#125) The Thing From Another World (1951)

The-Thing

#125) The Thing From Another World (1951)

OR “When Directors Collide”

Directed by Christian Nyby (According to the credits. We’ll get to that later)

Written by Charles Lederer. Based on the novella “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell.

Class of 2001

The Plot: Investigating a crash in the North Pole, a US Air Force team discovers a flying saucer under the ice. The only surviving remnant is an alien (James Arness) frozen in a block of ice. While debating whether or not to thaw the alien, one of the crew accidentally puts an electric blanket on the ice and the alien escapes. When it is revealed that the alien can regenerate, a debate escalates between Captain Hendry (Kenneth Tobey) and Dr. Carrington (Robert Cornthwaite) over whether to kill the alien or not. With below freezing temperatures and a killer on the loose, time is running out for the crew.

Why It Matters: The NFR praises the film’s “strong narrative and well-defined characters”, and also stands staunchly on the “Team Hawks” side of this film’s director debate.

But Does It Really?: It can’t beat the John Carpenter remake, but the original is quite suspenseful in its own right. The film takes a piece of well-written science fiction and turns it into a taut, thrilling film. Its influence can still be felt by any horror movie keeping the costs down with one set. Kudos to the director, whoever it may be.

Shout Outs: McPherson knows how to handle a gun thanks to “Gary Cooper in ‘Sergeant York’”, which was (also?) directed by Howard Hawks.

Everybody Gets One: Most of the cast, notably James “Marshall Dillon” Arness, who allegedly hated being in this film. And if they put you in a rubber suit and set you on fire you’d hate it too.

Wow, That’s Dated: Several references to the war and the atomic age. My favorites are shout-outs to current President Truman and the old phrase “that’s the $64 question”. Adjusted for inflation, that question is currently worth $188.86.

Seriously, Oscars?: Like its fellow 1951 sci-fi classic “The Day the Earth Stood Still”, “The Thing From Another World” received no Oscar nominations.

Other notes

  • The main dispute about this film is who actually directed it. The credited director is long-time Howard Hawks editor Christian Nyby, while Hawks is credited (above the title, no less) as producer. Depending on which cast member you ask, Hawks may have directed most of this picture himself. We may never know, but if it wasn’t Hawks, Nyby was definitely influenced by his boss. This was the Spielberg/Hooper “Poltergeist” argument of its day.
  • I love movies where the orchestra swells when the composer’s credit appears. Well done, Dimitri Tiomkin.
  • Despite her limited screen time, Hawks’ protégé Margaret Sheridan gets top billing. Her career never quite took off the way Hawks wanted it to.
  • Among the cast members is Robert Nichols, who I know best as Joe (aka Wienie Man) from “This Island Earth”.
  • Team Hawks Exhibit A: Overlapping dialogue.
  • Scotty calls this “the biggest story since the parting of the Red Sea”. Ummm…the war?
  • Can you guys dig up Captain America while you’re down there?
  • One of the doctors in the base is clearly dubbed by Paul Frees. Oh wait, that actually IS Paul Frees.
  • Why is it the shortest films that seem to have the most padding?
  • Scotty looks a bit like Gene Siskel.
  • Super carrot? Sounds like a cartoon superhero designed to get kids to eat their vegetables.
  • With a mysterious creature roaming around the North Pole like this, won’t someone please warn Santa?

Legacy

  • While this version strays from the original source material, John Carpenter produced a more faithful version with 1982’s “The Thing”. The result; a remake that’s just as good (if not better) than the original film.
  • Because no one asked for it, a prequel to the remake was made in 2011 about the first team to discover the alien. To add to the confusion, this film is also called “The Thing”.
  • The “X-Files” episode “Ice” takes a page from this film.
  • And of course, everyone who warns you to “Keep watching the skies!”

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