“Forgotten Hollywood”- October Review / Them! (1954)…

Posted on October 1, 2011 by raideoman1 | No Comments

(#4 in a 12-part series to be printed at the beginning of each month)

Manny P. here…

Them02   THEM! – Critics regard this science fiction drama the best of its genre during the 1950’s, along with Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Thing. Remarkably, it may be the least mentioned. This flick pioneered the Cold War monster genre, later emulated by a countless number of “B” movies.

Back Story

   The producers of this motion picture decided to cast this film with a talented group of character actors. The screenplay allowed the ensemble cast to shine in tense scenes. Warner Brothers wanted to create horror with few black comedic elements (the approach initially developed decades earlier by Universal Studios).

   The movie studio also wanted audiences to believe they were going to see a film noir mystery, and they waited to shock viewers a full 1/3 into the flick. However, this is no gangster film. The villain in this piece are overgrown ants… THEM!

Positives

   Sandy Descher is not a household name as an actress. Yet, this child star was key to the opening of THEM!  Her catatonic look, followed by her screaming the title, set the iconic tone for the film.

james_whitmore   The casting of James Whitmore as a local New Mexico police officer, Edmund Gwenn as an entomologist, and James Arness as an FBI agent was so inspired. Whitmore is overwhelmed by the concept of nuclear testing causing an unusual growth of insects. Gwenn is so credible as an entomologist, as a youngster, I believed he was an expert in the field. Arness is a reliable love interest to the professor’s daughter. This science fiction picture has something for everyone.

JAMES WHITMORE

Negatives

   The demise of one its the stars is very unsettling, considering how heroic he was throughout the movie. I don’t want to give away who dies, but I can tell you, it’s unbelievably tragic. This is fantasy, but his death was so unnecessary. BOO HOO!

   The other negative came as a result of the influence of THEM! Copycat filmmakers never lived up to the hype in mimicking this fine plot, casting, and the general production values. The genre, though currently popular with filmgoers, has been consistently compromised by creative folks in the industry.

Supporting Actor Spotlight

   Edmund Gwenn began his career before the Silent Era. He was originally discovered by George Bernard Shaw in 1895, and the legendary playwright cast him in shows on the London stage. Edmund_Gwenn_in_Pride_and_Prejudice

   During Hollywood’s Golden Age, he provided memorable performances in Sylvia Scarlett, Anthony Adverse, A Yank at Oxford, The Devil and Miss Jones, Pride and Prejudice, Foreign Correspondent, Lassie Come Home, Of Human Bondage, Green Dolphin Street, Life With Father, and The Trouble With Harry. He received an Academy Award for his role as Kris Kringle in Miracle on 34th Street.

   A cousin to noted character actor Cecil Kellaway, I believe Gwenn’s finest hour might have  been describing how ants create their own insect society to a government agency in THEM!  He’s also credited for uttering the following before he succumbed to pneumonia after suffering a stroke in 1959:  Dying is easy… Comedy is hard! Peter O’Toole amusingly quoted Gwenn’s final words in My Favorite Year in 1982.

Epilogue

   Representatives of Disney Studios caught this picture and decided to hire Fess Parker to play Davy Crockett on television after watching his small role in this film. John Wayne also went to check out THEM!  The Duke later recommended James Arness to play Marshal Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke, crediting his cinematic performance. Leonard Nimoy, William Schallert, Dub Taylor, and Richard Deacon all had small roles in this classic.

   And, members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences were impressed. They honored the movie with an Oscar nomination for Best Special Effects. Not bad for a bunch of giant mean-spirited bugs with an attitude…

Themtitle

Until next time>                                “never forget”

This entry was posted on Saturday, October 1st, 2011 at 2:03 am and is filed under Blog by Manny Pacheco. You can follow any comments to this post through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


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