordon Douglas.
For a less sophisticated giant ant flick, check out 1977’s Empire of the Ants.
Scene to watch for: A very young Leonard Nimoy plays an Air Force sergeant. You’ll have to be on your toes, though. His onscreen time is brief, and he only gets a few lines.
Line to listen for: “Boy, if I can still raise an arm when we get out of this place, I’m going to show you how well-saturated I can get!”
Mark’s Rating: ! ! ! ! out of 5.