Tuesday, October 25, 2011

THEM (1954)

In a New Mexico desert, a little girl has been spotted wandering aimlessly with a doll in her hands. Cop James Whitmore and his partner Chris Drake find her, seemingly in a trance, not responsive and unable to speak. They then find her home, an empty trailer which has been smashed up, and both men notice a strong smell and occasionally hear a weird whining noise in the distance. A bit down the road, a general store is found similarly smashed up, the proprietor dead. Whitmore goes back to headquarters, while Drake, alone at the crime scene, hears the whining noise, sees something horrible from his car window, screams, and is killed. It's discovered that both dead men had formic acid in their bodies, which is also the source of the strange smell. When the little girl sniffs some formic acid, she becomes agitated and screams, "Them! Them!" FBI agent James Arness is called in, as is scientist Edmund Gwenn (with his daughter Joan Weldon), and soon they're all face to face with gigantic killer ants, apparently mutations caused by nuclear testing in the desert. A plan to bomb the ant's huge underground nest is carried out, but two queen ants escape and make their way to the sewers of Los Angeles where Whitmore and Arness, joined by the Army, try to kill the last of the ants before they can spawn and, as Gwenn quotes from the Bible, there will be darkness and destruction, and "the beast shall reign over the earth."

One of the earliest of the atomic-mutation monster movies, made the same year as the Japanese GODZILLA, this is also one of the best. The ants themselves as a special effect are OK, but it's the above B-level writing and acting that makes this work, as well as strong directorial style from Gordon Douglas. The first half-hour or so feels like a traditional crime drama, and the long opening sequence in the desert, which plays out first in bright sunlight and then in a wicked dust storm, works very well. Craggy Whitmore and handsome Arness make a good pair of heroes, and Gwenn is fun as the voice of science. The little girl (Sandy Descher, above) has almost no dialogue, but she gives a good creepy performance; in fact, sh'’s almost more memorable than the huge deadly ants. [DVD]

No comments: