If you’re going to review the influential SF of the 50s, this 1951 movie belongs on your list.

The low-budget Man from Planet X arrived in theatres days earlier, but this Thing really started the 50s SF craze, and it is far superior to most of what followed.

Available from Amazon.com.

Cast, Crew, and Other Info:

Director: Christian Nyby and Howard Hawks

Writers: Charles Lederer, John W. Campbell, Jr., Ben Hecht, and Howard Hawks.

William Faulkner may have also contributed to the script.

Cast:

Kenneth Tobey as Captain Patrick Hendry
Margaret Sheridan as Nikki
Robert Cornthwaite as Dr. Carrington
Douglas Spencer as Ned “Scotty” Scott
James Young as Lt. Eddie Dykes
Dewey Martin as Crew Chief
James Arness as The Thing

Premise:

A visitor from space gives the personnel at a remote arctic base a thing or two to worry about.

High Point:

The style of the film bests nearly every one of the invading alien flicks that followed. The characters, for the most part, act like human beings and not b-movie clichés. They’re given believable, quirky interactions and more-or-less realistic overlapping dialogue. The monster may be a bit hokey, but the film takes itself seriously as a drama.

Low Point:

In contrast to the other characters, Dr. Carrington comes across too much like a b-movie mad scientist. Some might argue that the characterization adds an anti-intellectual element to this film, but ultimately, I consider a low point because I found him distractingly artificial.

The Scores:

Originality: 3/6. The film was adapted from Campbell’s novella, Who Goes There? and both written and filmed versions borrow heavily from the conventional horror story: a group of people in an isolated setting confront a murderous monster. However, the sf-zation of the plot, in this specific manner, plays as fresh in the context of the time.

Despite its alien origins, the Thing looks suspiciously like Universal’s Frankenstein Monster. In conception, the film departed dramatically from the original story’s unearthly visitor.

Story: 5/6.

Effects: 4/6. John Carpenter’s 1982 remake does a better job with visuals, but this impresses with its low-tech approach. Instead of lingering on an unconvincing rubber beastie, as later 50s SF films would, this Thing appears briefly in underlit scenes. The approach helps sell James Arness in conventional monster make-up as an invading horror.

Acting. 5/6.

Production: 5/6. The film has a few sloppy moments, but overall it holds up, more than a half-century later.

Emotional Response: 5/6.

Overall: 5/6.

In total, The Thing receives a score of 32/42.