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!
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!!!
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!