Forgotten Films: The Thing From Another World (1951)

The Thing From Another World: the first and arguably the best

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 147th my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

As mentioned in the previous column, it is time to come to The Thing From Another World. I don’t know if this is “forgotten.” Certainly when I was in college or earlier, it was quite well known. But tastes have changed over the years and the two re-makes (both called The Thing) are much better known, and this one has fallen by the wayside.

But I have a backstory with this film. While in college around 1973, I worked a variety of jobs. At one of them I worked with a very nice college student named Marcia. We went out a few times but nothing really clicked. She knew I liked science fiction, and one day she told me about the science fiction club at the University of Texas. They were making a trip to Enchanted Rock on the upcoming Sunday. Since I worked retail, she suggested I might go. The flyer she saw said everyone was welcome.

That Sunday, I showed up and met some of the best friends I ever had. Among them were Bill Wallace, Dianne Kraft, Bud Simons, Bruce Sterling and more (my memories have faded quite a bit since then). We all made the trip and had a great time and some great food at the Salt Lick afterwards.

I was invited to some more events they had and became a member. Not too much later, we all decided to attend AggieCon 4. The guests were Jack Williamson, Chad Oliver and fan guest Bob Vardeman. This weekend changed my life! Seriously! It was my first SF convention (or first convention of any sort, other than high school Math and German conferences, which had only day meetings and I attended as part of school functions). Again, I met many more interesting people and had the time of my life!

Among the things that happened there were my first trip to a dealer’s room and first collectible SF purchases, which included an old Famous Fantastic Mysteries pulp, an Arthur C. Clarke galley and a paperback. I saw my first Arkham House books (though Bill Wallace would later show me his collection, which was virtually complete at that point and was later completed). And I found the film room.

I saw Barbarella on a big screen. Not the big screen at Texas A&M in Rudder Tower (that was not complete then, but I still saw the movie a big screen). There was a war film called The Best of Enemies, if I recall correctly and I am really not sure about this one. And someone brought in a bootleg 16mm copy of The Thing From Another World.

I had read the John W. Campbell story “Who Goes There” prior to this, and I knew it had been filmed, but I had never seen it. It was late at night, so no questions about the origin of the print would be asked. But I sat there with other fans and new friends and watched a glorious film.

The story is pretty basic. A team of scientists led by Doctor Carrington (Robert Cornthwaite) see something crash land near their station and request that the military send some troops to check it out. Captain Patrick Hendry (Kenneth Tobey) arrives with a few men and a bored newspaper reporter, Ned Scott (Douglas Spencer). Carrington shows the group photographs that prove something odd has happened and, using science, they triangulate where the crash took place.

On the snow they see strange markings and an area of fused ice which is different from their surroundings. Through the ice, they see a craft, and using the men, determine that it is large and circular. They have found a flying saucer. The men try to use thermite charges to deice the object but that backfires and the saucer is destroyed. A Geiger counter reveals a radioactive presence, and a large figure (presumably the pilot of the craft) is found encased within a block of ice.

Not sure what else to do, they return to the scientific base. Weather prevents them from returning to Anchorage, where they have more facilities. Carrington wants to see what is in the ice, but Hendry is opposed to fooling with something they do not understand. Tension arises at the base and the men form sides. Dr. Carrington’s assistant/secretary/recorder Nikki (Margaret Sheridan) knew Hendry previously and is interested in seeing him some more.

And this wouldn’t be a good film if accidents did not happen. The block of ice thaws and the “thing” (James Arness – Marshall Matt Dillon, his ownself) escapes. As alien attacks the group, they are able to escape and it is sent outside into the way sub-zero storm where it encounters sled dogs. They later find that the dogs have removed an arm from the beast. Carrington and the scientists examine it and find that the creature is not even an animal. It is a vegetable (an intelligent carrot).

While others try to find the creature and protect the group, Dr. Carrington begins some experimentation and finds out the thing thrives and regenerates with human plasma. There follows a long discussion on what the duties of a scientist are in such a threatening situation like this as opposed to the military point of view. Then the creature begins sabotaging the heating system and everyone sees that they must work together to survive.

I’ll let you watch it (if you have not done so before) to see how they escape. I really enjoyed this film. I like it more than the two color John Carpenter films which are both very good horror films. This one is an atmospheric, moody piece with slow building suspense as opposed to the action effects-reliant later films. All are good. But this is my favorite.

The film is available from the usual outlets online and is not very expensive. If you have not seen it (or it’s been a while) you might check it out again. If your only exposure via John Carpenter, give this one a try.

But, as always, your tastes and my tastes are probably different, and your mileage may vary.

Oh, yeah, “Watch the skies!”

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.