Author Topic: Them! - Revisited  (Read 3347 times)

Creepy

  • Sergeant
  • *****
  • Posts: 664
  • The Haunted Cinema-Where Monsters and Movies Meet!
    • The Haunted Cinema
Them! - Revisited
« on: June 16, 2018, 09:01:08 AM »
I posted this over at the CHB as well, but wanted to share my thoughts here.

I watched  Them! last night with my adult son. Every time I watch this classic I come away with a renewed sense of just how good the film is. Many modern Directors could do themselves a favor by watching this film to learn how to craft an amazing film on a limited budget.

The first thing this classic does well is craft a great story. The tension was palpable from the opening scene to the end. The story was simple, yet easily built upon. They stayed away from distracting side plots, like a love story (there were shades, but not much), and remained focused. This helped keep my attention from beginning to end.

The cast was amazing. Each actor/actress carried their roles and took them seriously. I can't think of any character that didn't work, with the possible exception of the drunk guy. The child actress who played the little girl in the desert sold the role! She was amazing and amped up the creep factor tremendously.

The writing was top-notch. For a B-Movie, the screen writers kept the dialogue crisp and to the point. The "science" was presented in a believable way, without drawing through needless exposition.

Finally, and this may be the most important thing a modern Director could learn, they did not rely on their effects. In fact, it appears that they knew the limitations of their "monsters" and used them sparingly, but effectively. The use of the ant's sound effect produced a much better sense of dread, then the big bugs themselves.

All in all, I love this film. It is easily in my Top 10 Sci-Fi films of all time. For the 50's, only Forbidden Planet, nudges it out. It's probably tied with Day the Earth Stood Still, for me.
Check out my Vintage posters and Masks at The Haunted Cinema

ChristineBCW

  • Sergeant
  • *****
  • Posts: 923
Re: Them! - Revisited
« Reply #1 on: June 16, 2018, 10:56:15 AM »
I'm a big fan, and our whole movie-going crowd is, too.  We saw it a few months ago at the downtown theater, and it was just terrific on the big-screen.

The opening scene is - as you said - CRAFTED. 

I will quibble with one point - the 'drunk guy' is Olin Howland and he IS the "over the top" character but a rather wonderful bit of comic relief.  And Olin's drunk-ward roommate is another favorite of mine, Harry Wilson, who would later be insisting he was with George 'Spats' Raft at Rigoletto's, instead of machine-gunning rival mobsters.

(Fans of John Wayne westerns should recognize Olin Howland from THE ANGEL AND THE BADMAN as the town's telegraph operator, and the one who stands at the bar, telling Bruce 'Laredo Stevens' Cabot that he wondered how many drinks it'd take before 'Laredo' faced John Wayne in the showdown.) 

My only quibble about acting comes from the Little Girl's Aunt, who stands behind her as Edmund Gwenn waves a beaker full of 'formic acid' under the girl's nose, driving her into hysterics.  The Auntie is a bit dawdling and mis-times her caring hug, I thought.  (TALK ABOUT NITPICKY!!  Yeah... that's my only quibble.)

Fess Parker's dropping hospital pants in the Psyche Ward was the other bit of comic relief, and I thought that was well-done in a ham-fisted way with Matt Dil - er, James Arness's well-timed warning to the doctor not to release Fess until DAVY CROCKETT, DANIEL BOONE and the color-TV hit the big-time. 

You addressed the rather crummy marionette monsters perfectly - their sound, their brief appearances and few human-vs-marionette scenes were done so well that all complaints of anti-realism are shrugged off.  It's an EFFECT - it doesn't have to be REAL.  And their effect is perfect.

I continually nominate THEM's opening scene (up to the point of the Deputy dying in a hail of gunfire, ant-sounds and his screams) for Best-Of lists. 

James Arness' whining "C'mon - speak English - we're all grownups here!" and Edmund Gwenn's stall-tactics with his beautiful daughter Joan Weldon in tow... another set of well-crafted relationships that work throughout the film.  Arness' elbow-to-ribs comment to Whitmore "I hope she's the kind of doctor who can fix sick people because I think I've got a fever coming on." 

And the little digging comments from Whitmore who tells his office visitor, "He's with the FBI so watch yer language" and "I thought all you G-Men were whiz kids."  These are so well done, so perfectly timed and delivered. 

No one could have believed this would be a major film in any of the participants' careers.  None should claim this as their career highlight - but they all deliver spot-on, near-perfect performances.  All of them will have bigger, better roles in their career but this is ONE FINE FILM.

It's one that I'll very much look forward to it's 100th Anniversary (2054) and enjoy its likely successful celebration.  THIS is what '50s Monster Movies is all about.

ChristineBCW

  • Sergeant
  • *****
  • Posts: 923
Re: Them! - Revisited
« Reply #2 on: June 16, 2018, 11:06:59 AM »
On a more succinct note, I used to think these '50s monster films would be perfect for CGI updates but after seeing Pus Van Zant's PSYCHO and the horrible remake of JASON & THE ARGONAUTS, I realize it's not CGI or the monsters that need updates - it's the humans behind the camera that are slimply AWFUL compared to the original filmmakers.

Mike Scott

  • Army General
  • *****
  • Posts: 22578
  • So terrifying only screams can describe it!
    • Monster Magazines
Re: Them! - Revisited
« Reply #3 on: June 16, 2018, 11:09:49 AM »
Fans of John Wayne westerns should recognize Olin Howland from THE ANGEL AND THE BADMAN

Fans of '50s sci-fi should recognize him as THE BLOB's first victim!

It's one that I'll very much look forward to it's 100th Anniversary (2054) and enjoy its likely successful celebration.

I'll be 101, so don't hold a seat for me.
CREATURE FAN

Visit My Monster Magazines Website

Creepy

  • Sergeant
  • *****
  • Posts: 664
  • The Haunted Cinema-Where Monsters and Movies Meet!
    • The Haunted Cinema
Re: Them! - Revisited
« Reply #4 on: June 16, 2018, 11:59:07 AM »

James Arness' whining "C'mon - speak English - we're all grownups here!" and Edmund Gwenn's stall-tactics with his beautiful daughter Joan Weldon in tow... another set of well-crafted relationships that work throughout the film.  Arness' elbow-to-ribs comment to Whitmore "I hope she's the kind of doctor who can fix sick people because I think I've got a fever coming on." 

And the little digging comments from Whitmore who tells his office visitor, "He's with the FBI so watch yer language" and "I thought all you G-Men were whiz kids."  These are so well done, so perfectly timed and delivered. 

No one could have believed this would be a major film in any of the participants' careers.  None should claim this as their career highlight - but they all deliver spot-on, near-perfect performances.  All of them will have bigger, better roles in their career but this is ONE FINE FILM.

It's one that I'll very much look forward to it's 100th Anniversary (2054) and enjoy its likely successful celebration.  THIS is what '50s Monster Movies is all about.

I also chuckled when they were going into the original ant mound and Gwenn told them they needed to be sure the gas saturated the tunnels, and Arness mumbled "let's get this done, and I'll show how saturated I can get".
Check out my Vintage posters and Masks at The Haunted Cinema

ChristineBCW

  • Sergeant
  • *****
  • Posts: 923
Re: Them! - Revisited
« Reply #5 on: June 16, 2018, 01:36:40 PM »
So many excellent lines... this and THE THING were chockful of these quips, making their dialog one big factor in the rewatchability factor, I think. 

Another factor, I think, is that so many familiar character actors stock the "scenery" behind the lead actors.  Olin Howland, Fess Parker, even that short bit of Harry Wilson and Leonard Nimoy 'get their own clips'.  But those meetings around tables, filled with faces we see over and over...

Willis Bouchey, who is some nameless WashDC official in THEM apparently gets his MD in the next 8 years and becomes Mrs. Drysdale's doctor as she goes flying out the Beverly Hills hospital window. 

William Shallert may have driven his only ambulance in this film.  Or maybe he wasn't yet qualified as The Driver - he's on the passenger side, at the back. 

Richard Deacon's sister hadn't married Alan Brady yet, so he was a lowly reporter in Los Angeles, until she helped nab him the TV producer's job in New Yawk City.

Dub Taylor had the job as the railroad watchman until he 'lost' that train car full of sugar.  Oh well.  He'd had another 200-odd jobs afterwards, according to his IMDB listing.

And IMDB is a pretty interesting vehicle to measure a film's popularity - every year when I look over Full Cast Listing for THEM, I discover more and more "uncredited" roles being filled in with actors' names.  This is takes a lot of work and some pretty deep digging into records for the rest of us to enjoy.  I thank all those folks.

Lunkenstein

  • Sergeant
  • *****
  • Posts: 1215
    • Brain of Lunkenstein
Re: Them! - Revisited
« Reply #6 on: June 16, 2018, 10:23:48 PM »
This has always been one of my favorites.  I've seen it twice on the big screen in the last few years and both times the audiences have been thoroughly drawn in. A true classic that defines excellent film making and will stand the test of time forever.
Paul

skully

  • Corporal
  • ****
  • Posts: 364
Re: Them! - Revisited
« Reply #7 on: June 17, 2018, 12:12:02 AM »
Of all the "bug" type movies of the time, such as "Beginning of the End",  Tarantula, The Black Scorpion, The Deadly Mantis, The Monster that Challenged the World, Monster from Green Hell, Earth VS the Spider, with the possible exeption of "The Fly",  and others that I might have missed, such as Wasp Woman, "Them" does stand out as the best of the lot.

Monsters For Sale

  • Sergeant
  • *****
  • Posts: 8997
  • Aged 10 - 1957
Re: Them! - Revisited
« Reply #8 on: June 17, 2018, 05:55:30 PM »

One of my favorite elements of the film is that they don't hit you over the head with the monster in the first 10 seconds of the story.

The movie allows the mystery to linger and the tension to build until the proper time to unveil the culprits.

ADAM

ChristineBCW

  • Sergeant
  • *****
  • Posts: 923
Re: Them! - Revisited
« Reply #9 on: June 17, 2018, 10:10:34 PM »
The question for me remains: "Why am I so willing to accept the silly effects yet I'll shred CGI films (like Peter Jackson's 2005 KING KONG because of its 1976-Atari style ice-skating effect)?" 

For one, there is a rewatchability fact, not just a factor.  I can rewatch these films any number of times, and will into the future.  I doubt I'll ever have the patience to rewatch Pus Van Zant films or Petey's exhausting, tiresome, boring KONG.  "Are they STILL falling down that 597-mile crevice?!!  Is Naomi STILL pretending she can do the Charleston?"

Why are these CGI entries so intolerable to my sensibilities when THEM or the giantized overlay monsters so silly?  Well... maybe at least they're not boring.  Is that it?  I don't know.  I know those fun films are filled with familiar character actors, and spotting them is almost a game beyond the film itself.  They are entertainment, therefore.

Mike Scott

  • Army General
  • *****
  • Posts: 22578
  • So terrifying only screams can describe it!
    • Monster Magazines
Re: Them! - Revisited
« Reply #10 on: June 17, 2018, 11:39:46 PM »
I would have loved it if the producers of THEM! had hired Harryhausen to do the effects!
CREATURE FAN

Visit My Monster Magazines Website

ChristineBCW

  • Sergeant
  • *****
  • Posts: 923
Re: Them! - Revisited
« Reply #11 on: June 18, 2018, 07:51:22 AM »
Or Willis O'Brien.  Three years later, his BLACK SCORPION was delivered with several of my most-favorite-est stop-action scenes.  Of course, my most-favorite is Harryhausen's rise of Talos...



But 'second best' is still an incredible achievement. 



Still... I continue to wonder, "Why can I tolerate the obviously-unreal effects so easily, whereas the far more realistic CGIs are practically a flag I can wave around, hailing some crummier film?" 

THEM's opening scene, I think, has some power (a treasure?) that grabs me and I am so immersed that all those silly details never shake me away from the goodness of the film itself.  Too much great dialog.  Too many excellent characters on-screen.  Too many more littering all the backgrounds.  Too many fun-to-watch scenes (even "Make me a sergeant in charge of the booze!" and "My noives!"). 

Heck, even the dreadful GIANT CLAW marionette is fun to watch as it swirls and pivots like a piņata but the actors scream and react sooo perfectly.  CREATURE WITH THE ATOM BRAIN, another silly costuming 'effect' but it's just perfect for that film. 

Are the films themselves so superior?  I think Peter Jackson's KONG has some good portions.  I love that first hour of the back-story; but jeepers, rewatching it?  I never have... I'm glad it was included, but it's sooo long and drawn out, sooo slow.  But, considering the scenes that will soon be delivered, none of those are much more compelling.  Hence, my rewatchability desire for his KONG is exceedingly low.   I've seen Willis O'Brien's original three times on the big-screen since, and another time or two on TV.  But I've never rewatched Jackson's except for a few isolated scenes. 
« Last Edit: June 18, 2018, 08:09:01 AM by ChristineBCW »

skully

  • Corporal
  • ****
  • Posts: 364
Re: Them! - Revisited
« Reply #12 on: June 18, 2018, 12:39:19 PM »
Well, I sort of feel the same way here.  Using "Kong" as an example, the special effects are great, but, I remember years ago when Jurassic Park just came out, went to the local movie house and was "floored" by the special effects, however afterwards, I felt that the "top" has finally been reached and probably all subsequent future movies would all be the same in terms of (again) special effects. It's a little tough to explain, the older movies had a lot of mystery to them (the good ones anyway), and you couldn't wait to see the monster, it was the anticipation that helped build up the viewing pleasure (or horror) and it was usually always something different which led to a startling (or laughing) event.  I guess to put it simply, we now know sort of what to expect with the newer movies as far as "visual" effects. As I mentioned, they all use the same techniques now, but with the younger movie viewers, if they were never really exposed to the earlier flicks, it's tough for them to really compare (which is probably why a lot of them just say that early horror flicks are dumb).  Just take, for example, one of my favorite movies like "The Haunting", the original from 1963. Actually no real special effects were used, but if it doesn't scare the crap out of you while watching it alone in a dark room late at night, then there's something wrong!!

ChristineBCW

  • Sergeant
  • *****
  • Posts: 923
Re: Them! - Revisited
« Reply #13 on: June 18, 2018, 01:26:02 PM »
Now that's an interesting concept... "Has my realism quest been satisfied, it's no big deal so therefore I can't be impressed over and over?"

Take a look at the original STAR WARS that Luas re-edited new CGI effects into.  They were, well, interesting but I considered their add-on value to be negligible.  ET - where political correctness had an edited-out gun in one of the later scenes replaced by a cigar in that hand.  Did anyone truly yell for joy over this oh-so-gracious polite nod?

I suspect we have not seen the ultimates in dino's because I doubt we've seen The Real Skin of dinosaurs depicted yet.  I think, in a hundred years, dino discoveries will yield yet another type.  (No... I have strongest doubts about Vegas Showgirl costumes but, heck, who knows!  "Give me that feather boa or ELSE!!"  Yeah... tux & tails, maybe, though... top hat... "Puttin' on the ritz...")

I'm not sure where gore will go.  With autopsy-TV scenes taking us into blood systems and body parts, with gut-splatterings and gunshot-to-an-eye-for-boys, I'm not sure today's zombie gorefests are substantially different than the original FRIDAY THE 13th or HALLOWEEN scenes.  I vividly recall one little girl using a mason's trowel on her stumbling mother in a darkened basement more than any of modern gore's scenes. 

Because it was The Scene that was completely imprinted on me.  Not just a recipe for goo and bits.

I still can't discount the impact that First Ever Viewings has on our memories and that, now, with so many gory or jump-out-of-the-dark scenes, they can only be temporarily set inside my head, soon to be shoved aside by parade of others. 

"Have I seen The Most Realistic so I'm no longer impressed by all of these follow-on's?"  Hmmm...

This would explain why I can shrug off Effects so easily - because those are just effects.  Not scenes.  Anyone making marinaro sauces can attest to the nature of Splatters.  But having dear ol' dad come stumbling down the stairs, seeing his li'l girl eat her mother and fail to defend his dying self, well... that's why Duane Jones comes down those steps later and sees the little girl eating Daddy's arm like a giant beef rib.  Mmm mmm...

skully

  • Corporal
  • ****
  • Posts: 364
Re: Them! - Revisited
« Reply #14 on: June 18, 2018, 02:27:45 PM »
You "nailed" it pretty good!  After Jurassic Park, as I mentioned as an example, you already know what the effects will be, for the following sequences for the other Jurassic movies that followed. Kind of like a "been there-done that" situation. It's like a thought like, OK, what can really "wow" me now??  Same goes for practically all the other movies that follow now a days with these same movie effects. It took a lot of unique writing and camera work, along with the process of creating and "displaying" in different ways the monsters or other criteria in the older flicks.