Them!

Year: 1954

Production: Warner Bros.

Director: Gordon Douglas

Starring: Edmund Gwenn, James Whitmore, James Arness, Joan Weldon

Screenwriter: Ted Sherdeman

Based on a story by George Worthing Yates

93 minutes; B/W


Unexplained deaths occur, but it is some time before we learn that atomic tests in the US desert have created gigantism in a species of ant. Their nest is located and destroyed, but a queen ant escapes and lays her eggs in a storm drain beneath Los Angeles, which becomes the setting for the final battle between giant ants and humans. Along with The Thing (The Thing from Another World) (1951) and The Beast from 20000 Fathoms (1953), Them! was a template for a series of similar monster movies that followed in the 1950s. It is well made, and handles its absurb subject with an austere but vivid documentary style, thus standing out from most of the cheaper and more sensational variations that followed on the theme. The giant ants were not animated miniatures but full-scale mock-ups.

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction

Directed by Douglas in semi-documentary style Them! is one of the best American sf films of the 50s. So confident were Warners of its success that its content was kept secret during production and even the posters did not give much away. A child (Descher) is discovered wandering in the desert in a state of deep shock by two policemen (Whitmore and Drake). Nearby they find a wrecked trailer and a single track in the sand, then hear a chilling cry on the horizon. Back in town, Drake hears the cry again, steps out of a building - and is never seen agaln. FBI agent Arness investigates and discovers that atomic tests in the desert have produced a giant species of ant. Special effects man Ayers built only two principal ants - one complete and the other mounted on a boom, with only a head and forequarters. The production crew used this model for close-ups and a series of levers operated the ant's moving parts. Other inanimate insects were built for "crowd scenes" and a wind machine moved their antennae to and fro. On the rampage the ants are eventually destroyed by poison gas - except for a queen, who escapes and lays her eggs in a Los Angeles drain. The eggs spawn more giant ants but these are burnt alive in the catacomb of drains before they can do more damage.

Although the film has been described by some commentators as an anti-communist tract, with the ants as communists and Arness as the FBI man cleaning up America, it lacks the paranoia of such films. In contrast to I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958), for instance, which dwells on the take-over of normal middle American townspeople by aliens to create its sense of paranoia, Them! places its characters on the fringes of the hostile world of the desert. The fear of I Married a Monster from Outer Space is of being sapped from within, the fear of Them! is wholly external, they, the ants, are finally on the march. In short, the film contrasts the artificial havens of man's cities with the hostile world of the desert where nature reigns supreme.

Them! was the largest-grossing Warner film of 1954 and was quickly imitated by films like Tarantula (1955), The Black Scorpion (1959) and The Deadly Mantis (1957).

The Overlook Film Encyclopedia - Science Fiction

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