Thing from Another World (1951)


In a genre that has more than its share of clunkers it's refreshing to see a sci-fi film that gets everything right.  Not only does this movie feature the best script, actors, and effects that 1951Hollywood had to offer, but it stands the test of time to become an absolute must-have for every home video library.  Don't confuse this gem with John Carpenter's 1982 gore-fest remake, this is the original in all of its black and white glory.

Sent to investigate a mysterious crash near the North Pole, our hero Captain Patrick Hendry (played by Kenneth Tobey) and his crew make an amazing discovery.  A spacecraft of unknown origin has fallen from the sky, its tremendous heat temporarily melting a large pit in the polar ice which has re-frozen over the craft, leaving only the rear stabilizer fin visible.  After their attempts to extricate the vehicle cause it to self-destruct they are able to recover one of the occupants who is frozen solid in a nearby block of ice.  Once the creature is brought back to base it is accidentally thawed, returns to life, and begins to feed.

The human characters in this film serve as much more than mere fodder for the monster. Through quick and clever dialog they are given personality, likeability and depth which are rare things in the world of science fiction cinema.  Captain Hendry is level-headed and cool under fire but always concerned for the safety of his men. Robert Cornwaite as lead researcher Dr. Harrington is haughty, dispassionate and logical - less concerned with destroying the monster than understanding and preserving it. Then there is Margaret Sheridan as Nikki, Dr. Harrington's secretary and Capt. Hendry's love interest. Nikki is best defined by what she does not do - not once do we see a closeup of her terror filled eyes as she screams into the back of her hand,  she does not pound her little fists futilely into the monster's chest,  she does not twist her ankle while running away from the slow moving creature, and she does spend a single moment being lugged toward the camera seat-first over the monster's shoulder.  Nikki is smart, strong willed, and brave - ready to stand and fight when the going gets tough.

And the going gets mighty tough.  This film features one of the most dangerous looking stunt sequences I've seen.  Having learned that the alien is immune to bullets, our heroes attempt to ambush it with fire.  As the creature bursts into the room, it is doused with several buckets of kerosene and shot with a flare gun.  After erupting into flames it is doused again and again with more fuel.  Everyone in the scene appears to be in real danger as burning kerosene is flying everywhere and the entire set is on fire.

Dimitri Tiomkin's soundtrack is also worth mentioning, driving the suspense with heavy horns and the classic 1950's "woo-ee-ooo" sound which has become synonymous with invading aliens.

Finally we have the Thing itself, played by James Arness.  Much like the shark in "Jaws", the Thing is rarely seen and then only briefly.  Knowing that it is always nearby, preparing to attack at the moment of its own choosing, creates an atmosphere of suspense that many lesser films forego in favor of silly costumes and low-budget special effects.

If you haven't seen this one, you're missing one of the best sci-fi films ever made.

I give "The Thing From Another World" a rock solid ten out of ten.