The Thing From Another World (1951)

The Thing From Another World (1951)

Without reservation The Thing From Another World (1951) is an American classic and one that any serious collect needs on their shelf

The Thing From Another World (1951)

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In order to truly appreciate a classic fifties Sci-Fi/Horror film like ‘The Thing from Another World’ you have an understanding those times.

I grew up during this period in American history; it was a time of political distrust, Communism as a world thread and the beginning of a new age of scientific wonder. Faith in the military was high, only a few years prior the American armed forces saved the world from the Axis powers. True to form, Hollywood incorporated all these factors into The Thing. Set in an isolated scientific outpost in the Artic, a group of scientist find something that crashed, now buried under the ice. They call for the assistance of the military and determine the buried object is round, a flying saucer! In their attempt to free it from the ice they use just a little too much explosives and completely destroy the object. A block of ice is freed containing what looks like a huge humanoid form. Right from the start the subtle conflict between the military, represent by Captain Hendry (Kenneth Tobey) and the scientist, personified by their leader Dr. Carrington (Robert Cornthwaite). It represented a common feeling back then, scientific advancements are wonderful but they should be under the responsible, ever watchful eye of the armed forces. Only a few years before this flick the military did unleash the fearsome power of the atom to win the war. People where living better than ever but there were still those out there to threaten this security. The alien, played by James Arnes, was not like us, it was more vegetable than animal, it lived off blood and was almost unstoppable. Just as the Communist was poised to destroy us, this strange creature represented a threat never before seen. Caught between Carrington and Hendry was the Doctor’s secretary, Nikki (Margaret Sheridan), one of the tough new breed of woman that arose out of the necessity of World War II. This low budget film is great in the microcosm of American life it represented. Do we study this new life form or just react to the immediate danger? Part of the reason this film as endured as such a cult classic is how the script by Charles Lederer based on the story ‘Who Goes There’ by John W. Campbell Jr. captured in an entertaining format the fears of the public so well. Science fiction is often used to express these anxieties in a more palatable form, one where the message is cloaked in a pure flight of fiction. The Thing From Another World ends with a warning "I bring a warning--to every one of you listening to the sound of my voice. Tell the world, tell this to everyone wherever they are: watch the skies, watch everywhere, keep looking--watch the skies!" While most would associate this admonition with the dread ‘Red Menace’ The Thing From Another World makes its point.

The Thing From Another World was populated by many familiar faces. They were not the ones considered either now or then as the ‘A’ list members of Hollywood but they where consistent in the dedication they gave to their performances. Tobey is well known to those of us that relish a good fifties yarn. His consistency in roles ranging from westerns to war flicks and dramas entertained us right up to his death in 2002. He played Hendry as a military man aware of his responsibilities yet able to find humor in the situation. Cornthwaite gives us men devoted to science yet not aware of the two edge sword most major discoveries present. Here is a man that needs to know without concern for the consequences. My wife has always gotten a kick out of the way Sheridan portrays Nikki. She is a secretary, a typical role for a woman, yet she would pants, could drink the good Captain under the table yet when times got rough her first thought was to keep the men folk in an unending supply of fresh hot coffee. A few years before America was willing to accept Rosie the Riveter but now they expected the security of a more traditional woman even in the most untraditional of situations. Arnes, best known for his twenty years on television in Gunsmoke, was no stranger to this ‘B’ flicks. Like his brother Peter Graves, he made a nice career for himself with these films. In The Thing From Another World, he lumbers around destroying, there is no depth or humanity to his monster and true to the underlying focus of The Thing From Another World, none should be expected.

The director of The Thing From Another World has been a bit of controversy for some time. While officially Christian Nyby was at the helm the actual director was Howard Hawks. Nyby started out as the editor for Hawks and they enjoyed a long friendship. When Nyby, trying to advance his career in direction found himself in a bit of trouble with The Thing From Another World he called on his friend to step in. This has been confirmed by the cast and remains one of the strange things that are pervasive in this industry. Nyby did go on to direct many television shows and was followed in this career path by his son and grandson. Hawks had a great eye for framing a scene. His resume was heavy on the western and war genres and he brought these techniques over to The Thing From Another World. The scenes where set up to focus the eye of the viewer directly on the action. There was little in the way of distracting ancillary sets, the characters where The Thing From Another World. He paces The Thing From Another World to perfection, not one wasted moment is to be found. The editing was sharp and to the point. With a spooky score The Thing From Another World remains a classic.

For a 50th anniversary edition The Thing From Another World is light on the extras. Only a theatrical trailer is included. What does matter is the full screen video is reasonably clean and free of most defects. Considering the age of the source material Warner Brothers did a good job here. The mono sound track is a bit tinny but that was how things where back then. I found that using the Prologic emulation modes gave a better presentation for the sound field. Try the Club mode for the old art house effect. Without reservation The Thing From Another World is an American classic and one that any serious collect needs on their shelf.

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