Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Thing from Another World

I sat down to view 1951's THE THING (FROM ANOTHER WORLD) and was quite surprised to see the film's title burning into the screen, much the way it had in John Carpenter's 1982 remake. I don't know why I was so taken aback by it. Maybe I was wasn't expecting this '50s sci-fi/horror flick to resemble the newer film in any possible way. Like it would simply be 100% laughable cheese. The '82 THING set new highs (or lows) in icky special effects, and had a tone of dread that kept me on edge its entire running time. It was another film a 13 year old probably shouldn't have been watching.

I only recently saw THE THING (FROM ANOTHER WORLD), which is based on the Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell (nee Don A. Stuart) after years of reading about it. The great Howard Hawks' name was usually mentioned. He did not direct (although there are reports to the contrary) but rather did an uncredited co-write with Ben Hecht! As with pretty much every film of this type in the 1950s, the anti-Communism metaphors waft strongly. A character even barks: "Tell the world. Tell this to everybody, wherever they are. Watch the skies everywhere. Keep looking. Keep watching the skies."
The movie is unabashedly pro military, but additionally casts squinted eyes toward the reckless blind embrace of science and technology in a society still reeling from the Manhattan Project. And what of the dangers of playing God?

Air Force crew and scientists gather in Alaska to investigate the downing of what they believe is a U.F.O.  They accidentally destroy the aircraft but retrieve its passenger in a block of ice. A radioactive, man-sized figure, capable of decision making and discovered later to be a form of plant life. Puzzling though, as it feeds on the blood of sled dogs and eventually some of the crew. Dr. Carrington (Robert Cornthwaite) learns the creature needs the blood to survive and reproduce. He will covertly acquire seed pods left by the alien and attempt incubate new plant life from them. An amazing discovery. But after some men are killed, the military just wants to put the thing down.

Given the talent behind the typewriter, THE THING has more than a few inferences of larger issues than "who goes there." It isn't only interested in cheap shocks. And while the movie is essentially cheerleading our armed forces and casting suspicion toward investigative science, the more rational among the academics on the crew win out, displaying a cautiousness with meddling with "things" beyond our comprehension. You can take that last sentence as you will, as its very declaration may raise on a few hairs on your necks, invisible audience.

The movie is still a campy thriller. There are laugh out loud implausibilities (watch the way that door swings when the thing enters) and a silly romantic subplot that actually involves tying up one's beloved! Surprisingly kinky for its era. But the most curious flaw of THE THING? Non-stop dialogue. Sometimes overlapping. All of it ridiculous. No Pulitzers for words here. The talking more than once undermines potential suspense. Particularly that reporter. Maybe you should just mute the movie and queue up Dark Side of the Moon.

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