It’s a good thing horror fans are such an accepting group, rarely participating in social media vitriol. Otherwise, I wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing my honest opinion about a classic film that’s beloved by most: Them! (1954.) This wasn’t my first time watching it and I’ve really tried over the years, but it’s never been anything other than an “OK” movie for me.
I’m not denying thatThem! is a well-made film with some great elements. However, these elements never coalesce into a fully entertaining movie for me. It’s too long at 94 minutes, sometimes dragging. As far as Atomic Age “big bug” films, I prefer Tarantula (1955), or even Beginning of the End (1957). They’re simply more fun.
I’ve started down this path, so I may as well continue. I think the giant ants receive more praise than they deserve. They’re barely as mobile as the monsters in Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957.) When one is supposedly gnawing on the skeleton of a dead animal, the bones just rest upon its front legs. I don’t think its mandibles could even reach it.
What’s missing for me is a scene demonstrating the scope of the danger. There’s a lot of talk about it, but we never see an army of ants marching across the desert. Scenes of single ants emerging from the shadows are effective, though. It’s terrific when one climbs over a hill behind Dr. Patricia Medford (Joan Weldon), but the shot is framed and timed so that it telegraphs the scare.
I also like the beginning of Them! when we see the destruction left in the wake of an attack. A trailer abandoned by the side of the road looks normal until the camera crosses behind it and practically the entire other side is missing. Also, there’s some groceries knocked over in the general store, but when we move to the back of the store, there’s a giant hole in the wall.
The buildup and mystery of the film is terrific, but once we see an actual monster, it becomes problematic. Missing is a race against time, and while I admire Sgt. Ben Peterson (James Whitmore) and Robert Graham’s (James Arness) heart in searching for two missing children, the threat against them seems minimal to the threat against humanity.
There’s also something I don’t understand. Long after the principal characters have acknowledged there’s a giant pest problem, why does Graham waste time interrogating people after a “huge sugar theft” and accuse them of orchestrating it? The script explains they’re trying to learn if anyone saw anything that could help them. But no one has, so it’s a futile effort.
A pattern here is that Them! sometimes doesn’t play by the rules of a big bug movie. That isn’t what bothers me. I love it when (SPOILER ALERT) a main character is unexpectedly killed and I love being surprised when my expectations are deceived, but it must be exciting or fun. This is neither… for me. For everyone else, I’m genuinely happy that it is.
Written by Ted Sherdeman (screenplay), Russell S. Hughes (adaptation), George Worthing Yates (story)
Directed by Gordon Douglas
Starring James Whitmore, Edmund Gwenn, Joan Weldon, James Arness
RT 94 min.
Released June 19, 1954
Recorded on Nov. 7, 2020
Rating 6 Godzillas (out of 10)
This review is part of the annual Countdown to Halloween. I invite you to join me as I attempt to gain some space on my DVR. Every day, I'll be watching something from the bottom of the list, thereby reducing the percentage that's full... so I can record more!
Click here to visit other great blogs and websites participating in the countdown.