THEM! is a 1954 American black-and-white science fiction monster film
Warner Bros. Pictures , produced by
David Weisbart , directed by
Gordon Douglas , that stars
James Whitmore ,
Edmund Gwenn , Joan
Weldon , and
James Arness . The film is based on an original story
George Worthing Yates , which was then developed into a
screenplay by Ted Sherdeman and Russell Hughes.
Them! is one of the first of the 1950s "nuclear monster" films, and
the first "big bug " feature.
A nest of gigantic irradiated ants is discovered in the New Mexico
desert; they quickly become a national threat when it is discovered
that two young queen ants and her consorts have escaped to establish
new nests. The national search that follows finally culminates in a
battle with Them in the concrete spillways and sewers of
Los Angeles .
* 1 Plot
* 2 Cast
* 2.1 Cast notes
* 3 Production
* 4 Reception
* 5 In popular culture
* 6 Attempted Remake
* 7 References
* 7.1 Notes
* 7.2 Citations
* 7.3 Bibliography
* 8 External links
New Mexico State Police Sgt. Ben Peterson and Trooper Ed Blackburn
discover a little girl wandering the desert near
Alamogordo . They
take her to a mobile home owned by an FBI
Special Agent named Ellinson
on vacation with his family. The girl briefly reacts to a strange,
pulsating high-pitched sound, but no one sees her reaction.
General store owner "Gramps" Johnson is found dead, a wall of his
store having been partially torn out. After a quick investigation,
Sgt. Peterson leaves trooper Blackburn behind to secure the scene.
Blackburn later goes outside to investigate a strange, pulsating
sound; gun shots are fired, the sound grows faster and louder, and
Blackburn's scream is heard.
Peterson's boss in
New Mexico points out that Gramps had time to fire
all his ammunition, and Trooper Blackburn was a "crack shot",
eliminating the possibility of a homicidal maniac. More puzzling is
the coroner's report on Johnson's death: he died from a broken neck,
back, skull fracture, crushed abdomen, and "enough formic acid in his
body to kill 20 men".
The FBI assigns
Special Agent Robert Graham to
New Mexico to
investigate. After having analyzed a strange print found near the
Ellisons' RV, the Department of Agriculture sends myrmecologists Dr.
Harold Medford and his daughter Dr. Pat Medford, to assist in the
investigation. The elder Medford exposes the Ellinson girl to formic
acid fumes, which revives her from her catatonic state; she screams,
Them! Them!" His suspicions are validated by her reaction, but he
will not reveal his theory prematurely.
At the Ellinson campsite Pat encounters a giant, eight-foot-long
foraging ant. Following instructions from the elder Medford, Peterson,
and Graham shoot off the ant's antennae, blinding it; they then kill
it with their
Thompson submachine gun . Medford reveals his theory: a
colony of giant ants, mutated by radiation from the first atomic bomb
test near Alamogordo, is responsible for the killings.
Gen. O'Brien orders a helicopter search, and the skeletal remains of
past victims are discovered near the ants' nest.
Cyanide gas bombs are
used, and Graham, Peterson, and Pat descend into the nest to kill any
survivors. Deep inside, Pat finds evidence that two queen ants have
hatched and have escaped to establish new colonies.
The elder Medford gives a briefing on ants to a government task
force; they covertly investigate all reports of any unusual activity.
One report shows a civilian pilot (
Fess Parker ) has been committed to
a mental hospital after claiming that he was forced down by UFOs ,
shaped like giant ants. Next the Coast Guard receives a report of a
giant queen hatching her brood in the hold of a freighter at sea in
the Pacific; giant ants attack the ship's crew, and there are few
survivors. The freighter is later sunk by U.S. Navy gunfire.
A third report leads Peterson, Graham, and Maj. Kibby to a large
sugar theft at a rail yard in Los Angeles. An alcoholic in a hospital
"drunk tank " claims he has seen giant ants outside his window. The
mutilated body of a father is recovered, but his two young sons are
missing. Peterson, Graham, and Kibby find evidence that they were
flying a model airplane in the
Los Angeles River drainage channel near
Martial law is declared in Los Angeles, and troops are
assigned to find a nest in the vast storm drain network under the
Peterson finds the two missing boys alive, trapped near the ants'
nest. He calls for reinforcements and lifts both boys to safety, just
before being attacked by a giant ant. Graham arrives with
reinforcements and kills the ant, as others swarm to protect the nest.
Peterson dies from his injuries. Graham and the soldiers fight off the
ants, but a tunnel collapse traps Graham. Several ants charge, but he
is able to hold them off with his submachine gun just long enough for
troops to break through the collapse. The queen and her hatchlings are
discovered and quickly destroyed with flamethrowers . Dr. Medford
offers a philosophic observation: "When Man entered the
Atomic Age ,
he opened the door to a new world. What we may eventually find in that
new world, nobody can predict".
James Whitmore as Sgt. Ben Peterson
Edmund Gwenn as Dr. Harold Medford
Joan Weldon as Dr. Pat Medford
James Arness as FBI Agent Robert Graham
Onslow Stevens as Gen. O'Brien
Sean McClory as Maj. Kibbee
Chris Drake as Trooper Ed Blackburn
Sandy Descher as Ellinson girl
* Mary Ann Hokanson as Mrs. Lodge
* Don Shelton as Trooper Capt. Fred Edwards
Fess Parker as Alan Crotty
* Olin Howlin as Jensen, the alcoholic
* Dorothy Green as police matron (uncredited)
Leonard Nimoy has a small, uncredited part as a U.S. Army Staff
Sergeant in the communications room.
* Other actors who appear in small parts include
John Beradino ,
Willis Bouchey ,
Booth Colman , Richard Deacon ,
Lawrence Dobkin , Ann
William Schallert ,
Douglas Spencer ,
Dub Taylor , Dorothy
Green , and Harry Wilson .
* When casting his planned Davy Crockett episode of the Disneyland
Walt Disney viewed the film to see James Arness, who
had been recommended for the role. However, Disney was more impressed
by a scene with
Fess Parker as an inmate in a mental ward of the Texas
hospital. Watching Parker's performance, Disney realized he had found
his Davy Crockett.
John Wayne saw the film and, impressed with
Arness' performance, recommended him for the role of Marshal Matt
Dillon in the new
Gunsmoke TV series, a role that Arness went on to
play from 1955 to 1975.
Opening title card with the background in black-and-white and
Them! in red-and-blue.
Them! began production in the fall of 1953, it was originally
conceived to be in 3D and Warner Color. During pre-production, tests
were to be shot in color and 3D. A few color tests were shot of the
large-scale ant models, but when it was time to shoot the 3D test,
Warner Bros.' "All Media" 3D camera rig malfunctioned and no footage
could be filmed. The next day a memo was sent out that the color and
3D aspects of the production were to be scrapped; widescreen
black-and-white would now be the film's presentation format. Warner
Bros. hoped to emulate the "effective shock treatment" effect of its
previous science-fiction thriller
The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms ;
ultimately, however, the film was never shot in widescreen. Because of
the preparation of certain scenes, many of the camera set-ups for 3D
still remain in the film, like the opening titles and the
flamethrowers shots aimed directly at the camera.
Warner Bros. was dissatisfied with the color results, the
film's titles were printed in a vivid red-and-blue against a
black-and-white background in order to give the film's opening a
dramatic "punch". This effect was achieved by an
Eastman Color section
spliced into each release print. The 1985
VHS tape release, the
LaserDisc and later
DVD release have retained this
black-and-white-with-two-color title effect.
The entrance to the ants' final nest was shot along the concrete
spillways of the
Los Angeles River , between the First and Seventh
Street Bridges, east of downtown. The depiction of the Chihuahuan
Desert of southern
New Mexico is actually the
Mojave Desert near
Palmdale, California . Mercy Hospital was a real institution and is
now Brownsville Medical Center.
James Whitmore wore "lifts" in his shoes to compensate for the height
difference between himself and James Arness. It has also been noted
that Whitmore employed bits of "business" (hand gestures and motions)
during scenes in which he appeared in order to draw more attention to
his character when not speaking.
Wilhelm scream , created three years earlier for the film Distant
Drums , is used during the action sequences: when a sailor aboard the
freighter is grabbed by an ant, when James Whitmore's character is
caught in an ant's mandibles , and when an overhead wooden beam falls
on a soldier in the
Los Angeles storm-drain sequence.
The giant ants, painted a purplish-green color, were constructed and
operated by unseen technicians supervised by Ralph Ayers. During the
climactic battle sequence in the
Los Angeles sewers, there is a brief
shot of one ant moving in the foreground with its side removed,
revealing its mechanical interior. This blunder has been obscured in
DVD releases of the film.
The sounds the giant ants emit in the film were the calls of
Bird-voiced tree frogs mixed in with the calls of a wood thrush ,
hooded warbler and red-bellied woodpecker . It was recorded at Indian
Island, Georgia, on April 11, 1947 by the
Cornell Lab of Ornithology .
Them! was released in June 1954 and by the end of that year had
accrued $2 million (US) in distributors\' domestic (U.S. and Canada)
rentals, making it the year's 51st biggest earner. According to an
article in The Slate, this was
Warner Bros. highest-grossing film that
year. However, 1954 In Film lists two other films from Warner Bros.
that earned more in gross.
From contemporary reviews, the
Monthly Film Bulletin stated that
despite the science fiction film genre being new it had developed
several sub-divisions including "the other-wordly, the
primaeval-monstrous, the neo-monstrous, the planet-ary-visitant, etc."
and that "
Them! is a "well-built example of the neo-monstrous", "less
absurdly sensational than most" Discussing the ant monsters in the
film, the review referred to them as "reasonably horrible--they do not
entirely avoid the impression of mock-up that is almost inevitable
when over-lifesize creatures have to be constructed and moved", while
noting that they were "considerably more conceivable than those
prehistoric remnants that have recently been emerging from bog and
iceberg". The review commented on the cast as "like most
science-fiction, is on the whole serviceably rather than excitingly
cast" and the crew was noted, stating the direction was "smoothly
machined" and the film has "decent writing" though "more short cuts
might have been ", finding that the start of the film was too slow.
The New York Times review noted "... from the moment James Whitmore,
New Mexico state trooper, discovers a six-year-old moppet
wandering around the desert in a state of shock, to the time when the
cause of that mental trauma is traced and destroyed,
Them! is taut
science fiction". The reviewer in Variety opined it was a "top-notch
science fiction shocker. It has a well-plotted story, expertly
directed and acted in a matter-of-fact style to rate a chiller payoff
and thoroughly satisfy the fans of hackle-raising melodrama".
Since its original release,
Them! has become generally regarded as
one of the best science fiction films of the 1950s. Bill Warren
described it as " ... tight, fast-paced and credible ... he picture is
suspenseful". Phil Hardy 's
The Aurum Film Encyclopedia : Science
Fiction noted, "Directed by Douglas in semi-documentary fashion,
Them! is one of the best American science fiction films of the
Danny Peary believed the film "Ranks with The Thing and
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Invasion of the Body Snatchers as the best of the countless '50s
science fiction films". In the Time Out Film Guide , David Pirie
wrote, "By far the best of the 50s cycle of 'creature features' ...
retains a good part of its power today". The review aggregator
Rotten Tomatoes reported a 100% approval rating with an
average rating of 7.6/10, based on 26 reviews. The website's consensus
reads, "One of the best creature features of the early atomic age,
Them! features effectively menacing special effects and avoids the
self-parody that would taint later monster movies".
Them! was nominated for an Oscar for its special effects and won a
Golden Reel Award for best sound editing. The film has been nominated
American Film Institute
American Film Institute lists, AFI\'s 100 Years ... 100
Thrills and AFI\'s 10 Top 10 (science fiction genre).
IN POPULAR CULTURE
Van Morrison 's band Them was named after this film.
* New Jersey punk band the Misfits has a song titled "Them!", with
lyrics directly inspired by the film, on their 1999 release Famous
* The video game series It Came From the Desert was inspired by
Eight Legged Freaks features a scene in which sequences from the
film are included.
* The Counterstrike expansion for Westwood Studios' Command the
primary antagonists are giant ants.
* Lilo ">
* ^ "Rentals" refers to the distributor/studio's share of the box
office gross, which, according to Gebert, is roughly half of the money
generated by ticket sales.
* ^ "The Top Box-Office Hits of 1954." Variety Weekly, January 5,
* ^ "Them!".
Turner Classic Movies . Retrieved April 24, 2016.
* ^ A B C D E F G H I Warren 1982, pp. 188–195.
* ^ Smith 2012, p. 167.
* ^ Herzberg 2007, p. 176.
* ^ A B Gebert, Michael. The Encyclopedia of Movie Awards (listing
of "Box Office (Domestic Rentals)" for 1954, taken from Variety
magazine). New York: St. Martin's Paperbacks, 1996. ISBN 0-668-05308-9
* ^ Waldman, Katy (31 January 2013). "The Nuclear Monsters That
Terrorized the 1950s". slate.com. Retrieved 2015-10-22. Them!, a
cautionary tale about giant irradiated ants, was Warner Bros.’
highest-grossing film in 1954.
* ^ A B C "
Them! U.S.A., 1954".
Monthly Film Bulletin . Vol. 21 no.
British Film Institute
British Film Institute . 1954. p. 131.
* ^ White, Armond (A.W.). "Them (1954); Warner Brothers chiller at
Paramount." The New York Times, June 17, 1954.
* ^ "Brog". Review from Variety dated April 14, 1954, taken from
Variety's Complete Science Fiction Reviews, edited by Don Willis,
Garland Publishing, Inc., 1985, ISBN 0-8240-6263-9 .
* ^ "
Them! (1954)." Variety, April 14, 1954.
* ^ Hardy, Phil, ed. The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Science Fiction.
London: Aurum Press, 1984. Reprinted as The Overlook Film
Encyclopedia: Science Fiction. London: Overlook Press, 1995. ISBN
* ^ Peary, Danny. Guide for the Film Fanatic. London: Fireside,
1986. ISBN 0-671-61081-3 .
* ^ Pirie, David, ed. "Them!" The Time Out Film Guide, 2nd Edition.
London: Penguin Books, 1991. ISBN 0-14-014592-3 .
* ^ "
Them! (1954)." Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved: January 9, 2015.
* ^ "The 27th Academy Awards, 1955." Oscars.org, Retrieved: January
* ^ "Motion Picture Sound Editors, USA (1955)".
IMDB . Retrieved
* ^ "AFI\'s 100 Years ... 100 Thrills Nominees". afi.com.
Retrieved: January 9, 2015.
* ^ "AFI\'s 10 Top 10 Ballot". afi.com. Retrieved: January 9, 2015.
* ^ Mills 2010, p. 205.
* ^ Greenberg, Allen. "It Came from Out of the Disk Drive."
Computer Gaming World, Issue 70, April 1990.
* Herzberg, Bob. The FBI and the Movies. Jefferson, North Carolina:
McFarland & Company, 2007. ISBN 978-0-78642-755-0 .
* Mills, Peter. Hymns to the Silence: Inside the Words and Music of
Van Morrison. London: A&C Black, 2010. ISBN 978-0-8264-2976-6 .
* Parish, James Robert and Michael R. Pitts. The Great Science
Fiction Pictures. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company,
1977. ISBN 978-0-81081-029-7 .
* Smith, Dave. Disney Trivia from the Vault: Secrets Revealed and
Questions Answered. New York: Disney Press, 2012. ISBN
* Strick, Philip. Science Fiction Movies. London: Octopus Books
Limited. 1976. ISBN 0-7064-0470-X .
* Warren, Bill . Keep Watching The Skies Vol. I: 1950 - 1957.
Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland ;background:none
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