The Thing from Another World

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The Thing from Another World
Image of 1951 theatrical poster
1951 theatrical poster
Directed by Christian Nyby
Produced by Edward Lasker
Screenplay by Charles Lederer
Howard Hawks
(uncredited)
Ben Hecht
(uncredited)
Based on Who Goes There? (1938) 
by John W. Campbell, Jr.
Starring Margaret Sheridan
Kenneth Tobey
Douglas Spencer
Robert O. Cornthwaite
James Arness
Music by Dimitri Tiomkin
Cinematography Russell Harlan, ASC
Editing by Roland Gross
Studio Winchester Pictures Corporation
Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures
Release dates
  • April 29, 1951 (1951-04-29)
Running time 87 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $1,950,000 (US rentals)[1]

The Thing from Another World (often referred to as The Thing before its 1982 remake), is a 1951 RKO Pictures black-and-white science fiction film based on the 1938 novella "Who Goes There?" by John W. Campbell (writing under the pseudonym of Don A. Stuart). The story concerns an Air Force crew and scientists at a remote Arctic research outpost forced to defend themselves against a malevolent, plant-based humanoid alien.[2]

The film stars Kenneth Tobey, Margaret Sheridan, Robert Cornthwaite, and Douglas Spencer. James Arness played The Thing, but he is difficult to recognize in costume and makeup, due to both low lighting and other effects used to obscure his features.[2]

No actors are named during the film's dramatic "slow burning letters through background" opening title sequence; the cast credits appear at the end of the film. The film was partly shot in Glacier National Park and interior sets built at a Los Angeles ice storage plant.[2]

The Thing from Another World is considered one of the great science fiction films of the 1950s.[3] In 2001 the film was deemed to be a "culturally, historically or aesthetically" significant motion picture by the United States Library of Congress and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

Plot[edit]

A United States Air Force crew is dispatched by General Fogerty (David McMahon) from Anchorage, Alaska at the request of Dr. Carrington (Robert Cornthwaite), the chief scientist of a North Pole scientific outpost. They have evidence that an unknown flying craft crashed nearby, so Reporter Ned Scott (Douglas Spencer) tags along for the story.

Dr. Carrington later briefs Captain Hendry (Kenneth Tobey) and his airmen, and Dr. Redding shows photos of a heavy flying object moving erratically before crashing; not the movements of a meteorite. Following erratic magnetic pole anomalies, the crew and scientists fly to the crash site aboard the team's C-47. The mysterious craft lies buried beneath refrozen ice, with just the tip of a rounded airfoil protruding from the surface. As they later outline the craft's general shape, they quickly realize they are standing in a circle: they have discovered a crashed flying saucer. They try deicing the buried craft with thermite heat bombs, but only ignite its metal alloy, causing an explosion that destroys the saucer. Their Geiger counter then points to a slightly radioactive frozen shape buried nearby in the refrozen ice.

They excavate a large block of ice around what appears to be a tall body and then fly it to the research outpost, just as a major storm moves in, cutting off their communications with Anchorage. Some of the scientists want to thaw out the body, but Captain Hendry issues orders for everyone to wait until he receives further instructions from the Air Force. Later, Corporal Barnes (William Self) takes the second watch over the now clearing ice block and quickly covers it with a blanket, an electric blanket that the previous guard left turned on. Later, as the ice slowly melts, the thing inside revives; Barnes panics and begins shooting at it with his .45 caliber sidearm, but the alien escapes into the sub-zero cold of the raging storm.

The thing is attacked by sled dogs and the scientists recover a severed arm. As the arm warms up, it ingests some of the dogs' blood covering it, and the hand begins moving. Seed pods are quickly discovered in the palm, demonstrating that the alien is a form of plant life. Carrington is convinced that it can be reasoned with and has much to teach them, but Dr. Chapman and the others disagree; the Air Force personnel believe the creature may be dangerous.

Carrington deduces their visitor requires blood to survive and reproduce. He later discovers the body of a dead sled dog in the outpost's greenhouse; the alien has forced the lock on the greenhouse's door and bent it back into shape. Carrington has Dr. Voorhees (Paul Frees), Dr. Olsen (William Neff) and Dr. Auerbach stand guard overnight, waiting for it to return.

Carrington secretly uses blood plasma from the infirmary to incubate seedlings grown from the alien seed pods. In the greenhouse, the strung-up bodies of Olsen and Auerbach are discovered, drained of blood. Dr. Stern is almost killed by the thing but escapes. Nikki Nicholson (Margaret Sheridan), Carrington's secretary, reluctantly updates Hendry when he asks about missing plasma and confronts Carrington in his lab, where he discovers the seeds have grown at an alarming rate. Dr. Wilson (Everett Glass) advises Carrington that he has not slept, but Carrington remains unconcerned. Hendry rushes to the greenhouse after hearing what happened there: their visitor is behind the door as Hendry opens it, and he immediately slams the door on the thing's regrown arm as it tries to grab him; as the alien pulls the arm back through, its barbed knuckles rip the door's trim to splinters.

It escapes through the greenhouse's exterior door and breaks into another building in the compound. Following Nicholson's suggestion, Hendry and his men set a trap in a nearby room: they set the thing ablaze using a flare gun and buckets of kerosene, forcing it to jump through a closed window into the arctic storm.

Nicholson notices that the temperature inside the station is falling; a heating fuel line has been sabotaged by the creature. The cold forces everyone to make a final stand near the generator room. They rig an electrical "fly trap", hoping to electrocute the alien. As it advances, Carrington tries to save it by shutting off the power and reasoning with it; the creature knocks him aside and continues to advance. An airman throws a pick axe at the creature, forcing it to step on their wire fence grid. A switch is thrown and the thing is reduced by arcs of electricity to a smoldering pile of ash upon Hendry's direct order that nothing of their visitor remain.

When the weather clears, Scotty files his "story of a lifetime" by radio to a roomful of reporters in Anchorage. During his report, Scotty broadcasts a warning to the reporters: "Tell the world. Tell this to everybody, wherever they are. Watch the skies everywhere. Keep looking. Keep watching the skies."

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

The film was loosely adapted by Charles Lederer, with uncredited rewrites from Howard Hawks and Ben Hecht, from the 1938 novella "Who Goes There?" by John W. Campbell, Jr.. It was first published in Astounding Science Fiction under Campbell's pseudonym Don A. Stuart; Campbell had just become the magazine's managing editor when his novella appeared in its pages.[2]

The film took full advantage of the national feelings of the time to help enhance the horror elements of the story. The film reflected a post-Hiroshima skepticism about science and negative views of scientists who meddle with things better left alone. In the end it is American servicemen and several sensible scientists who win the day over the alien invader.[2]

The screenplay changes the fundamental nature of the alien as presented in Campbell's novella: Lederer's "Thing" is a humanoid lifeform whose cellular structure is closer to vegetation, although it must feed on blood to survive; reporter Scott even refers to it in the film as an "intellectual carrot." The internal, plant-like structure of the creature makes it impervious to bullets but not other destructive forces. In Campbell's original novella, the "Thing" is a life form capable of assuming the physical and mental characteristics of any living thing it encounters; this characteristic was later realized in John Carpenter's 1982 remake of the film.[2]

One of the film's stars, William Self, later became President of 20th Century Fox Television.[4] In describing the production, Self said, "Chris was the director in our eyes, but Howard was the boss in our eyes."[5]

Appearing in a small role was George Fenneman, who at the time was gaining fame as Groucho Marx's announcer on the popular TV show You Bet Your Life. Fenneman has said he had difficulty with the overlapping dialogue in the film.[5]

Director[edit]

There is debate as to whether the film was directed by Hawks with Christian Nyby receiving the credit so that Nyby could obtain his Director’s Guild membership,[6][7][8] or whether Nyby directed it with considerable input in both screenplay and advice in directing from producer Hawks[9] for Hawks' Winchester Pictures, which released it through RKO Radio Pictures Inc. Hawks gave Nyby only $5,460 of the $50,000 director's fee that RKO paid and kept the rest, but Hawks denied that he directed the film.[5]

Cast members disagree on Hawks' and Nyby's contributions. Tobey said that "Hawks directed it, all except one scene"[10] while, on the other hand, Fenneman said that "Hawks would once in a while direct, if he had an idea, but it was Chris' show". Cornthwaite said that "Chris always deferred to Hawks, ... Maybe because he did defer to him, people misinterpreted it."[5] Although Self has said that "Hawks was directing the picture from the sidelines",[11] he also has said that "Chris would stage each scene, how to play it. But then he would go over to Howard and ask him for advice, which the actors did not hear ... Even though I was there every day, I don't think any of us can answer the question. Only Chris and Howard can answer the question."[5]

At a reunion of The Thing cast and crew members in 1982, Nyby said:[5]

Did Hawks direct it? That's one of the most inane and ridiculous questions I've ever heard, and people keep asking. That it was Hawks' style. Of course it was. This is a man I studied and wanted to be like. You would certainly emulate and copy the master you're sitting under, which I did. Anyway, if you're taking painting lessons from Rembrandt, you don't take the brush out of the master's hands.[5]

Reception[edit]

Critical and box office reception[edit]

The Thing from Another World was released in April 1951.[2] By the end of that year the film had accrued $1,950,000 in distributors' domestic (U. S. and Canada) rentals, making it the year's 46th biggest earner, beating all other science fiction films released that year, including The Day The Earth Stood Still and When Worlds Collide.[12]

Bosley Crowther in The New York Times observed, “Taking a fantastic notion (or is it, really?), Mr. Hawks has developed a movie that is generous with thrills and chills…Adults and children can have a lot of old-fashioned movie fun at The Thing, but parents should understand their children and think twice before letting them see this film if their emotions are not properly conditioned"[13] "Gene" in Variety complained that the film "lacks genuine entertainment values.”[14] More than twenty years after its theatrical release, science fiction editor and publisher Lester del Rey compared the film unfavorably to the source material, John W. Campbell's "Who Goes There?", calling it "just another monster epic, totally lacking in the force and tension of the original story."[15]

The Thing is now considered by many to be one of the best films of 1951.[16][17][18] The film holds an 89% "Fresh" rating on the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes, with the consensus that the film "is better than most flying saucer movies, thanks to well-drawn characters and concise, tense plotting".[19] In 2001 the United States Library of Congress deemed the film "culturally significant" and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.[20] [21] Additionally, Time magazine named The Thing from Another World "the greatest 1950s sci-fi movie." [22][23]

Legacy[edit]

American Film Institute lists

Related productions[edit]

  • In 1982 a more faithful adaptation of Campbell's story Who Goes There? was released under the title The Thing.[29] This version borrowed certain elements from the Hawks film, notably the original film's "slow burning letters through background" opening title sequence; it was directed by John Carpenter.

References[edit]

Notes
  1. ^ 'The Top Box Office Hits of 1951', Variety, January 2, 1952
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Warren, Bill. Keep Watching The Skies Vol I: 1950 - 1957, pgs. 151 - 163, McFarland, 1982. ISBN 0-89950-032-3.
  3. ^ M. Keith Booker, Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction Cinema, page 126 (Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2010). ISBN 978-0-8108-5570-0
  4. ^ "Self Promoted to Presidency of 20th-Fox TV"Daily Variety (1968 11 1) Pgs. 1;26
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Fuhrmann, Henry (25 May 1997). "A 'Thing' to His Credit". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 20 April 2012. 
  6. ^ p.346 Weaver, Tom Kenneth Tobey Interview Double Feature Creature Attack 2003 McFarland
  7. ^ "And let's get the record straight. The movie was directed by Howard Hawks. Verifiably directed by Howard Hawks. He let his editor, Christian Nyby, take credit. But the kind of feeling between the male characters — the camaraderie, the group of men that has to fight off the evil — it's all pure Hawksian." Carpenter, John (speaker) (2001-09-04). Hidden Values: The Movies of the '50s (Television production). Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 2009-04-01. 
  8. ^ "Christian Nyby: About This Person". New York Times. Retrieved 21 April 2012. 
  9. ^ p.344 Mast, Gerald Howard Hawkes, Storyteller 1982 Oxford University Press
  10. ^ Matthews, Melvin E. Jr. (1997). 1950s Science Fiction Films and 9/11: Hostile Aliens, Hollywood, and Today's News. Algora Publishing. p. 14. ISBN 978-0-87586-499-0. 
  11. ^ Weaver, Tom (2003). Eye on Science Fiction: 20 Interviews With Classic Sf and Horror Filmmakers. McFarland & Company. p. 272. ISBN 0-7864-1657-2. 
  12. ^ Gebert, Michael. The Encyclopedia of Movie Awards (listing of 'Box Office (Domestic Rentals)' for 1951, taken from Variety magazine), St. Martin's Paperbacks, 1996, pg. 156. ISBN 0-668-05308-9. "Rentals" refers to the distributor/studio's share of the box office gross, which, according to Gebert, is roughly half of the money generated by ticket sales.
  13. ^ Crowther, Bosley (May 3, 1951). "THE SCREEN: TWO FILMS HAVE LOCAL PREMIERES; The Thing, an Eerie Scientific Number by Howard Hawks, Opens at the Criterion Communist for F.B.I. New Picture at Strand Theatre, Features Frank Lovejoy At the Criterion". New York Times, May 3, 1951. Retrieved 2011-06-03. 
  14. ^ "Gene". The review from Variety dated April 4, 1951, taken from Variety's Complete Science Fiction Reviews, edited by Don Willis, Garland Publishing, Inc., 1985, pg. 86. ISBN 0-8240-6263-9
  15. ^ del Ray, Lester. "The Three Careers of John W. Campbell", introduction to The Best of John W. Campbell (1973), page 4. ISBN 0-283-97856-2
  16. ^ "The Greatest Films of 1951". AMC Filmsite.org. Retrieved May 23, 2010. 
  17. ^ "The Best Movies of 1951 by Rank". Films101.com. Retrieved May 23, 2010. 
  18. ^ "Most Popular Feature Films Released in 1951". IMDb.com. Retrieved May 23, 2010. 
  19. ^ "The Thing from Another World Movie Reviews, Pictures". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved May 23, 2010. 
  20. ^ "Librarian of Congress Names 25 More Films to National Film Registry". press release. Library of Congress. Retrieved 20 April 2012. 
  21. ^ "National Film Registry". National Film Registry (National Film Preservation Board, Library of Congress). Retrieved 2011-11-26. 
  22. ^ "1950s Sci-Fi Movies: Full List". Time. December 12, 2008. Retrieved June 20, 2010. 
  23. ^ "1950s Sci-Fi Movies". Time. December 12, 2008. Retrieved June 20, 2010. 
  24. ^ "AFI's 100 Years... 100 Thrills". American Film Institute. Retrieved March 7, 2012. 
  25. ^ "AFI's 100 Years... 100 Heroes and Villains: The 400 Nominated Characters". American Film Institute. Retrieved March 7, 2012. 
  26. ^ "AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movie Quotes: The 400 Nominated Movie Quotes". American Film Institute. Retrieved March 7, 2012. 
  27. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition): Official Ballot". American Film Institute. Retrieved March 7, 2012. 
  28. ^ "AFI's 10 Top 10: The Official Ballot". American Film Institute. Retrieved March 7, 2012. 
  29. ^ Maçek III, J.C. (2012-11-21). "Building the Perfect Star Beast: The Antecedents of 'Alien'". PopMatters. 
  30. ^ Collura, Scott. "Exclusive: Moore Talks The Thing". 

External links[edit]