|Directed by||Gordon Douglas|
|Produced by||David Weisbart|
|Screenplay by||Ted Sherdeman
|Story by||George Worthing Yates|
|Music by||Bronislau Kaper|
|Edited by||Thomas Reilly|
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
|Distributed by||Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.|
|Box office||$2.2 million (rentals)|
Them! is a 1954 American black-and-white science fiction monster film from Warner Bros. Pictures, produced by David Weisbart, directed by Gordon Douglas, that stars James Whitmore, Edmund Gwenn, Joan Weldon, and James Arness. The film is based on an original story treatment by George Worthing Yates, which was then developed into a screenplay by Ted Sherdeman and Russell Hughes.
Them! is one of the first of the 1950s "nuclear monster" films, and the first "big bug" feature.
A nest of gigantic irradiated ants is discovered in the New Mexico desert; they quickly become a national threat when it is discovered a young queen ant and her consorts have escaped to establish a new nest. The national search that follows finally culminates in a battle with Them in the concrete spillways and sewers of Los Angeles.
New Mexico State Police Sergeant Ben Peterson (James Whitmore) and Trooper Ed Blackburn (Chris Drake) discover a little girl in shock wandering the desert near Alamogordo, New Mexico. They retrace her steps to a mobile home owned by an FBI Special Agent named Ellinson on vacation with his family. The trailer side is ripped open from the outside; no trace is found of the rest of the family. Only a single, unidentifiable footprint is left behind. A strange, pulsating high-pitched noise comes on the desert wind, and the little girl briefly reacts to it, but no one around her notices.
A general store owner named "Gramps" Johnson is found dead; his store is also torn apart from the outside, and a barrel of sugar inside was smashed open. Gramps' Winchester rifle was fired and is now twisted out of shape. Peterson leaves to make a report, leaving Blackburn in the store; he hears that strange, pulsating noise again and goes outside to investigate; gunshots are fired, the strange sound grows faster and louder, and Blackburn's scream is heard.
A cast of the footprint is sent to Washington, D.C. Peterson's boss points out that Gramps had time to fire all his ammunition, and Trooper Blackburn was a "crack shot", eliminating the possibility of a homicidal maniac. More puzzling is the coroner's report on Johnson's death: he died from a broken neck, back, skull fracture, crushed abdomen, and "enough formic acid in his body to kill 20 men".
The FBI sends Special Agent Robert Graham (James Arness) to New Mexico to investigate. With him he brings Dr. Harold Medford (Edmund Gwenn) and his daughter Dr. Pat Medford (Joan Weldon), both myrmecologists from the Department of Agriculture. The elder Medford exposes the Ellinson girl to formic acid fumes, which revives her from her catatonic state; she screams, "Them! Them!" His suspicions are validated by her reaction, but he will not reveal his theory prematurely.
At the Ellinson campsite, Pat screams when she encounters a giant, eight-foot long foraging ant. On directions from the elder Medford, Peterson and Graham destroy the ant's antennae, blinding it; they then kill it with their Thompson submachine gun. Medford finally reveals his theory: a colony of giant ants, mutated by radiation from the first atomic bomb test near Alamogordo, is responsible for the killings.
A helicopter search conducted on the orders from General O'Brien, discovers the ants' nest. Cyanide gas bombs are tossed into it, and Graham, Peterson, and Pat descend into the nest to kill any survivors. Deep inside, Pat finds evidence that two queen ants have hatched and have escaped to establish new colonies.
The elder Medford gives a government task force a briefing on ants, as the government covertly investigates all reports of any unusual activity. A report arrives of a private pilot (Fess Parker) who has been committed to a mental hospital after claiming that his aircraft was forced down by UFOs, shaped like giant ants. Next, the Coast Guard receives a report of a giant queen hatching her brood in the hold of a freighter at sea in the Pacific; giant ants attack the ship's crew and there are few survivors. The freighter is later sunk by U. S. Navy gunfire, eliminating one of the queens.
A third report comes in that leads Peterson, Graham, and Major Kibby (Sean McClory) to a rail yard in Los Angeles, where a smashed boxcar has been emptied of 40 tons of sugar. An alcoholic in a hospital "drunk tank" claims to have seen giant ants outside his window. The mutilated body of a father is recovered, but his two young sons with him are still missing. Peterson, Graham, and Kibby find evidence that they were flying a model airplane in the Los Angeles River drainage channel near the hospital. Martial law is declared in Los Angeles, and more troops are assigned to find the new nest in the vast storm drain network under the city.
Peterson finds the two missing boys alive deep inside the drain system, trapped near the ants' nest. He calls for reinforcements and lifts both boys to safety just before being attacked by a giant ant that crushes his lower torso. Graham arrives with reinforcements and kills the ant, as others swarm to protect the nest. Peterson dies from his injuries, Graham at his side. Graham and the soldiers fight off the ants, but a tunnel collapse traps Graham. Several ants charge him, but he is able to hold them off with his submachine gun just long enough for troops to break through the collapse. The queen and her young hatchlings are discovered and quickly destroyed with flame throwers. Dr. Medford offers a philosophic observation: "When Man entered the Atomic Age, he opened the door to a new world. What we may eventually find in that new world, nobody can predict".
- James Whitmore as Sgt. Ben Peterson
- Edmund Gwenn as Dr. Harold Medford
- Joan Weldon as Dr. Pat Medford
- James Arness as FBI Agent Robert Graham
- Onslow Stevens as Gen. O'Brien
- Sean McClory as Maj. Kibbee
- Chris Drake as Trooper Ed Blackburn
- Sandy Descher as Ellinson girl
- Mary Ann Hokanson as Mrs. Lodge
- Don Shelton as Trooper Capt. Fred Edwards
- Fess Parker as Alan Crotty
- Olin Howlin as Jensen, the alcoholic
- Leonard Nimoy has a small, uncredited part as a U.S. Army Staff Sergeant in the communications room.
- Other actors who appear in small parts include John Beradino, Willis Bouchey, Booth Colman, Richard Deacon, Lawrence Dobkin, Ann Doran, William Schallert, Douglas Spencer, Dub Taylor and Harry Wilson.
- When casting his planned Davy Crockett episode of the Disneyland television show, Walt Disney viewed the film to see James Arness, who had been recommended for the role. However, Disney was more impressed by a scene with Fess Parker as an inmate in a mental ward of the Texas hospital. Watching Parker's performance, Disney realized he had found his Davy Crockett. John Wayne saw the film and, impressed with Arness' performance, recommended him for the role of Marshal Matt Dillon in the new Gunsmoke TV series, a role that Arness went on to play from 1955 to 1975.
James Arness was in at least three movies starring John Wayne prior to being cast in THEM, and yes, when Wayne was offered the Dillon role he suggested Arness.
When Them! began production in the fall of 1953, it was originally conceived to be in 3D and Warner Color. During pre-production, tests were to be shot in color and 3D. A few color tests were shot of the large-scale ant models, but when it was time to shoot the 3D test, Warner Bros.' "All Media" 3D camera rig malfunctioned and no footage could be filmed. The next day, a memo was sent out that the color and 3D aspects of the production were to be scrapped; widescreen black-and-white would now be the film's presentation format. Warner Bros. hoped to emulate the "effective shock treatment" effect of its previous science fiction thriller The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms; ultimately, however, the film was never shot in widescreen. Because of the preparation of certain scenes, many of the camera set-ups for 3D still remain in the film, like the opening titles and the flame throwers shots aimed directly at the camera.
Although Warner Bros. was dissatisfied with the color results, the film's titles were printed in a vivid red-and-blue against a black-and-white background in order to give the film's opening a dramatic "punch". This effect was achieved by an Eastman Color section spliced into each release print. The 1985 VHS tape release, the subsequent LaserDisc, and later DVD release have retained this black-and-white-with-two-color title effect.
The entrance to the ants' final nest was shot along the concrete spillways of the Los Angeles River, between the First and Seventh Street Bridges, east of downtown. The depiction of the Chihuahuan Desert of southern New Mexico is actually the Mojave Desert near Palmdale, California. Mercy Hospital was a real institution and is now Brownsville Medical Center.
Actor James Whitmore wore "lifts" in his shoes to compensate for the height difference between himself and actor James Arness. It has also been noted that Whitmore employed bits of "business" (hand gestures and motions) during scenes in which he appeared to draw more attention to his character when not speaking.
The Wilhelm scream, created three years earlier for the film Distant Drums, is used during the action sequences: when a sailor aboard the freighter is grabbed by an ant, when James Whitmore's character is caught in an ant's mandibles, and when an overhead wooden beam falls on a soldier in the Los Angeles storm-drain sequence.
The giant ants, painted a purplish-green color, were constructed and operated by unseen technicians supervised by Ralph Ayers. During the climactic battle sequence in the Los Angeles sewers, there is a brief shot of one ant moving in the foreground with its side removed, revealing its mechanical interior. This blunder has been obscured in the DVD releases of the film.
Them! was released in June 1954 and by the end of that year, had accrued US $2 million in distributors' domestic (U.S. and Canada) rentals, making it the year's 51st biggest earner.[Note 1] According to an article in The Slate, this was Warner Bros. highest grossing film that year. However, 1954 In Film lists two other films from Warner Bros. that earned more in gross.
From contemporary reviews, the Monthly Film Bulletin stated that despite the science fiction film genre being new it had developed several sub-divisions including "the other-wordly, the primaeval-monstrous, the neo-monstrous, the planet-ary-visitant, etc." and that "Them! is a "well-built example of the neo-monstrous" "less absurdly sensational than most" Discussing the ant monsters in the film, the review referred to them as "reasonably horrible-they do not entirely avoid the impression of mock-up that is almost inevitable when over-lifesize creatures have to be constructed and moved" while noting that they were "considerably more conceivable than those prehistoric remnants that have recently been emerging from bog and iceberg." The review commented on the cast as "like most science fiction, [the film] is on the whole serviceably rather than excitingly cast" and the crew was noted, stating the direction was "smoothly machined", and the film has "decent writing" though "more short cuts might have been taking", finding that the start of the film was too slow. The New York Times review noted "... from the moment James Whitmore, playing a New Mexico state trooper, discovers a six-year-old moppet wandering around the desert in a state of shock, to the time when the cause of that mental trauma is traced and destroyed, Them! is taut science fiction." The reviewer in Variety opined it was a "top-notch science fiction shocker. It has a well-plotted story, expertly directed and acted in a matter-of-fact style to rate a chiller payoff and thoroughly satisfy the fans of hackle-raising melodrama."
Since its original release, Them! has become generally regarded as one of the very best science fiction films of the 1950s. Bill Warren described the film as " ... tight, fast-paced and credible ... [T]he picture is suspenseful." Phil Hardy's The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Science Fiction noted, "Directed by [Gordon] Douglas in semi-documentary fashion, Them! is one of the best American science fiction films of the fifties." Danny Peary believed the film "Ranks with The Thing and Invasion of the Body Snatchers as the best of the countless 50s science fiction films." In the Time Out Film Guide, David Pirie wrote, "By far the best of the 50s cycle of 'creature features' ... retains a good part of its power today." The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported a 100% approval rating with an average rating of 7.6/10, based on 26 reviews. The website's consensus reads, "One of the best creature features of the early atomic age, Them! features effectively menacing special effects and avoids the self-parody that would taint later monster movies."
Them! was nominated for an Oscar for its special effects and won a Golden Reel Award for best sound editing. The film has been nominated for two American Film Institute lists, AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills  and AFI's 10 Top 10 (science fiction genre).
In popular culture
- Van Morrison's band Them was named after this film.
- New Jersey punk band the Misfits has a song titled "Them!", with lyrics directly inspired by the film, on their 1999 release Famous Monsters.
- The video game series It Came From the Desert was inspired by Them!
- Eight Legged Freaks features a scene in which sequences from the film are included.
- The Counterstrike expansion for Westwood Studios' Command & Conquer: Red Alert had a secret four-part mini-campaign called It Came From Red Alert!; the primary antagonists are giant ants.
- Lilo & Stitch 2: Stitch Has a Glitch features it on a TV that Lilo, Stitch, Nani and David watch along with Pleakley and Jumba.
- Fallout 3, which takes place in a post-apocalyptic irradiated wasteland, has a side-quest involving giant mutated fire ants titled "Those!" in homage to the film.
- In Tim Burton's film Ed Wood, Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau) explains to Ed (Johnny Depp), "Nobody wants vampires anymore. Now all they want is giant bugs".
- "The Top Box-Office Hits of 1954." Variety Weekly, January 5, 1955.
- "Them!". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved April 24, 2016.
- Warren 1982, pp. 188–195.
- Smith 2012, p. 167.
- Herzberg 2007, p. 176.
- Gebert, Michael. The Encyclopedia of Movie Awards (listing of "Box Office (Domestic Rentals)" for 1954, taken from Variety magazine). New York: St. Martin's Paperbacks, 1996. ISBN 0-668-05308-9.
- Waldman, Katy (31 January 2013). "The Nuclear Monsters That Terrorized the 1950s". slate.com. Retrieved 2015-10-22.
Them!, a cautionary tale about giant irradiated ants, was Warner Bros.’ highest-grossing film in 1954.
- "Them! U.S.A., 1954". Monthly Film Bulletin. Vol. 21 no. 240. British Film Institute. 1954. p. 131.
- White, Armond (A.W.). "Them (1954); Warner Brothers chiller at Paramount." The New York Times, June 17, 1954.
- "Brog". Review from Variety dated April 14, 1954, taken from Variety's Complete Science Fiction Reviews, edited by Don Willis, Garland Publishing, Inc., 1985, ISBN 0-8240-6263-9.
- "Them! (1954)." Variety, April 14, 1954.
- Hardy, Phil, ed. The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Science Fiction. London: Aurum Press, 1984. Reprinted as The Overlook Film Encyclopedia: Science Fiction. London: Overlook Press, 1995. ISBN 0-87951-626-7.
- Peary, Danny. Guide for the Film Fanatic. London: Fireside, 1986. ISBN 0-671-61081-3.
- Pirie, David, ed. "Them!" The Time Out Film Guide, 2nd Edition. London: Penguin Books, 1991. ISBN 0-14-014592-3.
- "Them! (1954)." Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved: January 9, 2015.
- "The 27th Academy Awards, 1955." Oscars.org, Retrieved: January 9, 2015.
- "Motion Picture Sound Editors, USA (1955)". IMDB. Retrieved 2015-08-07.
- "AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills Nominees." afi.com. Retrieved: January 9, 2015.
- "AFI's 10 Top 10 Ballot." afi.com. Retrieved: January 9, 2015.
- Mills 2010, p. 205.
- Greenberg, Allen. "It Came from Out of the Disk Drive." Computer Gaming World, Issue 70, April 1990.
- Herzberg, Bob. The FBI and the Movies. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2007. ISBN 978-0-78642-755-0.
- Mills, Peter. Hymns to the Silence: Inside the Words and Music of Van Morrison. London: A&C Black, 2010. ISBN 978-0-8264-2976-6.
- Parish, James Robert and Michael R. Pitts. The Great Science Fiction Pictures. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 1977. ISBN 978-0-81081-029-7.
- Smith, Dave. Disney Trivia from the Vault: Secrets Revealed and Questions Answered. New York: Disney Press, 2012. ISBN 978-1-4231-7857-6.
- Strick, Philip. Science Fiction Movies. London: Octopus Books Limited. 1976. ISBN 0-7064-0470-X.
- Warren, Bill. Keep Watching The Skies Vol. I: 1950 - 1957. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 1982. ISBN 0-89950-032-3.
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