PICTURE OF THE DAY: THEM! (1954)

James Whitmore trying to elude a giant ant in one of the scarier scenes from THEM! (1954).

James Whitmore tries to elude a giant ant in one of the scarier scenes from THEM! (1954).

PICTURE OF THE DAY:  THEM!  (1954)

Spoiler Alert!

While I don’t mind spoilers for older movies, since most of us have seen these movies several times over, in the interest of not wanting to ruin a good movie for those who haven’t seen it, this column features a major spoiler about the classic monster movie THEM! (1954) and so, if you haven’t seen the movie, feel free to skip this column, and I’ll see you again next time.

Anyone still with me?  Hope so!

Today’s Picture of the Day comes from the classic 1950s monster movie, THEM! which tells the story of a colony of gigantic mutated ants discovered in the desert of New Mexico.  They eventually terrorize Los Angeles.

THEM! is one of the best giant monster movies ever made, and one of the reasons for this is that for a 1950s film, it’s still rather scary and suspenseful.  Director Gordon Douglas crafts some genuinely suspenseful scenes, and the screenplay by Ted Sherdeman and Russell Hughes, based on a story by George Worthing Yates, tells a gritty realistic story rather than an overblown fanciful one.  This one plays like a mystery and a police drama long before it delves into the world of science fiction—- just what is killing these people?— and then once the giant ants are discovered, the film takes on that WAR OF THE WORLDS invasion feel— just how can we stop an army of giant ants?

Another reason THEM! is so scary and so memorable is it does something which so few films do— now or back in the 1950s— and it’s one of the reasons this movie has stuck with me since the first time I saw it on television as a kid in the early 1970s (and here’s the spoiler):  it kills off the hero.

Yikes!

Yes, that’s right, the hero in THEM!, Police Sergeant Ben Peterson (James Whitmore) in his attempt to rescue two children trapped by the ants in the storm drains underneath Los Angeles, gets the children out, but he  gives up his life in the process, leaving co-hero FBI agent Robert Graham (James Arness) in charge of saving the day.

It’s such a powerful scene, especially since in 1950s horror movies, this never seems to happen.  I remember being absolutely shocked that the ants got Ben Peterson.  So much so, that moments later, when the ants close in on Robert Graham, I thought he was a goner too, and I never would have felt this fear had not Peterson met his demise.  It’s great stuff.

The image from today’s picture of the day shows Peterson seconds before the ant gets him.  He had just pushed the children to safety and is about to follow them when the ant— the bastard!— sneaks up behind him and attacks.  For my money, it’s one of the most emotional and frightening moments in 1950s horror movie cinema.

I still get shivers thinking about it, even as I sit here and look at that still.  You’re a good man, Ben Peterson.  You saved those kids, and you came oh-so-close to making it out alive yourself.

Oh so close.

RIP Ben Peterson, one of my favorite horror movie characters, played so well by the great actor James Whitmore.

Hope you enjoy the image, and if you’ve never seen THEM!, definitely check it out.  It holds up remarkably well today.

Well, that’s it for now.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

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