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!!!

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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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PICTURE OF THE DAY: THEM! (1954)

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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