31 Days of Oscar: “Them!”

Modern creature features, even the TV movie variety, owe a lot to the classic ones from long ago. If it weren’t for the fears that drove a lot of them, or the need for a new way to scare audiences, the genre might not be what it is today. Sure most still suck, but they’ve maintained the one thing that allows for them to be fun time and again.

The Warner Bros. Pictures film “Them!”, is still a fun creature film, but somehow managed to make me feel something I haven’t previously felt.

This creature feature stars James Whitmore (“Give ‘me Hell, Harry!”, “Battleground”), Edmund Gwenn (“Mister 880”, “Miracle on 34th Street (1948)”), Joan Weldon (“Home Before Dark”, “Gunsight Ridge”), James Arness (“Gunsmoke”, “The Thing from Another World”), Onslow Stevens (“The Couch”, “Lonelyhearts”), Sean McClory (“The Dead”, “The Quiet Man), Chris Drake (“The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp”, “Sheena: Queen of the Jungle”), and Sandy Descher (“Perry Mason”, “The New Loretta Young Show”).

The film was directed by Gordon Douglas (“They Call Me Mister Tibbs!”, “The Sins of Rachel Cade”) and written by Ted Sherdeman (“My Side of the Mountain”,, “Island of the Blue Dolphins”).

The film originally opened on June 19, 1954. It would go on to be nominated for one Academy Award and one Motion Picture Sound Editors, USA award, winning one.

While I am fully aware that both the Academy Awards and the Turner Classic Movies (TCM) festival “31 Days of Oscar” are over, I still have a lot of films that I watched that I want to write about. I know my goal was to write about them before the festival ended, but I just got too busy and couldn’t make it. Plus, as if I didn’t already have enough films in general, I still have some I recorded, but haven’t watched. There are a lot that will be first timers for me, so I can’t wait to finish what I started back at the beginning of February.

Okay, now that that’s out of the way. I have no idea how many times I’ve seen this film, particularly on TCM. Enough, and I still enjoy it, for the most part. I even have it in some collection of TCM films, which now that I think about it, I haven’t watched. I will at some point. I always get excited for this film, and honestly I don’t know why. It’s not one of those films you’re going to forget about any time soon. It can’t ever really be like the first time. Yet I still watch it. While I may never figure that out, I can say that I think I have seen it way too many times. It’s starting, in the most surprising way, to wear on me.

What’s not surprisingly wearing on me, are the creature effects and special effects. You know, what brought the giant ants to life and makes this film at all possible. Yes, they look like shit, but when you look at them, keeping in mind this is the early 1950s, it’s not surprising and it’s nothing short of brilliant. While I may not be able to be fully afraid, which I never was, I can see how this could bother people and I can see how this allows for me to have fun with the whole film. It’s practical effects, in part. I can see it all, I can feel the fear that’s building. Which is another thing about this film that surprisingly still works. Fear. It’s built up and not very fast either. I think it’s something like 30 minutes before we even see the first ant, but until then, it’s just noises and a trail of death and destruction. This buildup is still eerie and enjoyable, which I think is itself amazing for a film this old. Also amazing, are the noises that the ants make. The perfect unsettling sound that signals they’re near! What dangers are awaiting the people in this town?

It’s because of this that the film retains most of it’s fun, and the reason why I love it and creature features. So many others out there do so much for me, and it’s because of these approaches that have me coming back time and again.

However, my coming back time and again, may be the exact same thing that ruined this experience. I dare say, it could also ruin so many others in the future.

I’m going to approach this honestly, as I think it’s the only way that this is going to work. This time around, a large majority of the film, I’m guessing, because I don’t even know that, was unenjoyable. So much so, that I really just started to do other things. My favorite, reading news articles and only paying slight attention, although, now that I think about it, it was even less than that. I thought I knew it all and that I could manage, but I couldn’t. I got so distracted I didn’t know what was going on. That’s the good thing about my memory. I recall a lot, but even some of the most specific stuff doesn’t stick and it can sometimes be a surprise. There’s an aha moment with some films. This time around, the film didn’t have that. It just had stuff going on. I think part of the problem was that the story strayed too far from the characters it spent the better part of an hour introducing. I just thought it was closer to ending, now that they had discovered what was causing all the mayhem. Nope! It went elsewhere. And this allowed for it to seem like it was going on and on, with no clear plot or end in sight. I even forgot if the original characters were still alive or indeed coming back. And this is how I lost interest. It makes me sad, but it happens.

Maybe it’s also very telling when you think about this film. Sherdeman was aiming for something a bit more menacing than just a small town. A global effect. This too makes sense when you think about the time period. This film, like so many others, even non-creature features, played on people’s fears. There’s a brilliant documentary, that I saw years ago, which may even still be available on Netflix, called “Nightmares in Red, White & Blue”, that discusses the progression of the horror genre from about the 1920s onwards. In part, it discusses how the times that people lived in, were reflected in film. The ‘50s were focused more so on the Cold War Era, and even the classic character the Invisible Man, was put into a different type of role than previously seen. In this film, clearly, even as stated, it was about the atomic bomb. So much of the fear that people had, was derived from this real world notion, that another country could cause major havoc on the world that the audience of the ‘50s knew. Playing on people’s fears never gets old.

Regardless, somehow I managed to tune out the remainder of the film and it’s making me reevaluate what I think of this film. I think a lot more time will need to occur before I take another trip to this strange and exciting world. If I don’t, I don’t think I’ll ever come back to the place I was at when I first saw this film. It could also be what puts me off of other creature features, be the classics or new and less than stellar ones on TV.


One thought on “31 Days of Oscar: “Them!”

  1. Pingback: 354 Opportunities To Broaden Your Film Horizons With ‘31 Days Of Oscar’ | Past, Present, Future in TV and Film

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