A horror horde of crawl-and-crush giants clawing out of the earth from mile-deep catacombs!
Year of Release: 1954
Genre: Science Fiction/Horror
Rated: Not Rated
Running Time: 92 minutes (1:32)
Director: Gordon Douglas
James Whitmore ... Sgt. Ben Peterson
Edmund Gwenn ... Dr. Harold Medford
Joan Weldon ... Dr. Patricia Medford
James Arness ... Robert Graham
Onslow Stevens ... Brig. Gen. Robert O'Brien
A little girl wanders through a desert in catatonic shock. All she says, when she can speak, is... "Them!" Police find her parents' car and a general store destroyed. The shopkeeper is dead from enough formic acid to kill 20 men. His sugar stock is looted. Nearby are footprints. Gigantic footprints! These clues alert the FBI and a veteran entomologist, whose first suspicions are confirmed when hearing, then seeing... Them! Rampaging hymenopterans. Or... ants! But ants mutated by atomic radiation into 12ft monsters. And they're everywhere. Breaking out of eggs, fully grown, ready to kill. Unless a way can be found to stop... Them!
Them!, remindin' us that illegal aliens don't even crack the top ten list of scary things tunnelin' under the desert.
And speakin' of people who never get a day off - the only thing I hate about huntin' season is havin' to wake up at ass o' clock in the mornin' to make it out to Frosty Nards Ridge before the deer get up to go to the john. Kinda unsporting, I realize, cause I know I'd certainly be surprised if somebody shot me on the way to the crapper at 3 in the AM, but sometimes you gotta set your personal code of ethics aside if you wanna eat over the winter.
I prolly wouldna even gone this year except Sadie Bonebreak drew a tag and only had two days to fill it before 'er bimbonic plague addled wife came home from the Etsy Entrepreneurship Seminar in Reno and took offense to us "blowin' the heads offa adorable woodland creatures." That just goes to show ya how outta touch Mrs. Sadie is, since mosta these deer look like they escaped from a barber college in Arkansas.
Like I was sayin' though - it's tough to get up in the hours when the only thing on TV is Sanford and Son reruns and infomercials about how to get rich by joinin' class-action lawsuits against Taiwanese dildo manufacturers who knowingly purchased rubber containing toxic chemicals from a distributor in Shenzhen, so I generally don't. Normally I just stay up all night and sleep afterwards, which frequently spares me the shock of gropin' around in the dark for a coffee mug and findin' Shankles in the cabinet munchin' on dead packrats, but I guess I'm gettin' too old for that. That's what Billy Hilliard told me, anyway.
Actually, what he said was: "wake uh an' quih droowin' ah mah tholdow, mithet."
"Shut up, the both of ya. You're gonna scare the deer," Sadie growled.
"Right. Your muffler's got a hole the size of Refrigerator Perry's jockstrap, but a little snorin's gonna run 'em off," I grumbled.
After Sadie put the iron claw on me we mutually agreed not to discuss the details of 'er undercarriage any further and the three of us spread out around the hillside to improve our chances of gettin' a shot. The deer did eventually move into our vicinity and I'da bagged one for sure, cept I'd climbed up into one of Duke Tankersley's tree stands and taken a moment to rest my eyes.
Next thing I know, the ground's hurtlin' up at me at 50mph and I prolly woulda busted every bone in my body, only this 4-point buck with eyeguards the size of gear shifters broke my fall. Thankfully I'd never planned to have children, cause as soon as he regained his footin' he took off with me straddlin' his back, and I don't mind tellin' ya - I've never had such a lousy time in my entire life when I was clutchin' a rack with both hands.
I tried steerin' 'im into a coupla trees and a big boulder, but that only hacked 'im off and got 'im to launchin' my rear end into the air and crashin' back down onto his spine, goodies first. Now, I know mosta you guys've been kicked in your danglers a time or two so I'm only mentionin' this cause I don't want people gettin' the idea I'm a sissy, but to give you an idea of what this felt like - think back to that time you got junk punted, and imagine the foot belonged to Morten Andersen.
Anyway, after that I figured there wasn't much to live for, so I let loose of his horns... right before a bullet blew through his heart and he dropped like a set of testicles at a Monique Gabrielle film festival; his momentum carryin' me 15 feet through the air, directly into the center of an unburnt slash pile.
"Did you see that?! Perfect placement at 120 yards!" Sadie hollered from somewhere outside my inverted field of vision.
"See it?! I nearly WAS it!" I winced, wipin' a chunk of artery off my cheek.
"Oh you're fine, ya big baby. Now quit screwin' around and help Billy and me gut 'im out or we ain't savin' any tenderloin for you," she squealed giddily.
"Fine." I grunted, tryin' to sit up. "But I don't think MY tenderloin's ever gonna be the same."
I've been told that the steaks're excellent, but I've not been able to verify that for myself since I've still got the frozen packages Sadie gave me under my... nevermind.
It's been a few days and I'm doin' a lot better though. For example, I can usually stand up without bawlin' like Jimmy Swaggart after he got caught doodle boppin' hookers anymore, so I should be back to 100% pretty soon. Edgar gave me a week offa work to recuperate, which was pretty decent of 'im even though I suspect he's only capable of sympathizing with another man's pain as a result of bein' married to Bambi Pankins for two years. Mostly I just been watchin' monster movies and occasionally callin' up Juanita Hernandez and whimperin' real pitiful like so she'll bring me food from the Grime Time's freezer stock, but I singled out Them! for scrutiny since it's October and I know people like to revisit the classics durin' the holidays. Empire of the Ants is pretty good, but you really can't compete with Them! in the giant ant subgenre, what with the backing of Warner Bros. and the fact that the Inglorious B.I.G. (Bert I. Gordon) only ever had as much money as he could dig outta his couch cushions (only kidding Bert, the giant mutant critter subgenre would *never* have reached the heights it did without ya).
Anyhow, if you've somehow missed this one up until now, I'd like to provide a little preview of the wisdom this flick has to offer, as well as my assurance that you too will welcome our new insect overlords when it's all over. First, despite Def Leppard's urgings - at no time should you pour some sugar on you. Particularly not in the presence of giant, radioactive ants. Second, it's easy to condemn airline pilots for gettin' a little sauced in the cockpit when you've never had to contend with flyin' insects the size of dump trucks. And third, women have just as much right to descend into subterranean insectoid catacombs in the name of science as their male counterparts. But only for 82% of the going rate.
The movie begins in the New Mexican desert where a little girl's lookin' for crashed flyin' saucers so she'll be able to supplement 'er social security with TV residuals from History Channel interviews until some cops (Ben and Ed) pick 'er up on suspicion of huntin' Gila monsters without a license. She's pretty easy to catch beins it's 110 degrees out and she's got this look on 'er face like she just put a down payment on a bunk bed at L. Ron Hubbard's house, but when they drive 'er over to a nearby trailer the place looks like some junkies tried cookin' meth inside their water heater and nobody's home. So Ben calls the paramedic in to pick up the girl, only as he's about to drive 'er to the hospital there's this noise like somebody's out in the desert playin' a viola with a hacksaw, and the little girl sits up like Michael Myers with 'er eyeballs swollen up bigger'n the pancakes in a Denny's Grand Slam Breakfast platter. Then the cops stop off at the general store to make sure the shopkeep ain't sellin' peyote under the counter and can't help but notice how the place looks like somebody's been takin' interior design tips from Leatherface and that the slaughtered owner's shotgun looks like Bugs Bunny tried tyin' a knot in it like they're livin' in an Elmer Fudd cartoon. Ed decides to stick around and look for clues while Ben drives into town and ends up developin' a pretty compelling theory as to what mighta happened when the string quartet starts tunin' up outside and squeezes a coupla Wilhelm screams and most of his interior organs out his mouth. At this point all the police have to go on is the conspicuous presence of sugar cubes at both crime scenes, but their only suspect comes up clean when CBS is able to vouch for the whereabouts of Mr. Ed and clear him of any wrongdoing, until eventually the fuzz gives up and calls in federal agents (Bob Graham, Dr. Medford, and his daughter Pat) from the investigative arm of The Household Implosion Division.
The head fed has a theory, so he and the principals go visit the little girl in the hospital, and when Medford waves a shot glass fulla acid under 'er nose she starts goin' apeshit and screamin' about 'them' like a QAnon cultist bein' questioned about the identity of the person(s) alleged to be replacin' their Ramen bouillon with Haitian voodoo powder. This seems to satisfy Medford, who by now has a grin on his face like he's got Sophia Loren down to 'er bra in a game of strip poker, and he'd like to check out the desert so he can confirm his suspicions and preen around arrogantly without tellin' anybody what the hell any of this means. Ben and Bob're gettin' pretty P.O.'d by this point, but while the professor's fartin' around with prints in the sand, this ant the size of an Airstream pops up on the other side of a nearby dune and Medford starts screamin' at the troopers to knock out its antennae before they start broadcastin' reruns of Dragnet and put everybody into a coma. So Ben breaks the glass on his "in case of black woman sleeping in her apartment" security assault rifle and splatters Atom Ant all over Los Alamos, at which point Medford explains that the bugger musta gotten all roided up from the nearby nuclear testin' range and that they better split before the rest of the farm shows up to harvest their vittles. Then they charter a chopper and commit multiple breeches of military radio protocol til they locate the nest and make plans to come back the next day around noon when the ants're all down below takin' siestas like Mexican blacksmiths and pray the ants don't have giant leaf blowers to combat the cyanide gas they plan on pumpin' into their tunnels. The plan works like gangbusters and the entire nest gets caught with its ants down; leavin' the bulk of the farm smothered to death like a midget beneath Chesty Morgan's hooters. But before they can go down into the caverns Pat hasta make this big equal rights speech so she can join the He-Man Woman Hater's Club and watch the guys roast a few insects that holed up inside the colony's panic room. Unfortunately, by the time they make it to the queen's chamber they find out they're too late cause 'er eggs've already hatched and the new princesses are in another castle.
Then Medford flies to Washington to show Ike's cabinet a buncha those old Biology films your teacher used to screen when they were too hungover to lecture so all the department heads can begin to understand just how incredibly screwed we'll be if the ants get a foothold and start poppin' out anchor larvae. Next thing, everybody starts lookin' for leads in the supermarket tabloids and the air traffic control logs to try figurin' out where these freewheeling spinster ants mighta flown off to; eventually leading to a severely rattled Texan who claims to've gotten the license plate number of an alien spacecraft shaped like a flying insect. Once they've gotten everything they can out of 'im, our government officials order the warden at the quack shack to keep the guy locked up indefinitely under the guise of national security, even though he's got nobody back home who can feed his pet armadillo. Then reports start comin' in about one of the queens landin' on an aircraft carrier, only all the seamen misinterpret the press release and get mauled to death as they flock to the vessel to see Freddie Mercury in concert until the rear admiral eventually hasta order the ship sunk. After that things get so desperate that Bob hasta start hangin' around the methadone clinic lookin' for tips until he meets this rummy who tells 'im he's been seein' ants flyin' in and outta the storm drain tunnels at night performin' smash-and-grab raids on train cars carryin' sugar deliveries, which could eventually lead to a nationwide shortage of Little Debbie snack treats if allowed to continue unchecked. This is prolly a good place to leave off to avoid divulgin' the ending, but I've got a feelin' things might get a little tense when our boys in uniform go marchin' into the sewers to brave the dangers of the giant radioactive ants, sexy reptilian space aliens, C.H.U.D.s, mutant babies, thawed Himalayan snow creatures, overgrown alligators, and anything else livin' in there that may threaten the American way of life, so don't to go sleep on this one.
Those atomic bombs, am I right? Seemed like such a good idea at the time. Them! is arguably the best of the radioactive critter flicks of the '50s, although some people would say that distinction belongs to Godzilla, with both movies being released in the wake of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms the year before (albeit only in Japan in the case of Godzilla, which wasn't released in the U.S. until 1956). Warner was initially hesitant to fund the movie until it looked like Paramount was about to, at which point they immediately reversed course in what you'd have to consider the ultimate act of mimetic desire. Eventually the fad spread to nearly every major studio, with MGM producing Gorgo, Columbia funding It Came from Beneath the Sea, Allied Artists churning out The Giant Behemoth, Universal spawning Tarantula, United Artists making The Beast of Hollow Mountain, and Republic turning out Beginning of the End. Paramount, strangely, never did get around to making one after losing Them! to Warner, and stuck with its equally successful string of space-based science fiction offerings alongside Fox throughout the 1950s. The thing that separates Them! from the other contenders is the ambition required to create and successfully manipulate gigantic special effects at a time when such a thing had never really been done before. That's not to say that the men in suits (Godzilla, Gorgo, ect.) or stop motion monsters (It Came from Beneath the Sea, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, ect.) aren't excellent creations as well, but from a production standpoint - they're far more practical from both a budgetary and mechanical perspective. Warner deserves a hell of a lot of respect for taking on what, at the time, would have been a herculean task, and that's even before you get to see the finished product. Furthermore, what they were able to accomplish is all the more impressive when you consider they only had three ant models with which to work, and the credit there largely belongs to cinematographer Sidney Hickox, and editor Thomas Reilly, for getting enough believable footage and then cutting it in such a way that the ants appear far more numerous than they actually were. Additionally, and equally important, the flick also manages excellent pacing for a film of its age; making the audience wait less than 30 minutes for its first glimpse at the monsters gracing the poster art, and giving us additional scenes with the ants at reasonable intervals where lower budget movies would be forced to hide them as much as possible. In short, it's really, really impressive for a movie that's now 66 years old.
Needless to say, if the rest of the film's production values are as good as the effects, we're talkin' blockbuster big bug bonanza here, so let's fire up those flamethrowers and see if these critters are fleshed out enough to satisfy an audience hungry for insectoid incineration. The plot, like most monster movies from the '50s, utilizes the nuclear boogeyman as its catalyst for the creatures' creation, and also features its share of of bad movie science where it concerns the plausibility of insects being viable at such a size (oxygen diffusion, yadda yadda), but once you get past those things what's left is generally well reasoned. The government response comes across as believable, and the writers' explanation that the ants generally only come out at night helps with the notion that they should be easily spotted by civilians, but it's certainly not a perfect script and does exhibit a few plot holes. The acting is solid, and features good performances from James Whitmore as the self-sacrificing Sgt. Ben Peterson, Edmund Gwenn as the slightly goofy, but endearing entomologist Dr. Medford, and the pre-Gunsmoke James Arness as the chronically frustrated F.B.I. agent, Robert Graham. Despite being a bit stodgy by modern standards, there's not a weak link in the cast, and Ted Sherdeman's script reads confidently enough to warrant the inclusion of both Fess Parker and Olin Howland as subtle, and over-the-top comic relief characters without compromising the film's generally serious tone. They even let the woman go down into the ant farm with the men without making her faint, which in 1954 was pretty unusual, so kudos to the stars, and director Gordon Douglas for coaxing good performances out of everybody.
Here's who matters and why (less Leonard Nimoy in an extremely brief early role): James Whitmore (The Relic, Planet of the Apes 1968), Edmund Gwenn (The Walking Dead), James Arness (The Thing from Another World, Two Lost Worlds), Onslow Stevens (Life Returns, The Creeper 1948, House of Dracula, The Monster and the Girl), Sean McClory (Body Bags, Valley of the Dragons), Sandy Descher (The Space Children), Mary Alan Hokanson (V, Cult of the Cobra), Don Shelton (Invasion of the Saucer Men), Olin Howland (The Blob 1958, The Return of Dr. X), John Baradino (Moon of the Wolf), Robert Berger (The Darkling, The Shadow Men), Oscar Blank (The Day the Earth Stood Still 1951, The War of the Worlds 1953, The Mummy's Curse), Willis Bouchey (Panic in the Year Zero, Red Planet Mars), Steve Carruthers (Tobor the Great, House of Wax 1953, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet the Invisible Man, Destination Moon, The Ghost Breakers), Dick Cherney (Marooned, Chamber of Horrors, Invisible Invaders, Cult of the Cobra, The War of the Worlds 1953), Roydon Clark (Blood Song), John Close (The Slime People, The Monster that Challenged the World, The Night the World Exploded, Beginning of the End, The Deadly Mantis, World Without End, The Day the Earth Stood Still 1951), Booth Colman (World Without End, Planet of the Apes: The Series), James Conaty (The Day the Earth Stood Still 1951, The War of the Worlds 1953, Red Planet Mars, Rocketship X-M, Phantom of the Opera 1943, Buck Rogers 1939), Walter Coy (I Eat Your Skin, Cult of the Cobra, Phantom of the Rue Morgue), Dead Cromer (The Monolith Monsters, Simon King of the Witches), Richard Deacon (The Birds, Piranha 1978, Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1956, Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy, This Island Earth, Invaders from Mars 1953), Eddie Dew (Cat People 1942, The Green Hornet Strikes Again!, The Mysterious Dr. Satan, The Man with Nine Lives, The Hunchback of Notre Dame 1939).
Lawrence Dobkin (Roswell, Beastmaster II, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari 1962, The Lost Misile, The Day the Earth Stood Still 1951), Ann Doran (The Man They Could Not Hang, It! The Terror from Beyond Space, The Green Hornet), Norman Field (The Twonky, Tobor the Great), George Ford (Chamber of Horrors, The Werewolf 1956, Cult of the Cobra, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet the Invisible Man, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man), Joseph Forte (The Crimson Ghost, The Green Hornet Strikes Again!), Dean Fredericks (The Phantom PLanet), Dorothy Green (Help Me... I'm Possessed), Robert Haines (The Day the Earth Stood Still 1951, When Worlds Collide, Zombies on Broadway, The Monster and the Girl), Mary Lou Holloway (Phantom of the Rue Morgue, House of Wax 1953), Gale Kellog (Zombies of the Stratosphere), Kenner G. Kemp (Ben, Marooned, The Strangler, Tales of Terror, The Lost World 1960, A Bucket of Blood 1959, The Brain from Planet Arous, The Land Unknown, The Maze, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, Scared Still 1953, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet the Invisible Man, Destination Moon, The Hunchback of Notre Dame 1939), Hubie Kerns (13 Ghosts 1960), Paul Kruger (Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Black Castle, The Beginning of the End, The Invisible Man), Carl M. Leviness (Phantom of the Rue Morgue), Wayne Mallory (When Worlds Collide), Lou Marcelle (The Purple Monster Strikes), John Maxwell (The War of the Worlds 1953, The Phantom 1943, Batman 1943).
Mathew McCue (X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes, The War of the Worlds 1953, When Worlds Collide), Jan Merlin (Buried Alive 1990, Time Trackers, The Twilight People), Forbes Murray (Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, Abbott and Costello Go to Mars, When Worlds Collide, The Beginning of the End, The Monster and the Ape), Jack Perrin (The Black Castle, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet the Invisible Man, The Spider Woman Strikes Back, White Pongo, The Phantom Speaks, The Mummy's Ghost, The Spider Returns, The Green Hornet, The Green Hornet Strikes Again!, The Hunchback of Notre Dame 1939), Charles Perry (The Incredible Shrinking Man, The Soul of a Monster), Grandon Rhodes (Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, Revenge of the Creature, House of Wax 1953), William Schallert (Matinee, Twilight Zone: The Movie, Gremlins, The Monolith Monsters, The Incredible Shrinking Man, Tobor the Great, Gog, The Man from Planet X, Mighty Joe Young 1949, Hangar 18), Bernard Sell (Batman: The Movie 1966, The Day the Earth Stood Still), Joel Smith (Mutiny in Outer Space), Victor Sutherland (Donovan's Brain), Hal Taggart (Hollywood Horror House, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, The Monster that Challenged the World, When Worlds Collide), Dub Taylor (Back to the Future III, Burnt Offerings, Creature from Black Lake), Harry Tyler (The Deadly Mantis), Dick Wessel (Unknown Island), Harry Wilson (Frankenstein's Daughter, One Million B.C., Bloodlust!, Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Batman 1943, Hold that Ghost, The Wizard of Oz, The Phantom Creeps, Flash Gordon 1936).
Whole lotta extras in this flick, and extras tended to have obscenely prolific careers in the early days of film, so my apologies for that. Here're the credits you might actually recognize: James Whitmore (Brooks Hatlen in The Shawshank Redemption, Admiral William Halsey in Tora! Tora! Tora!, Andrew Carnes in Oklahoma!) Edmund Gwenn (Kris Kingle in Miracle on 34th Street 1947, Capt. Albert Wiles in The Trouble with Harry, Mr. Bennet in Pride and Predjudice 1940), James Arness (Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke, Lennie in Hondo), Fess Parker (Jim Coates in Old Yeller, Daniel Boone on the TV series of the same name), Willis Bouchey (Lt. Ted Wilks in The Big Heat, Zara in Pickup on South Street, Thomas Devery in Support Your Local Sheriff!), Richard Deacon (Mel Cooley on The Dick Van Dyke Show, Fred Rutherford on Leave it to Beaver), Lawrence Dobkin (The Narrator on Naked City), George Ford (bit parts in 54 episodes of Gunsmoke), Dorothy Green (Lucy Chapman in The Big Heat), Mathew McCue (bit parts in 70 episodes of Gunsmoke, and 35 episodes of Death Valley Days), Grandon Rhodes (J.P. Martin on Bonanza), Dub Taylor (Laughlin in The Getaway, Wainscoat in The Wild Bunch, Ivan Moss in Bonnie and Clyde), Dick York (Darrin Stephens on Bewitched).
The special effects have probably been harped on enough - they're ambitious, they're effective, and they're the reason everybody watches the flick. Had they not lived up to expectations the movie would either be toiling in obscurity, or, on the opposite end of the film criticism spectrum, would have become a classic episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Their age does show a bit almost seven decades after their big-screen debut, but they're still pretty spectacular. The shooting locations, while a bit understated at times, paint a credible picture of a small desert town being ravaged by an unknown phenomenon, particularly in the early going when we're first shown the destruction of the trailer house and the general store. They may not seem that important, but because we're not going to be seeing the ants themselves for another twenty minutes or so, the destruction they leave behind is important in building suspense until that moment arrives, and these two sets deliver graphic visual hints of what the critters are capable of. Things get a little drab after that, with most scenes taking place in boardrooms, hospitals, and other government buildings, and while they're perfectly acceptable sets, they're just less interesting than the desert photography early on and the climactic sewer sequences that follow. Still, nothing objectionable here in the least. The soundtrack doesn't really stand out, but it does have a bit more individuality than a lot of films from the 1950s. It gets downright hysterical at times and adds a bit more suspense than many of its contemporary cousins, with strings and brass instruments featuring prominently, but at the end of the day soundtracks from '50s flicks simply lack variety in general and tend to blend together. At least where it concerns films within the same genre. Overall, I think Them! is the best of the over-sized radioactive rampaging monster movies, and that it holds up pretty well for the older generations who grew up with it. Kids older than about 12 probably won't be able to take it seriously, but it's not a bad choice for adults looking to introduce their young ones to the genre.