Experiments dating back to the 1920s showed that exposure to radiation can produce mutations in subsequent generations. The early experiments with fruit-flies had implications for pop culture, ultimately breeding the X-Men and Kaiju‘s close cousin, the Giant Radiation Monster. The original was Them!, made when drive-in SF was still being produced, written, directed, and acted like other films.
Cast and Crew
James Arness as Robert Graham
Edmund Gwenn as Dr. Harold Medford
Joan Weldon as Dr. Pat Medford
James Whitmore as Police Sgt. Ben Peterson
Onslow Stevens as Brig. Gen. Robert O’Brien
Fess Parker as Alan Crotty
Leonard Nimoy makes a brief appearance as an air force sergeant.
Full credits available at the imdb.
Available at Amazon.com
Authorities investigating mysterious attacks in New Mexico learn that the original atomic bomb test had some unusual side effects, and dealing with them won’t be a picnic.
The first half-hour of the movie creates an eerie, mysterious mood rarely matched by movies of this sort. The actors put in credible performances as they gradually realize they’re not dealing with an ordinary adversary. At this point in the history of drive-in SF, the filmmakers often gave the same kind of serious attention they would give to any other movie. Once Hollywood realized the youth and kiddie audiences were willing to buy tickets if there were saucers or BEMs or giant beasties to be seen, budgets and quality dropped like male ants after mating.
The giant ants aren’t very convincing, and contrast with the serious tone set by the rest of the film. The final scenes in the queen’s chamber are downright embarrassing-looking.
Originality: 5/6. Many films raided the premise; Them! did it first.
Effects: 4/6. See “Low Points.” I’ve made some adjustments for the era, although better creature effects were possible, even then. Often overlooked by reviewers, however, are the non-ant-related effects, which work well.
Story 4/6. One must suspend disbelief regarding the fact of the gi-ants which, of course, could not exist. The manner in which various characters join the inner circle of the “anti-ant” force, while others are kept in the dark, may bug some viewers. Taken on its own terms, however, Them! holds together.
Acting: 5/6. The film features some fine performances. The clichés-in-the-making principals– including square-jawed hero, absent-minded professor, and attractive female scientist—- while impressively performed, prove less memorable than the gallery of minor characters. The traumatized little girl, the drunk who wants to be put “in charge of the booze,” and the distraught mother play like real people facing an impossible situation.
Emotional Response: 5/6. The film dates from another era and the effects will make contemporary audiences snicker, but this remains the definitive giant insect movie.
In total, Them! receives 32/42.
The film ends with the professor asking, “If these monsters got started as a result of the first atomic bomb in 1945, what about all the others that have been exploded since then?” This addresses the film’s themes of the potential dangers of atomic testing. However, one can also interpret the line in terms of the genre itself. Throughout the 50s, those other bombs would unleash hordes of monsters to bedevil theater patrons. The genre itself later mutated, so that entries from the early 70s make pollution rather than radiation the cause of monstrosities.