The Thing from Another World (1951)
The Thing from Another World (1951)

Genre: Sci-Fi Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 27 min.

Release Date: April 29th, 1951 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Christian Nyby Actors: Margaret Sheridan, Kenneth Tobey, Robert Cornthwaite, Douglas Spencer, James Young, James Arness

 


 

D

irected by Christian Nyby and produced by the legendary Howard Hawks, “The Thing From Another World” is a masterly science-fiction epic, loosely based on the short story “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell, Jr. (under the pen name Don A. Stuart). Rather than sticking to the stronger horror elements of the novella, screenwriter Charles Lederer plays upon the public’s post-Hiroshima wariness of scientists carelessly meddling with the unknown – leading the way for more unambiguous atomic bomb parables like 1954’s “Them!” and “Gojira.” Nevertheless, it still utilizes the rousing concept of unity against extraterrestrial invasion, giving it a gravitas that would see the picture frequently considered one of the greatest of all sci-fi movies and earning it a spot on the American Film Institute’s 2001 list of most thrilling films (as well as selection for preservation in the National Film Registry).

In the North Pole, a group of military personnel and a reporter (Douglas Spencer) leave the base to investigate mysterious activity near an isolated research facility. Discovering a fascinating flying saucer spacecraft that crash-landed in the ice, the assemblage uses thermal charges to unearth it, but accidentally destroys it instead. Locating one of the UFO’s passengers thrown from the site, the scientists insist that it be brought back to the lab for testing. Without delay, the frozen spaceman thaws and begins wreaking havoc on the unsuspecting researchers and soldiers, who must battle panic, distrust, and differing opinions on how to handle the deadly specimen.

Paranoia, fear, and isolation (via a frightfully detached setting) blend smartly to fuel tension among the unprepared team. The Air Force group and the doctors are constantly at odds, not just due to the dangerous nature of their discovery, but also because they have opposing ideas on how to manage its containment. The subtext of brains versus brawn can be drawn from this contention – a theme frequently employed in survival thrillers. Clearly influencing numerous horror films to come, this 1951 classic orchestrates the conflicting (and historically realistic) notions of studying – leading to weaponizing and profiting – versus destroying for the sake of safety. As the monster’s genetic data reveals a resemblance to some sort of plant-based life, which the scientists presume less deleterious than a carnivorous beast, doling out bodily harm isn’t immediately a valid threat to the scholars. But the army men only see an enemy.

The creature is played by James Arness, carefully obscured under heavy makeup and atmospheric lighting, and limited in screentime, but it’s never able to transcend the generic man-in-a-suit humanoid form – though the more personal, identifiable antagonist has an undeniable weightiness to it. At times it’s more the crazed serial killer than the alien invader. Further deviating from the source material, the thing is not a plague that could have traveled aboard the spaceship, but rather a being exhibiting a level of intelligence that suggests it could have been the original pilot. One character even likens it to an intellectual carrot. Though occasionally introducing genuinely scary sequences, the attention to thought-provoking science-fiction themes bypasses the need for traditionally large body counts and constant death. Here, there’s also a woman (Margaret Sheridan as secretary Nikki) added, not so much for a love interest but to impart greater powerlessness in the face of a hulking brute. In the end, much of the project is influential for the genre but moderately mechanical when it comes to entertainment value.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10