Them! (1954)

FEBRUARY 18, 2008


One sort of nice thing about owning a 16:9 TV is you see EXACTLY how much movie you are missing (at least, for non scope/2.35:1 films) when you watch a full frame transfer. Basically, where there's black on the left and right, there should be image. So it was kind of a bummer that TCM aired Them! in a full frame version, when they usually air letterboxed prints. While not as crippling as say, watching Halloween on a cropped transfer, the film still felt cramped. The moral of the story is, whenever you hear someone complaining about the black bars on the top and bottom, remind them that the ones on the side are far more intrusive. And that they're stupid.

In a way it's actually kind of fitting for this film, which was originally supposed to be a full color 3D film, but last minute budget cuts forced them to strip away these frivolous expenses. But I'm glad they chose to make the same movie rather than lose action scenes/effects to cover the budget cuts, because for a film of the era, this one has a lot more action than I expected. In the first half hour, there's already like 3 attack scenes, with a few explosions (mainly caused by a bazooka that apparently never needs to be reloaded, nor does it have a recoil) and more than a couple dead giant ants. Yeah! Usually with these old monster movies, it's just folks talking for a good hour and then finally some shit happens.

On the flipside, the middle of the film is... well, folks talking. After the initial burst of ant action, there's a long spell where they try to find the remaining queen. While not as stupid as Godzilla 98's "we lost him!" portion, it's still a bit odd to see our heroes talk to a few drunks and some guy's mistress to get information on a giant ant's whereabouts. But then it picks up again, and even has a surprising death of a major character.

My only real disappointment with the film was, again, a description that is only about the film's finale. "Giant ants terrorize Los Angeles", explains the cable synopsis. This is, of course, a lie, as the ants don't even get to LA until the final half hour, and they don't terrorize a goddamn thing, just two kids in the sewer. I was hoping to see some assholes get mawed on La Brea or something, but other than a few establishing shots, the entire Los Angeles section of the film is kept to the river (the one seen in EVERY LOS ANGELES MOVIE EVER) and adjoining sewer tunnels. Oh well.

There's also a bit of inadvertent hilarity when someone says "It's every scientist's dream come true" over a shot of giant ants about to go terrorizing. She's referring to the discovery and all that good stuff, but when you're an asshole like me, you take as many things out of context as humanly possible in order to amuse yourself.

Good cast in this one. In addition to James Arness (who sounds a lot like Charles Grodin, which is a bummer for one of them, just not sure which one), James Whitmore also appears as the most versatile beat cop in film history. You may know Whitmore from his role in the TNT original film Shawshank Redemption, where he played the guy who depresses the hell out of every viewer: Brooks, who can't find his bird so he hangs himself (this is a subplot made even MORE depressing in the script/deleted scenes, which include a scene where Andy finds the poor bird impaled on some barbed wire at the prison. Christ.). Also in a small role is Fess Parker, who went on to kill himself a "bar" when he was only three.

Of all the 50s "Let's make a monster movie about radiation fears" movies that I've seen, this is definitely one of the better ones. Good pace, good cast, and even good effects. Nice job all around!

What say you?


  1. Them! was always my favorite 1950s giant monster movie. Very atmospheric and suspenseful, epecially in a genre when subtlety is not usually a strong point.

  2. Great choice -- Them! is definitely one of my favorite 50s sci-fi/horror flicks. As for the aspect ratio, I was under the impression that it was supposed to be "full frame" 1.33:1. That's the way it's formatted on DVD, at least. IMDB says it's 1.75:1, but I never know whether to trust IMDB, and 1.75:1 isn't a common aspect ratio.

  3. Hmm, I'll look into it. It definitely seemed cramped at times, like scenes in Washington when everyone's sitting around.

  4. I love Them! (that scene with the giant ant dropping a human rib cage out of its cave still strikes me as particularly grisly for the time), but it's still only my second-favorite "big bug" movie from this period. Number one is Tarantula, with Leo G. Carroll and an uncredited, alarmingly young Clint Eastwood! Blink and you'll miss him, though.

    Still, a great flick. You should check it out.

  5. One of my favorite 50s movies. I suppose it's stupid to quibble about a fact in a review of a movie about giant ants, but a bazooka doesn't have a recoil, it's open in the back. Does need to be re-loaded after every shot, though.

  6. I remember seeing this when I was a kid on a local, Saturday night horror show called 'Chiller Theater'. It was hosted by Bill Cardille, who played the TV reporter at the end of 'Night of the Living Dead'. He was actually billed in that movie as 'Chilly Billy'. The show was on a Pittsburgh NBC affiliate and ran until some show called 'Saturday Night Live' took over the time slot in the mid '70's.


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