Memorable Movie Quotes: THEM! (1954)

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them-movie-poster-1954

Welcome back to another edition of MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES, that column where we look at cool quotes from cool movies, especially horror movies.  Up today, it’s THEM! (1954), the classic science fiction horror movie about giant ants on the prowl first in the deserts of New Mexico and then in the sewers of Los Angeles.  THEM! is arguably the best of the 1950s giant monster movies.  It also one of the finest horror movies ever made.

One of its strengths is its well-written and very smart screenplay by Ted Sherdeman.  It tells a compelling story, the first half of which plays like a hard-hitting crime drama and mystery, as people are disappearing, and the New Mexico State Police and the FBI work together to find out why.  The second half, when the giant ants are revealed, becomes a classic 1950s horror fest.  The entire film is chilling throughout.

The script also includes many memorable lines.  And on that note, let’s have a look at some of these lines from THEM!, screenplay by Ted Sherdeman.

Early on, the dialogue drives the suspense and sets the tone.  Like in this early scene where the coroner details the cause of death of one of the victims:

CORONER:  Well, Old Man Johnson could’ve died in any one of five ways.  His neck and back were broken, his chest was crushed, his skull was fractured… and here’s one for Sherlock Holmes – there was enough formic acid in him to kill twenty men.

Later, when FBI agent Robert Graham (James Arness) and police sergeant Ben Peterson (James Whitmore) are in search of clues, they investigate a large sugar theft from a railway yard, a theft that has gotten the night watchman arrested, since he claimed he didn’t see a thing.  Of course, Graham and Peterson know sugar is just the thing on the giant ants’ menu, and so they are intrigued and question the night watchman.

GRAHAM:  Is this the only job you ever had?

NIGHT WATCHMAN:  Yes, sir. I’ve been with the railroad thirty years and never a blot against my record.

GRAHAM:  Well, the yard cop seems to think you made a deal not to see that car broken into.

NIGHT WATCHMAN:  What kind of sense does that make? Is sugar a rare cargo? Is there a black market for it? Did you ever hear of a fence for hot sugar? If I was gonna make a deal with crooks to steal something, it wouldn’t be for forty tons of sugar. And I’ll swear I didn’t hear a thing Friday night.

Smart, realistic, writing.  And there’s also plenty of humor, too.  Like when the railroad yard cop asks Sergeant Peterson why the FBI is so interested in a sugar theft.  Peterson’s reply?

PETERSON:  He’s got a sweet tooth.

In fact, there’s a lot of humorous lines in THEM!  And they’re necessary.  For a film as tense as THEM!, moments of comic relief are very welcome.

Let’s have a look.

When they are preparing to saturate the massive ant nest with cyanide, a nervous Graham quips:

GRAHAM:  If I can still raise an arm when we get out of this place, I’m gonna show you just how saturated I can get.

When Graham and Peterson first meet the attractive daughter of Dr. Harold Medford (Edmund Gwenn), Dr. Patricia Medford (Joan Weldon), they have this exchange:

GRAHAM:  I shoulda had this suit pressed.

PETERSON: She’s quite a doctor, eh?

GRAHAM: Yeah. If she’s the kind that takes care of sick people, I think I’ll get a fever real quick.

One of the funnier bits in the film occurs when Peterson and Dr. Medford ride together in a helicopter and Dr. Medford attempts to talk to his daughter via the radio.  Of course, Edmund Gwenn, who played Dr. Medford, was no stranger to comedic roles during his career. Gwenn is probably most famous today for playing Kris Kringle in the original MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (1947).

DR. MEDFORD:  Search Able to Search Baker.

PETERSON: Say “Over.”

DR. MEDFORD: Huh?

PETERSON: Then say “Over.”

DR. MEDFORD:  “Over?”

PATRICIA MEDFORD:  Medford in Baker to Medford in Able: Go ahead, Dad. Over.

DR. MEDFORD: Have you found anything yet?

PETERSON: Say “Over.”

DR. MEDFORD: I just said it.

PETERSON: I know. Say it again.

DR. MEDFORD: Oh. “Over!”

PATRICIA MEDFORD: Baker to Able: Not yet. We’re about three-quarters of the way across our sector. We’re now at coordinates Charlie-Six. Over.

DR. MEDFORD: Well, don’t pass up any possibilities. Let me know the moment you find anything.

PETERSON: If you’re finished, say “Over and out.”

DR. MEDFORD: But she knows I’m through talking with her.

PETERSON: I know she does, Doctor. It’s a rule, though. You gotta say it.

DR. MEDFORD: Ah…

PETERSON: Isn’t that right, General?

GENERAL O’BRIEN: Right, Sergeant.

DR. MEDFORD: This is ridiculous! A lot of good your rules are gonna do us if we don’t locate the…

PETERSON (over the headset): Over and out.

DR. MEDFORD: Oh, now you’re happy!

them!-whitmore-gwen-helicopter

And when they’re examining the wall of the ant nest:

DR. PATRICIA MEDFORD: Look! Held together with saliva!

PETERSON: Yeah! Spit’s all that’s holding me together right now, too.

One of the most famous lines from the film, and if you’ve seen it, you no doubt remember it, is when Peterson and Graham travel to a local hospital to interview a drunk who may or may not have seen the giant ants.  It turns out, the drunk, Jensen, has seen the ants and gives them some valuable information which leads them to the ants’ whereabouts, but not before he has this lively and memorable exchange:

JENSEN:  General, I’ll make a deal with you. You make me a sergeant in charge of the booze and I’ll enlist. Make me a sergeant in charge of the booze! Make me a sergeant in charge of the booze!

And of course, the film gets its title from the screams of the little girl who Sgt. Peterson finds roaming the desert in the film’s opening moments.  She’s in a catatonic state of shock, but later, when Professor Medford revives her, she screams out:

LITTLE GIRL:  Them!  Them! Them!!!

them!-little_girl

In spite of his comedic background, Edmund Gwenn as Dr. Medford also has some of the more somber and poignant lines from the movie.  Like here, when FBI Agent Graham reacts to the news the ant they just killed was only one of many.

GRAHAM:  And I thought today was the end of them.

MEDFORD: No. We haven’t seen the end of them. We’ve only had a close view of the beginning of what may be the end of us.

And as Dr. Medford, Edmund Gwenn also gets to have the final say at the end of the movie:

GRAHAM: Pat, if these monsters got started as a result of the first atomic bomb in 1945, what about all the others that have been exploded since then?

PATRICIA MEDFORD: I don’t know.

DR. MEDFORD: Nobody knows, Robert. When Man entered the atomic age, he opened a door into a new world. What we’ll eventually find in that new world, nobody can predict.

Cue end credits.

THEM! is a superior horror movie, taut, well-acted, well-written, with decent special effects.  It succeeds because the ants aren’t the main focus of the movie.  It’s the characters in the film and their reactions to the events around them that make THEM! a classic of 1950s giant monster cinema.

I hope you enjoyed these quotes from THEM! and join me again next time on the next MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES when we look at memorable quotes from another memorable movie.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

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IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951)

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The-Thing-from-Another-World-PosterHere’s my latest IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column on the science fiction classic THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951), up now in the January 2014 edition of the HWA Newsletter.

And remember, my book IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, a collection of 115 horror movie columns, is available from NECON EBooks as an EBook at www.neconebooks.com, and as a print edition at https://www.createspace.com/4293038.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT

BY

MICHAEL ARRUDA

 

THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951) is one of my favorite horror science fiction films from the 1950s.  This one and THEM! (1954) are pretty much even in my book.

And while there are other classic horror science fiction movies from the 1950s, THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD— which I grew up calling THE THING, because that’s how we referred to it back then— is certainly the creepiest.

I love this movie.

 

Of course, today the debate rages over which one is better, this original film version or John Carpenter’s graphic 1982 remake starring Kurt Russell. That’s a debate for another day, and another column.  They’re both great movies.

 

One of the main reasons why THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD is superior to so many other genre films from the 1950s is the quality of the acting.  There’s no wooden or stilted acting here.  The cast features an enormous ensemble of actors, led by Kenneth Tobey as Captain Patrick Hendry, and they’re all excellent. 

 

And there’s a flow to the dialogue that is unmatched by other films of the time.  Characters talk quickly and at the same time. 

 

Of course, the famous story about THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD is that producer Howard Hawks, one of the most talented directors in American film history, actually directed most of this film rather than the credited director, Christian Nyby.

 

Christian who?  Actually, in spite of the fact that nearly everyone who talks about THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD refers to it as a Howard Hawks film, Nyby went on to have a very successful career in television, directing episodes from TWILIGHT ZONE (1962), GILLIGAN’S ISLAND (1965), EMERGENCY! (1972-73), and ADAM-12 (1970-75), to name just a few.

 

So, getting back to my point about the acting and the dialogue, if you’ve seen other Howard Hawks movies, you’ve seen this rapid fire style of dialogue before, and so it validates that Hawks had his hand in the production.

 

And it’s a great script too, by Charles Lederer, based on the story “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell, Jr.  Lederer had a ton of writing credits, including the classic Cary Grant comedy HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940), an early Howard Hawks film that contains some of the fastest, snappiest, and funniest dialogue in a movie this side of the Marx Brothers.

 

The story is simple.  A group of soldiers are sent from their station in Anchorage, Alaska to the North Pole to investigate what the scientists there say was a plane crash of some kind.  Captain Patrick Hendry (Kenneth Tobey) is only too happy to lead this mission up north because his girlfriend Nikki (Margaret Sheridan) is stationed there, where she assists the famous Dr. Arthur Carrington (Robert Cornthwaite).

 

Accompanying Captain Hendry and his men is reporter Ned “Scotty” Scott (Douglas Spencer, in a terrific performance), who gets most of the humorous lines in the movie.  Sure enough, they discover the wreckage of an aircraft now underneath the ice, and when they fan out to determine the shape of the thing, in a now famous scene, they discover that the craft is round— it’s a flying saucer. 

 

They attempt to melt the ice so they can examine their find, but the thermite charges prove to be too hot, and the entire ship goes up in flames and is destroyed.  However, they do discover the body of an alien being frozen in ice, apparently frozen after he had attempted to leave his ship.  They bring back the chunk of ice containing the frozen alien.

 

This being a horror movie, the ice melts, and the alien awakes, and lo and behold, we meet The Thing (James Arness) an eight foot walking vegetable who possesses superior intelligence as well as incredible strength.  He also has regenerative powers, and so when he loses a hand early on, he grows it back.  He needs blood to survive, and he quickly kills two of the scientists, hangs them upside down in the base’s greenhouse, and slits their throats, using their blood to feed seedlings so he can grow others like him to, in effect, take over the world.

 

The rest of the movie pits Captain Hendry and his men against this seemingly unstoppable and very brutal creature.  It’s all very exciting and suspenseful.  You won’t have many fingernails left.

 

THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD includes some really neat and scary scenes.  The Thing itself isn’t in the movie very much, but the film makes the most of his brief screen time.

 

The scene where Captain Hendry and his men, while searching for the Thing, open the door and he’s standing right there on the other side of the door, is scary as hell and provides a nice jolt, the kind of scene absent from most 1950s movies.

 

This scene also has one of the funnier moments in the movie, when Captain Hendry asks Scotty if he took a picture of the Thing.  Scotty answers that the door wasn’t open wide enough and so Hendry asks if he’d like him to open the door again.  Scotty quickly says, “NO!”

 

The scene where the Thing runs into the snow and fights off the dogs is another creepy one, and you can’t see THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD without mentioning the sequence where the soldiers try to kill it by setting it on fire.  This scene is famous because supposedly Hawks used real fire and shot it in one take, so it’s about as authentic a scene using fire as you’re ever going to see.  The stunt doubles earned their money in this scene.  It’s a violent, raw, and intense.

 

Just before this flame sequence, as the Thing approaches the door, off-camera, and the soldiers track him with their Geiger counters, counting down the distance between him and them, is reminiscent of similar scenes used years later in ALIEN (1979) and its sequel ALIENS (1986).

 

The Thing itself has a great look, and it helps that we usually see him in shadow or with a strange eerie glow around his head.  It’s one of James Arness’ first movies, and he does a nice job acting scary.  He got to play the good guy in the other classic science fiction horror movie from the 1950s, THEM! (1954) as he plays FBI man Robert Graham in that one, who has to save the world from an invasion of giant ants.

 

THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD  has a great cast.  It’s one of Kenneth Tobey’s best performances.  Toby also appeared in the Ray Harryhausen movies THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953), and IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA (1955), but he’s so much better here in THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD.  Tobey enjoyed a long acting career, appearing in movies all the way up to the late 1990s.  He passed away in 2002.

 

Other than Tobey, my favorite performance belongs to Douglas Spencer as “Scotty” the reporter. He certainly gets some of the best lines in the movie, and his performance here is a nice foreshadowing of Darren McGavin’s performance as reporter Carl Kolchak in THE NIGHT STALKER (1972).

 

Margaret Sheridan is also very good as Nikki, and Robert Cornthwaite makes a very effective Dr. Arthur Carrington, who’s constantly at odds with Captain Hendry, as he wants to keep the Thing alive at all costs, in the interests of science.  Cornthwaite also played a scientist in THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953).  Like Kenneth Tobey, Cornthwaite also enjoyed a long acting career, acting all the way up to the 2000s, and he passed away in 2006.

 

Everyone in the cast seems so relaxed.  Now, this isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s incredibly refreshing not to have people running around screaming and overacting.  They’re constantly trying not to attract the Thing, and so they’re frequently whispering.  There’s lot of soft spoken crisp dialogue, and it’s full of humor throughout.

 

You also can’t talk about THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD without mentioning the powerful music score by Dimitri Tiomkin.  It’s an amazing score, and it captures the strength and brutality of the Thing itself.

 

Howard Hawks only made one horror movie, THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD. After seeing it, you can’t help but wish he had made many more.

 

—END—

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: FORBIDDEN PLANET (1956)

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FORBIDDEN PLANET

FORBIDDEN PLANET

Here’s my latest SPOOKLIGHT column, now up in the HWA February Newsletter, on the 1956 science fiction classic, FORBIDDEN PLANET, featuring Robby the Robot and a pre-comedic Leslie Nielsen.

Enjoy!

Michael Arruda

 

  IN THE SPOOKLIGHT

BY

MICHAEL ARRUDA

 

Being cooped up this winter has put me in the mood to take a trip– to the FORBIDDEN PLANET (1956).

Yep, today we’re entering the world of science fiction, a genre which most of the time goes hand in hand with horror.

FORBIDDEN PLANET is one of the more celebrated science fiction films from the 1950s, and it’s certainly one of the more colorful, filled with elaborate sets and eye-popping special effects, the latter of which were nominated for an Academy Award in 1956 but ultimately lost out to Charlton Heston and THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (1956). 

FORBIDDEN PLANET is also famous for featuring Robby the Robot in his first film role. 

It’s the 21st century, and a spaceship under the command of Commander J. J. Adams (Leslie Nielsen) arrives at the planet Altair on a mission to check on a previous expedition which had landed there years before.  Once on the planet, Adams and his crew are met by Robby the Robot who greets the space travelers and takes them to his owner, a scientist, Dr. Edward Morbius (Walter Pidgeon). 

Morbius explains to them that he is the last surviving member of the expedition which had originally landed on the planet, with the exception of Robby the Robot, which he built, and his daughter Altaira (Anne Francis).  Morbius also explains that the members of his crew were all murdered by a ferocious creature, which strangely, later disappeared. Hmm, sounds suspicious to me!

It doesn’t ring true to Commander Adams either, and during the course of their stay, his crew is soon attacked by the invisible creature which makes a triumphant return.  Adams presses Morbius for more information, and the scientist reveals to Adams his discovery of the remnants of an alien race known as the Krell.  By using their machinery, Morbius was able to increase his intellect, which is how he built Robby, and also why he remains there on the planet, to learn as much about the universe as possible using the Krell’s abandoned technology.

This is all well and good, but Adams is most interested in protecting his crew from the unstoppable monster that seems intent on visiting their camp each night and killing as many of them as possible.  How does one stop an invisible creature?  That’s what Adams has to figure out, or else he and his crew will never be able to leave the FORBIDDEN PLANET.

Even though it’s loosely based on Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” FORBIDDEN PLANET has always been for me a visual feast that’s somewhat lacking in the story department.  Cyril Hume wrote the screenplay, and while the story itself is adequate, it’s nothing to get excited about.  Plus, I find Commander Adams and his crew terribly dull, and Dr. Morbius a thorough bore.  Anne Francis as Altaira is very easy on the eyes, and Robby the Robot is probably the most interesting character in the entire film.

It plays like an episode of the original STAR TREK, only less fun since Commander Adams and his friends are nowhere near as entertaining as Kirk, Spock, and Dr. McCoy.  Like STAR TREK, the film is cerebral and thought-provoking, but unlike STAR TREK, it fails to instill much emotion. 

That being said, FORBIDDEN PLANET clearly influenced 1960s science fiction TV shows like STAR TREK and LOST IN SPACE.  The visuals used to depict the deceleration booths on the spaceship are reminiscent of the visuals used for the transporter beams on STAR TREK.  And the conversations between Robby the Robot and the human characters foreshadow the banter between Dr. Smith and the Robinson Robot on LOST IN SPACE

The influence of FORBIDDEN PLANET goes beyond 1960s science fiction.  When Morbius takes Commander Adams and his men on the tour of the underground Krell world, the visuals— some of the more impressive in the film— bring to mind the interior of the Death Star in STAR WARS (1977).  I almost expected to see Obi Wan Kenobi lurking around the corridors.

 Sure, the special effects in FORBIDDEN PLANET are dated by today’s standards, but there’s still something incredibly fun and awe-inspiring about Altair, the underground Krell world, and Robby the Robot. 

As much as I liked Leslie Nielsen in his later years when he enjoyed his “rebirth” as a comic actor in AIRPLANE (1980), THE NAKED GUN movies, and all the other spoofs he appeared in, his leading man shtick here is pretty wooden.  He’s hardly an inspiring commander. 

 Walter Pidgeon is also sleep-inducing as Morbius.  He’s your standard misguided mad scientist that we’ve seen in countless other movies, the genius with good intentions who just can’t seem to see inside himself and realize that his good intentions have gone awry.

 Anne Francis fares the best as Altaira.  She’s sexy, and her lively yet innocent personality is all the more refreshing because she’s surrounded by a bunch of one-dimensional space explorers.  Also in the cast as crew member Chief Quinn, is Richard Anderson who would go on to play Oscar Goldman in THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN and BIONIC WOMAN TV shows.

 FORBIDDEN PLANET was directed by Fred M. Wilcox, most famous for his first hit, LASSIE COME HOME (1943).  FORBIDDEN PLANET was his only genre film.

 Robby the Robot was designed by Robert Kinoshita, and in addition to appearing in FORBIDDEN PLANET, Robby also appeared in the B-Movie THE INVISIBLE BOY (1957).  Robby went on to become one of the most recognizable robots in the history of the movies.  He also appeared in the LOST IN SPACE Season 1 Episode “War of the Robots” where he took on the Robinson Robot in one of that show’s more memorable episodes.

 There’s also a unique electronic music score by Louis Barron and Bebe Barron which is innovative and futuristic sounding, even if it does get to be annoying after a while.

 FORBIDDEN PLANET could certainly have benefitted from a stronger story, more interesting characters, and some human charm.  But you can’t go wrong with the imaginative special effects or the real star of this one, Robby the Robot.

 If you’re in the mood to visit a strange new world, check out FORBIDDEN PLANET, but be forewarned that a hungry invisible monster with an appetite for humans happens to call the place home. 

 —END—