Forgotten Films: THEM! (1954)

Yes, you've seen it before, but why not revisit those mile-deep catacombs?

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 149th my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

Welcome to 2016! I wanted to start this installment off on a good note so, when I got up that morning and turned the TV to TCM, what should appear? THEM! was coming on in ten minutes! And, yes, I know this is not a “forgotten” film. It is quite definitely well known, at least among film fans of my age grouping.

And, just like The Thing From Another World from two weeks ago, this one has James Arness in it. Growing up with Gunsmoke on TV as a kid, I have always liked Arness’ easygoing style.

THEM! Has an all star cast, which is amazing for the science fiction/horror film of the day. Along with Arness, you have James Whitmore, an Academy Award nominee in 1949 for Battleground and Edmund Gwenn who won an Oscar in 1947 for Miracle on 34th Street. That’s some star power. But then the supporting cast included soon-to-be-bigger names and character actors like Fess Parker (soon to be Davy Crockett), William Schallert and Olin Howlin as a drunk. Leonard Nimoy has a small part as a radio operator.

Originally set to be in color and 3D, Warner Brothers slotted THEM! back into black and white. And it is wonderful in that format. Two New Mexico State Police troopers, Ben Peterson and Ed Blackburn (Whitmore and Chris Drake, respectively), find a young girl (Sandy Descher) wandering in the desert. She is nearly catatonic. They find her home, a trailer, a few miles away. It has been ripped apart. Her family is missing.

Soon the troopers pass by a general store and find a similar type of destruction, including a shotgun that is mangled and the body of its owner. Strange tracks are found. Peterson leaves with the girl to make a report, leaving Blackburn to guard the store. A bad move for Trooper Blackburn, as he soon is killed by giant ants.

Giant ants have evolved in the New Mexico desert as a result of atomic bomb tests. Scientists Dr. Harold Medford (Gwenn) and his daughter Dr. Pat Medford (Joan Weldon) confirm that the strange tracks belong to ants. The group is joined by FBI agent Robert Graham (Arness) who develops an attachment with Pat Medford.

The crew tracks down a nest of giant ants in the desert and drops cyanide gas into the hole while the insects are inactive. Later the army sends in a crew with Pat and they find that the ants inside the nest are dead. However, Dr. Medford notices that a chamber contains some hatched eggs, but no bodies. The eggs were for queens and Pat is concerned that the queens have hatched and flown away to establish new colonies. Two queen eggs were noted, so a nationwide search is established to look out for unusual activity and reports of flying ants or flying saucers.

This leads to a psycho ward in Brownsville with a small craft pilot (Parker) who saw one of the queens heading into Mexico. And from there to a ship in the Gulf that has ants on board. The next big report comes from Los Angeles where a boxcar with 40 tons of sugar has been ripped apart. Nearby searches find drunk Jensen (Howlin) who has seen the ants from his window at a recovery ward. But, of course, no one believes anything he says. This leads to confrontations in the sewers under LA. Just exactly where I’d want to be fighting giant mutant ants.

THEM! is a wonderful film, well paced with good performances and decent effects. Plus, Bronsilau Kaper provided the movie soundtrack and that is always a plus!

Sure you’ve seen it before! But it’s worth seeing again and it got my year off to a great start. (I later went to see the new Star Wars that evening, so it stayed pretty enjoyable). I hope your New Year’s Day was as good.

Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.


Forgotten Films: Between Two Worlds (1944)

Between Two Worlds is quite a different film from The Thing From Another World.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 146th my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

I really enjoy doing these columns and seeing the variety of films that I have enjoyed or, in some cases, not enjoyed. Every now and again I stumble across a film that I have never heard of but catches my interest. This week I had intended to review The Thing From Another World and give some background story about it and me. But after watching it the other night, I decided to go to sleep rather than immediately put my thoughts down on the computer.

The next morning I got up and as I scanned the channel guides, I ran across this film Beyond Two Worlds. I read the brief synopsis and looked at the cast. I was sold on it. I was already five minutes into the broadcast, but I figured I could catch up with it pretty fast.

I am so glad I did. First let’s look at the cast. The leads are Paul Henreid as Henry Bergner and Eleanor Parker as his wife Anne. That’s a pretty decent start. I saw John Garfield listed as Tom Prior, Edmund Gwenn as Scrubby the steward, and Sydney Greenstreet as Tim Thompson. The pairing of Henreid and Greenstreet just a year after Casablanca got my interest up. And there was a score from Eric Wolfgang Korngold, which immediately makes any film worth watching.

The characters in Between Two Worlds try to unravel the mystery of how they ended up together on a ship at sea.

Henry Bergner is an Austrian pianist turned soldier living in London. His hands are injured and he can no longer play. He and Ann want to get to America but are having trouble securing exit visas. (Where have I heard something like that before?) Distraught, he leaves the diplomatic office and returns home, where he seals the window and plays his favorite record.

Ann has missed Henry at the office but sees a group of people getting their documents and leaving. As they leave, there is an air raid and the fleeing car suffers a direct hit. Everyone is killed instantly. She returns to their flat to find Henry in the act of suicide and refuses to leave him. They drift off.

Suddenly they are on a large ship with a group of people, mingling in the bar. They don’t recall how they got there nor does anyone else. The friendly steward helps people with drinks and conversation. The film sort of becomes a Grant Hotel at sea. You have the business executive Mr. Lingley (George Coulouris), the minister (Dennis King), the upper class couple who don’t know why they have to associate with the riffraff (Isobel Elson and Gilbert Emory), the journalist (Garfield), the actress (Faye Emerson), the housekeeper (Sara Allgood) and the sailor (George Tobias).

Eventually, Ann realizes that she has seen these people before. They were the ones in the vehicle hit by the bomb. Suddenly both she and Henry remember that they were in the process of dying just moments earlier. They are on a ship between two worlds – sailing to Heaven and to Hell.

They realize that none of the others knows what is happening. The steward asks them to let everyone relax and enjoy the ride for the moment and not bring it up their conclusion. But there is tension in the room. Prior, the journalist is washed up and unemployed, partly due to a series of articles he did on Lingley, who is a capitalist at all costs and could be a President of the I’m for Me First party. He gets what he wants no matter what the cost. The Reverend is off on a trip to begin a new series of work for the betterment of his church. The actress is hanging with Prior, but Lingley is making a play. The sailor has just gotten word that he has become a new father. He’s heading home after having three ships torpedoed beneath him.

Prior overhears Henry and Ann and tells everyone that they are dead. The steward reluctantly confirms this. When asked what happens next, he tells everyone that some the Examiner will be there to… examine them. The Examiner turns out to be the Reverent Tim Thompson, an old colleague of the minister. Together they examine each of the passengers one at a time to determine their final destination.

I’m not going to go into the further details, but it goes much as you would expect, until it comes down to Henry and Ann, who are the last to be examined. As a suicide, Henry presents a problem to them. Heaven is not his destination, but it is for Ann who did not actively pursue that course.

I thought this was a fine film. Apparently it is based on a 1924 play titled Outward Bound, which starred Leslie Howard. It was filmed in 1930. In the original play and film version, the audience did not know the passengers were dead until the end of the performance. Leonard Maltin in his Movie Guide liked Outward Bound better than Between Two Worlds. I will have to be on the lookout for that one now.

So I’ll be back next week with The Thing From Another World, unless fate intervenes.

Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.