Them! (1954) - The 195os fears of atomic holocaust created a rich and prolific monster movies. What were the after affect of the atom bomb and the continued testing in the desert of New Mexico. Them! is a well drawn film, it does not try to do more than it should, it is a monster movie that moves at a good pace and is pretty standard in its approach.
The film starts with the performance of the film, a young girl (Sandy Descher) is spotted walking in the desert and the local cops are sent to retrieve her. She walks staring into space broken doll gripped tightly in her arm, she does not react to the cops calling to her. She does it so well and later gets to finally react to the horrors she saw and is great. Sandy Descher continued acting, past this film in which she was 9 years old and up until she was 19 with most of her roles coming on television.
The cops, Troopers Sgt. Ben Peterson (James Whitmore) and Ed Blackburn (Chris Drake) check out a nearby camper to see if the girl could have come from there. When they arrive they find the thing in a shambles with the side pulled wide open. Trooper Blackburn searching the area finds sugar cubes on the ground in what is the most obvious musical queue in the world. They also hear the sound queue for the monsters too off in the distance. They don't know what is going on yet but they have a mystery and the audience through the sound queues is primed for the rest of the film. They set this all up to get us to react when we hear the sounds again and it is a great if obvious device of fifties monster movies.
The cops head over to the local desert general store and unfortunately find the owner dead and the side of his store ripped out. In more sound and visual foreshadowing we get the urgent music while they show a tub of sugar that has been turned over and is now infested with ants. They are definitely setting us up in classic film fashion. Ed is left there to investigate while Fred goes off, the sounds of the monsters starts right up. Ed no fool kills the lights so her can see better into the darkness, the wind is blowing and the sounds get louder. Ed steps outside to investigate and we hear his gunshots and then screams as he dies off camera. This is another great horror movie trope where you do not get to see the monster too early in the film, making the reveal so much better.
The cops bring in an FBI agent Robert Graham (James Arness) to help since the Ellinson's father from the trailer who is missing and whose shock little girl still has not talked, was an FBI officer on vacation. They also send the print they found off to Washington DC to be identified and very quickly a couple scientist join the group. Dr Harold Medford (Edmund Gwenn) an old doddering but brilliant scientist and his capable assistant and daughter Dr. Patricia 'Pat" Medford (Joan Weldon). She is a very common role for women in these kind of films, a scientist who is good at her job usually assisting a more famous man. She is competent and strong but also the target of the feelings of someone else in the film, usually the leading man. In this case it will be FBI agent Graham who has such a horrible line right after meeting her. As they walk away he says
"I should have had this suit pressed."
and Peterson respond "She's quite a doctor huh."
"Yeah, If she's the kind that takes care of sick people I think I'll get a fever real quick."
Peterson laughs and we can groan.
With our full cast they set about solving the case. The scientists have a theory but do not want to say too much before they are certain, this creates a nice antagonistic dynamic with the cops. They go and visit the young girl and bring her out of her shock with the smell of an acid produced by our still yet to be revealed creatures. She is great at the screaming THEM! THEM!
Now this film could have just stay in the desert and played this out but we get so much more. Dr Medford get all excited and is getting very close to knowing what is going on. He assures the cops that he will fill them in when he is sure but he has to be sure. He raises the stakes saying that if he is right it will be a national crisis. With the stakes raised we get the first reveal, and although less than impressive by today's standards it is still a wonderful monster. So they kill the one they see and we find that the colony could spread all over the world. This next section of the film is too get the Ants before they spread out of the desert. They come up with a plan and execute but when they are in the colony they find that they were too late. At least two queens have flown away from this nest and the world is at risk. The film shifts from the small desert town to Los Angeles as the military searches for the queens that have flown from the original nest.
A true monster movie this is a great example it is very enjoyable to watch. The military moving against the ants, the personal stories of trapped kids and the love interest between Pat Medford and Robert Graham, it all works to great a true classic.
Side note include that Edmund Gwenn was Santa Claus in Miracle on 34th St.. James Whitmore had an outstanding acting career noted in 151 films and TV shows. James Arness was most famous for his role of Marshall Matt Dillon in the long running TV show Gunsmoke, and there is even a cameo by Fess Parker who would later play TV's Daniel Boone
Rating (7.0) 5.0 and up are recommended, in the Zombiegrrlz system I would say rent it!