Classic sci-fi chiller about a slimy alien presence (James Arness, who would later be Marshall Dillon on TV's "Gunsmoke") that invades an arctic station. THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD is very much a film of its producer, Howard Hawks, although Christian Nyby, Hawks's editor on RED RIVER, was credited as director. Hawks's style, themes, and handling of actors arguably dominate the film.
Set in the subzero environment of the North Pole, the film follows an Air Force captain, Tobey, as he and his crew fly to Polar Expedition Six--a group of scientists led by Cornthwaite who are studying arctic conditions--to investigate reports that a flying craft of some sort has crashed into the ice. At the base camp Tobey finds an old flame, Sheridan, who is working as Cornthwaite's secretary. Sheridan is a tough woman in the Hawksian mold, and the romantic banter between her and Tobey is a joy to watch. When Tobey meets with Cornthwaite, he is shown pictures of the strange object as it
streaked across the sky. A party is organized to investigate the crash site, and when they arrive they discover that the object has sunk into the ice and has been frozen. The soldiers, scientists, and Spencer, a journalist, fan out to determine the shape of the object. When they all take their places at the edge of the object, they have formed a perfect circle.
The men decide to melt the ship out of the ice by detonating thermite bombs around it, but the plan goes awry and the ship is destroyed. Gravely disappointed, the men head back for their plane only to discover something else frozen in the ice--an alien. Using axes, they cut out a block of ice encasing the extraterrestrial corpse and bring it back to the base camp. While the soldiers and scientists debate over what to do with the creature, the ice melts and the eight-foot tall thing breaks free of its prison, very much alive — and not at all friendly.
THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD was based rather loosely on a science-fiction story by John W. Campbell, Jr. (it was first published under his pseudonym, Don A. Stuart), in which the alien had the ability to change its shape at will, causing havoc among the soldiers who begin to suspect each other of
harboring the monster. Lederer's screenplay (rumor has it that frequent Lederer-Hawks collaborator Ben Hecht had a hand in it as well) streamlines the narrative and allows Hawks to concentrate on the human interaction in the face of crisis. Whereas the original story is a study of paranoia among comrades (the approach taken in John Carpenter's 1982 remake), Hawks's film revels in the interworkings of a tough group of professionals capable of handling any crisis if they stick together. The characters operate as an ensemble with no one being given much solo screen time. Their unity is what the film is about, a familiar
In a genre often dependent upon elaborate special effects, THE THING is relatively stark and restrained. The monster is only glimpsed in shadows and darkness, thus allowing the imagination of the audience fill in the terrifying details. Harlan's cinematography and Tiomkin's eerie early electronic
score (he used a theremin) provide enough chills to satisfy any horror fan. No ray-guns, strange costumes, or futuristic inventions are needed here; even the spaceship is only suggested, never seen. The fact that the alien closely resembles a man heightens the sense of personal, human struggle
that is the cornerstone of all good drama.
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