This is one of my top 5 all-time favorite movies and one of the closest to a perfect “10” for replay value I’ve ever owned. I never get sick of this awesome movie!!!
The fact that I was able to score a colorized version only brings me that much closer to entertainment nirvana. I know there are sentimental types out there that get all squishy inside when they see films in black & white but not me! I dream in Technicolor baby! Watching a movie requires a certain amount of “suspension of disbelief”. I have a lot less “suspending” to do if I don’t have a gray-tone filter in front of my face.
One of the benefits of a cult classic like this is that there are a great many worth-while reviews and sentiments floating around out there. I will paste the best of several below so that I don’t have to reinvent the wheel.
This movie took America by storm in 1951. 31 years later (1982), John Carpenter would attempt a remake and fail miserably. Carpenter’s version tried to substitute gore and effects for suspense and chemistry [see below]. The latter takes talent, effort and hard work whereas the former does not. It is a far cry from Carpenter’s wonderful success in the comic-book-like fun of Big Trouble In Little China. Interestingly enough, BTILC also has a very high replay value for me. Just ask my wife or my brother.
That is a big part of this movie’s charm; it has dark subject matter but not so dark you can’t handle seeing it more than once (that’s why Passion of the Christ does not hold a high replay value for me even though there is no story more important to tell).
There is a point that is worthwhile to make that no one else is making out there regarding a critique of The Thing: the continuity and interplay between the Army Air Corps pilot and his crew was extremely well done. Not only was it realistic (And why not? — Hollywood had an entire generation of men who had survived WWII for technical authenticity) but it was idealistic without pushing beyond reality. The aircraft commander was definitely in charge but addressed his men with warm familiarity yet without becoming unprofessional — even to the point of relying on them for ideas (but never ceding his authority).
The book that was the source for the screenplay has the menacing alien even more menacing by being able to telepathically read someone’s thoughts [see below]. Hawks may have found this a little too scary for his 1951 audience but a nod was made in the script to what could have been—
Lt. McPherson: You know I’ve got a worry.
Lt. Dykes: Report from the front, captain, lieutenant McPherson has “a worry”.
Lt. McPherson: This is no joke
Lt. Dykes: What?
Lt. McPherson: What if he can read our minds?
Lt. Dykes: Then he’s gonna be real mad when he gets to me.
Sorry for the cliché but they really don’t make ‘em the way they used to.
Captain Patrick Hendry Kenneth Tobey
“Nikki” Nicholson Margaret Sheridan
Dr. Arthur Carrington Robert Cornthwaite
Ned “Scotty” Scott Douglas Spencer
Lt. Eddie Dykes James R. Young
Bob, crew chief Dewey Martin
Lt. Ken McPherson Robert Nichols
Corporal Barnes William Self
Dr. Stern Eduard Franz
Mrs. Chapman Sally Creighton
James Arness as “The Thing”
If you like classic TV, you know James Arness—
Gunsmoke! Star James Arness (“Marshal Matt Dillon”) at 6’7” towers
above co-star Dennis Weaver (“Chester Goode”) at a measly 6’2”.
Although Gunsmoke ran for an amazingly successful 9 seasons, I will always remember James Arness as John Wayne’s partner in Big Jim McLain.
It was a movie only Marion Michael Morrison (John Wayne) could’ve done. As Hollywood went further and further Left, Duke Wayne kept swimming against the tide, using his unprecedented screen presence and popularity to stand up for the country he loved so well. How about this for a plot: Jim McLain (the Duke) and his partner Mal Baxter (one James Arness) are House Committee on Un-American Activities investigators searching out Communist spies in post WWII Hawaii labor unions.
Outrageous, jingoistic flag-waving, no?
After endless years of Hollywood terds moaning over the unjustified persecution of poor, unsuspecting Leftists (by the way, maligned patriots like Joseph McCarthy were only interested in Communists who had infiltrated the government, not the infinite layers of traitors in the entertainment industry) an amazing revelation was disclosed: both John Wayne and Senator Joseph McCarthy were right.
The Venona Project was begun in 1943 by Colonel Carter Clarke, chief of the U.S. Army’s Special Branch, in response to rumors that Stalin was negotiating a separate peace with Hitler. Only a few years earlier, the world had been staggered by the Hitler-Stalin Pact. Unaccountably, Colonel Clarke did not share President Roosevelt’s trust in who FDR called “Uncle Joe.” Cloaked in secrecy, Clarke set up a special Army unit to break the Soviet code. Neither President Roosevelt nor President Truman was told about the Venona Project. This was a matter of vital national security: The Democrats could not be trusted.
The Soviets used a code that was, in theory, unbreakable. But by the war’s end, the Americans had cracked it. And when the Venona cryptographers read the Soviet cables they discovered something far more sinister than Stalin’s war plans: The Roosevelt administration was teeming with paid agents of Moscow. Stalin’s handmaidens held strategic positions at the White House, the State Department, the War Department, the Office of Strategic Services, and the Treasury Department. ~ Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism, Ann Coulter, pp. 36-37
As I did my research for this review, I came across an interesting fact that may have affected the casting of Big Jim McLain. You can guess why the Duke was given the title role but why was James Arness picked to play his partner (a character which Arness played with even more vigor and emotionalism than Wayne did)?
Kenneth Tobey did a great job as “Captain Patrick Hendry”. Don’t doubt for a minute that some moron group of parents did something similar to their poor child as far as the cutsey name goes (I see it all of the time).
Although Tobey was never hammy enough to gain a lot of “A” film leading roles (none to my knowledge), his subdued characterizations were perfect for the “always in control” military man portrayed in this film.
Margaret Sheridan was cute as a button (and wonderfully present-yet-subtle in the weight of her character as regards to the plot—she didn’t pick up a machine gun to help with the ass-kicking as today’s Hollyweird putzes would have).
Robert Cornthwaite was perfect as the nonsensical “Dr. Carrington”.
Center foreground (I swear this was purely coincidental!), from RIGHT to LEFT, Kenneth Tobey as CPT Patrick Hendry, Margaret Sheridan as “Nikki” Nicholson and Robert Cornthwaite as Dr. Arthur Carrington
“Carrington” is the archetypical out-of-touch “man of science” in sharp contrast to the ever-practical military man in Tobey’s “Captain Hendry” and a large part of the suspense comes as Carrington torpedoes Hendry’s efforts to protect the base personnel. Carrington’s agenda is to sacrifice his vulnerable friends and co-workers to protect the vicious alien predator for the sake of “science”. What better characterization could we have for the modern Left verses Right culture war that will dictate the fate of America!
At one point in the movie, CPT Hendry is forced to investigate a room on the base where Carrington basically set up his friends to be slaughtered by the Thing. He finds that two of Carrington’s co-workers were killed and cut open for the sake of their blood (which was feeding the alien’s vegetable progeny). Amazingly, Carrington tries to defend his behavior! The debate between Hendry and Carrington proceeds for only a few seconds until Hendry simply says, “Bob” and Hendry’s NCO crew chief (played by Dewey Martin) steps into the face of Carrington with his M2 Carbine (an automatic version of the popular WWII weapon) and says quietly, “Doctor, you better move along.”
AWESOME. Oh if only every obnoxious, whiney Liberal could be silenced in such a fashion!!
After some hair-raising moments Hendry and his civilian allies win the day and break through the radiation-caused radio interference to send a warning to the “folks back home”.
The warning is sent by news reporter Ned “Scotty” Scott (played by Douglas Spencer) who proudly crows of the military/civilian co-operative success and references the Bible to explain it.
Talk about a science fiction stretch of reality…
Please take the time to read these excellent reviews below because I clipped them out and have only what’s worth reading attached as follows—
The scene is a distant Arctic…base, where a UFO has crashed. The investigating scientists discover that the circular craft has melted its way into the ice, which has frozen up again. While attempting to recover the ship, Captain Patrick Hendry (Kenneth Tobey) accidently explodes the vessel, but the pilot—at least, what seems to be the pilot—remains frozen in a block of ice. The body is taken to base headquarters, where it is inadvertently thawed out by an electric blanket. The alien attacks the soldier guarding him and escapes into the snowy wastes. A…dog rips off the alien’s arm, whereupon Dr. Carrington (Robert Cornthwaite) discerns that “The Thing” is not animal but vegetable, subsisting on blood. While the misguided Carrington attempts to spawn baby “Things” with the severed arm, the parent creature wreaks murderous havoc all over the base. Female scientist Nikki (Margaret Sheridan) suggests that the best way to destroy a vegetable is to cook it. Over the protests of Carrington, who wants to reason with the “visitor” (a very foolhardy notion, as it turns out), the soldiers devise a devious method for stopping The Thing once and for all. This oversimplification of The Thing does not do full justice to the overall mood and tension of the piece, nor does it convey the lifelike “business as usual” approach taken by the residents of the military base in dealing with something beyond their understanding. A superior lend of science-fiction, horror, naturalistic dialogue and flesh-and-blood characterizations, The Thing is a model of its kind. ~ Hal Erickson, All-Movie Guide
Although Christian Nyby is officially credited as director, there can be little question in anyone’s mind but that ‘producer’ Howard Hawks is primarily responsible. … Based on “Who Goes There?”, a terrific short story by John W. Campbell (writing as Don A. Stuart), it deals with an isolated group of scientists threatened by the malevolent, extra-terrestrial vegetable they thaw out of the Antarctic permafrost. (Actually, the film gives the scientists a better break than the story; in the original, the monster was telepathic, while in the film it’s merely strong.) Lightning pacing, overlapping dialogue, and a concentration on group dynamics (all the Hawksian trademarks, in short) work to make this a guaranteed edge-of-your-seat thriller. The scene where the scientists spread out on the ice to mark the outlines of a buried spaceship, and form a perfect circle, is one of the most chilling moments in cinema — and worth the price of admission alone. James Arness plays The Thing. ~ Michael Goodwin, Pacific Film Archive
One of the greatest science-fiction films ever made, THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD was produced by Howard Hawks and supposedly directed by his editor on RED RIVER, Christian Nyby. Anyone familiar with Hawks’s films will immediately recognize that the director’s style, themes, and handling of actors dominate THE THING and that Nyby’s participation was that of an apprentice observing the master. […]
THE THING was based rather loosely on a science-fiction story by John W. Campbell, Jr. (it was first published under his pseudonym, Don A. Stuart), in which the alien had the ability to change its shape at will, causing havoc among the soldiers who begin to suspect each other of harboring the monster (John Carpenter’s remake of THE THING in 1982 stuck closer to this story line but the film turned out to be a massive disappointment). Lederer’s screenplay (rumor has it that frequent Lederer-Hawks collaborator Ben Hecht had a hand in it as well) streamlines the narrative and allows Hawks to concentrate on the human interaction in the face of crisis. Where the original story (and Carpenter’s remake) is a study of paranoia among comrades, Hawks’s film revels in the interworkings of a hardened group of professionals capable of handling any crisis if they stick together. Tobey is the leader of the group and the star of the film, but the characters operate as an ensemble and no one is really given much solo screen time. Their unity is what the film is about (with the point beautifully emphasized visually when they assemble to make the circle on the ice), and anyone familiar with Hawks’s work will know that it is a theme that runs throughout most of his films.
While the film is frequently stunning on a visual level, THE THING is a symphony for the ears as well, with Hawks’s patented overlapping dialog, with the protagonists snappily going about their work, asking each other questions, and providing quick, succinct responses. Whereas it is the very nature of the science-fiction film to be filled with long, ponderous explanations of the rather incredible things presented, Hawks manages to handle the same material in a wholly realistic and entertaining manner sprinkled with doses of light humor. THE THING also draws the line that would mark most science-fiction films of the 1950s—the conflict between the military and science. Although Cornthwaite is shown in a bad light, Hawks still has compassion for the character. Cornthwaite believes the invader to be a superior being and is sympathetic to it because he sees it as an extension of himself—high intellect devoid of emotion, feeling, or pain, the perfect scientist (although the viewer sees it as a violent, rampaging monster that demonstrates little intelligence, only strong survival instincts). The scientist’s intentions are valid and noble—of course, studying the thing would yield valuable information–but his intellectual concerns begin to take over his rational sensibilities and lives are lost because of it. Hawks is a much more practical man—sometimes the price of knowledge is too high. If the survival of the group is threatened, the choice is clear: the group (i.e., society) must survive.
In a genre where elaborate special effects are required (and expected), THE THING is sweet simplicity. As in a horror film, the monster (played by James Arness who would later be Sheriff Matt Dillon in TV’s “Gunsmoke”) is only glimpsed in shadows and darkness, thus making the imagination fill in the terrifying details. Harlan’s cinematography and Tiomkin’s eerie electronic score (he used a theremin) provide enough chills to satisfy any horror fan. No ray-guns, strange costumes, or futuristic inventions are needed here; even the spaceship is only suggested, never seen. The fact that the alien closely resembles a man heightens the sense of personal (human) struggle that is a cornerstone of all good drama.
Those who still doubt that this is Hawks’s film need only look at production stills that show Hawks very much in control of the actors and examine Nyby’s directorial filmography. There was a five-year gap between THE THING and Nyby’s next film, HELL ON DEVIL’S ISLAND, which is odd for a “hot” director (THE THING garnered critical raves and was a big hit at the box office). None of Nyby’s subsequent films even came close to the brilliance of THE THING, leaving one to assume that Hawks granted his friend Nyby directorial credit as a favor so that the editor could begin a new career. ~ TV Guide
Awesome movie that holds up today! 14 January 2004.
While I love the remake very much I was finally able to see the original all the way thru without the colorization on TV. It is a truly awesome movie.
Comparing the two is not really fare or easy as Carpenter’s version has the benefits of modern movie magic. But that is in my opinion the only place it excels. It seems in the remake all the characters are derelicts and for the most part not very likeable. In the original you had a sense of these people liking each other and sticking together.
Kenneth Tobey is a very good and believable leader of his men. He also shows a very human side in that he realizes he is not the smartest of men. He is what he is. A captain of a small band of Air Force Soldiers simply doing their job.
Robert Cornblaithe is excellent as Dr. Carrington. He comes of snootish yet still likeable enough because you can see that deep down he really admires Captain Hendry (Tobey) though he can’t see eye to eye with him on their situation or dealing of his “Thing From Another world.”
Every character in the movie is well played. They all look like they belong in their roles. Their look and attire fit their characters and when one guy is called Professor so and so or whomever, you believe it unlike many movies in those days where they picked anyone to play the supporting actors. There is one thing though, Margaret Sheridan’s pants pulled up almost to her neck line (exaggeration…but close) I could have done without. I realize it was a style of the times but I think they could have given her something a little better to show off her figure when you first meet her. Especially since she was the only female love interest and was tagged as “a pinup girl” in earlier scenes. She looks better when her hair is down and she is in different clothes. I know that is being picky but I just had to say it.
The creature is better presented in the original as far as being frightening. You hardly ever see him. When you do it’s only for brief periods at a time and usually in the dark. That frightening sound of “The Thing” is very original in that it’s not just a growl but sounds like a cat meowing at times. Very eerie!
The story is well known and both are similar although I must admit the remake is closer to the actual Campbell Jr.’s short tale. But the original still gives it a good account and in many ways surpasses the short story because it is easier to identify with the creature since he’s humanoid.
It boils down to suspense, drama and mood versus gore, F/X, and fast paced action. ~ (Lugosi2002@aol.com) from Nashville, posted on the Internet Movie Database (“IMDb”)
It is generally believed that Howard Hawks took over direction during production, and it has always been acknowledged by director Christian Nyby that Hawks was the guiding hand. However, in an interview James Arness said that while Hawks spent a lot of time on the set, it was Nyby who actually directed the picture, not Hawks.
Partly filmed in Glacier National Park and at a Los Angeles ice storage plant.
This film was based on the short story “Who Goes There?” by Don A. Stuart. The credits on this film list the author by his real name, the science fiction editor/writer John W. Campbell Jr.
Midget actor Billy Curtis played the smaller version of “The Thing” during the creature’s final scene.
James Arness complained that his “Thing” costume made him look like a giant carrot.
Howard Hawks asked the U.S. Air Force for assistance in making the film. He was refused because the top brass felt that such cooperation would compromise the U.S. government’s official stance that UFOs didn’t exist.
Only technical and production credits precede the film, no acting credits.
It is believed that Ben Hecht and William Faulkner, both good friends of producer Howard Hawks, contributed to the script. However, long-standing rumors that Orson Welles contributed to the dialog are believed to be untrue.
Two months prior to principal photography, James Arness was brought in during the design and development of the makeup.
Close-ups of “The Thing” were removed. It was felt that the make-up could not hold up to close scrutiny. However, the lack of close-ups gave the creature a more mysterious quality.
James Arness reportedly regarded his role as so embarrassing that he didn’t attend the premiere.
“Robert Nichols” is billed as Lt. Ken Erickson in the credits. His character’s name in the film is Lt. Ken McPherson, he is mostly called “Mac” by Captain Hendry.
When a soldier is asked if he knows how to use a flare gun, he replies that he’s seen Sergeant York (1941), licks his thumb, and pretends to wipe the scope of the gun, mimicking a famous scene from the film. Howard Hawks, the producer (and unofficially credited as having a hand in direction) of The Thing from Another World (1951), also directed Sergeant York (1941).
It took makeup artist Lee Greenway five months and 18 sculptures of the creature before he came up with a design that satisfied producer Howard Hawks.
When producer Howard Hawks attempted to get insurance for the creature, five insurance companies turned him down because “The Thing” was to be frozen in a block of ice, hacked by axes, attacked by dogs, lit on fire, and electrocuted.
The famous scene when the crew formed a ring around the flying saucer frozen in the ice, was actually filmed at the RKO Ranch in the San Fernando Valley in 100-degree weather.
This was the first of only two films made by Howard Hawks’ own production company, Winchester Pictures Corporation. Winchester was Hawks’ middle name.
The scene in which The Thing is doused with kerosene and set ablaze is believed to be the first full body burn accomplished by a stunt man.