Them! may not be the best sci-fi monster movie to come out of the Red Scare in the ’50s but it’s certainly the most iconic. The poster alone has become one of the best-known film posters of the 20th Century, and it was lovingly parodied by Joe Dante in his film Matinee, where it was the inspiration of the film-within-the-film, Mant! Warner Bros. has finally released it on Blu-Ray in their new “The Premium Collection” range, which includes a DVD version along with a set of postcards.
Unsurprisingly, Them! was originally meant to be a 3D feature during the first, best and original 3D craze of the ’50, and it was also supposed to be in colour. However, it ended up becoming a black and white feature after Warner Bros was disappointment by the test shots. The film does feature colour, but only in the opening title card, which was done to give it a “dramatic punch”.
Set in the New Mexico desert, the film begins with the discovery of a lost child and a mysterious footprint. The child’s family is missing and their trailer has been ripped apart. The local police send the footprint to Washington for help, and then FBI agents and doctors come to investigate. Of course they ending up fighting ants and trying to protect the residents.
Since it’s a Warner Brothers film, production values are better than the average “giant bug”/atomic sci-fi movie of the period. It’s well-paced–a problem for many of the others, which tend to fall apart quickly–and while the monster may look a little cheesy now, the average cinema-goer then would have been convinced. Writers George Worthing Yates (a sci-fi film veteran) and Russell S. Hughes (who mostly wrote westerns, most notably the 1956 Delmore Daves film Jubal) worked well with director Gordon Douglas to bring an atomic-age story to the screen.
Douglas isn’t held in high esteem these days, but he was a relatively solid director from the 1930s to the 1970s (his final film was Viva Knievel! in 1977). Today, he’s probably best-known for the Tony Rome films with Frank Sinatra. He also directed the anti-commie noir I Was a Communist for the FBI.
The film was shot by Sidney Hickox, one of the greatest cinematographers of all time. He started in 1016 and shot a lot of film noir classics, including The Big Sleep and Dark Passage. That’s why it looks so good. It was one of Hickox’s last films before his move into TV. For the most part, the giant ants work pretty well–it doesn’t look as fake as typical screen monsters, and Hickox uses shadows very effectively before the big reveal. He also sets up interesting angles, making it stand out from the relatively static, stage-style of many other low-budget ’50s films. Them! has a good mix of studio and outdoor footage.
The lead actor is James Whitmore, well-known for a long career that spanned every kind of film from war epics to musicals to… Them! Leonard Nimoy has a small part as an Army sergeant (one of his few films before Star Trek). Gunsmoke’s James Arness appears, as does Edmund Gwenn, another screen veteran perhaps best known for his role as Santa on Miracle on 34th Street but also seen in handful of Hitchcock films. The presence of a decent cast is another factor that makes Them! stand out from the pack.
The only special features on this re-release are a short feature about the ants, and a trailer. Both have been ported over from the DVD release. The film has been remastered in high-def, and was previously released on Blu-Ray in the US last year. It’s currently only a exlusive in HMV and Fopp stores.