The world has been under threat from many things over the years. Things like giant asteroids, zombies, nuclear war, killer viruses and pretty much anything you can dream up. Of course, these things usually only happen at the movies. One of the earliest threats to face our fair planet on screen was a swarm of giant ants, courtesy of the movie, Them! It was by no means the first picture to feature creatures of an abnormal size, but it is one of the best. In fact, Them! would be so popular, it would go on to inspire other movies and be followed by many imitators such as The Deadly Mantis and Tarantula just to name two. Not only would the film influence other movies, but creators as well who would reference the picture for decades to come. The movie would turn out to be a turning point in the world of science-fiction, causing other films to become smarter, creating a thinking man’s film dealing with the fantastical instead of just an action film with aspects of the genre. So what is it that makes this film so good, what makes this film better than most other science-fiction films of the time?
Well, the story for one. The film would be one of the first to deal with the aftereffects of nuclear testing and of atomic bombs, and while completely fictional, this movie realized that nothing good can come of it. It also took its subject matter seriously. Giant ants? Why not? They could be real and if so, they could potentially breed and spread out across the world threatening the very existence of humankind. Some of the science might be real, about the testing and the habits of the ants, but everything else about this film is pure fiction, and yet George Worthing Yates creates a very plausible scenario and he writes it as if it could happen. Yates also makes it compelling and keeps the viewer guessing for much of the opening of the film on just who or what is killing people. Now most movie-goers heading into the theater would have seen the poster for the film and would have known exactly what was doing the killing, but Yates fills the picture with mystery and suspense and after it is revealed, that suspense and the tension that would manifest because of it would remain throughout the film.
Another plus for the movie are the performances of its actors. James Whitmore is excellent as Sgt. Ben Peterson as is Edmund Gwenn as Dr. Medford. By the time this film rolled around, the two had been in a lot of movies and when it came to casting, this film could hardly have done any better for its two leads. James Arness, best known for his role in Gunsmoke, appears as FBI agent while Joan Weldon stars as Dr. Medford’s daughter, Pat. There is even a tiny little cameo by Leonard Nimoy in the film, though you have to keep your eyes peeled to find him. And though all accomplished actors, part of the success of this film can be attributed to Ted Sherdeman and Russell Hughes who wrote the screenplay with all of its great dialogue. How can anyone forget the performance from little Sandy Descher as she starts blurting out the movie’s famous title?
Guiding this movie with a steady hand was director Gordon Douglas and coupled with the cinematography of Sidney Hickox, the film would create a wide range of emotions from terror to claustrophobia to excitement. The movie would sport some very memorable scenes such as the torn apart mobile home for one, and another when James Whitmore’s character is down in the tunnels battling the ants just to name two. Many of the scenes in this movie have not only inspired, but have been copied by other films over the years and is a testament to just how influential this picture is. The special effects also play a large part in the film and are fantastic for the time period and really, do not even look as bad as most people say. The worst parts about the ants are the eyes, which is what usually goes wrong on most costumes of the time no matter the creature. Such as it is, you can forgive that one small thing as it does not impact the enjoyment of the film in any way.
Them! was and still is, an important science-fiction film. Partly because of the ants, yes, but more importantly because of the way the subject matter was treated. There were no laughs or comedy relief, only shock, horror and fear at what could happen if a possibility were made real. Science-fiction is about possibility and at its best; you get films like The Time Machine, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Gojira, Planet of the Apes and more. You also get a film about giant ants.
First entry – Giant Monster Gamera (1965)
Second entry – The Monolith Monsters (1957)
Third entry – Gamera vs. Barugon (1966)
Fourth entry – Tarantula (1955)
Fifth Entry – Gamera vs. Gyaos (1967)
Sixth entry – Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957)
Seventh Entry – Gamera vs. Viras (1968)
Eighth entry – The Cyclops (1957)
Ninth entry – Gamera vs. Guiron (1969)
Tenth entry – Monsters (2010)
Eleventh entry – Gamera vs. Jiger (1970)
Twelth entry – The Killer Shrews (1959)
Thirteenth entry – Gamera vs. Zigra (1971)
Fourteenth Entry – The Deadly Mantis (1957)
Fifteenth Entry – Space Monster Gamera (1980)
Sixteenth entry – King Dinosaur (1955)
Seventeenth entry – Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (1995)
Eighteenth entry – The Black Scorpion (1957)
Nineteenth entry – Gamera 2: Attack of Legion (1996)