Sunday, 22 February 2009

Graeme’s Retro Classics! ‘Them!’ (1954)

I can’t really remember much from my history lessons but it’s fairly safe to assume that the nineteen fifties was, in part, a time where people were waking up to what it meant to have countries armed with nuclear weapons and ready to use them if they had to.
Hollywood was also well aware of what the nuclear age was all about, at least as far as radioactively mutated giant ants went…

The deserts of New Mexico are suddenly the scenes of strange crimes that have the police baffled. Unseen assailants ransack the local general store, the corpse of the storekeeper is filled with enough formic acid to kill twenty men… A shell shocked little girl is the only survivor of her family, all she can say is “Them…”
Atomic bomb testing has spawned a new race of giant ants hungry for meat (and sugar, they love their sugar!) and the authorities must stop them before they can breed and spread. The original nest is destroyed but two queen ants hatch and escape, where could they be? The race is on to find them before the human race becomes an endangered species…

Some people might say that ‘Them!’ is a cautionary tale about the perils of the atomic bomb. I had a tutor at college who would have said that ‘Them!’ is a film about America’s policy of isolationism and mistrust of foreigners, especially after the Second World War and the onset of the Cold War. I say that ‘Them!’ is a very cool film where the US military goes up against giant ants that are surprisingly well done for a film made in 1954. Sometimes what you see is what you get, deal with it people! :o)

For what is essentially a silly concept (its giant ants!) ‘Them!’ takes itself very seriously and that is where its charm is found. There’s nothing tongue in cheek about this film at all and this makes the stakes seem even higher. It even has it’s very own ‘mad scientist’ (Edmund Gwenn as Doctor Harold Medford) who does a great job of keeping a straight face whilst delivering prophecies of doom for humanity. He also has a great line in wanting to get to the front line and study the ants, whilst battles are raging, with no thought to his own safety. This is true mad scientist material! I particularly loved the moment where Medford sits all the army chiefs down and shows them a film about common garden ants so they can get an idea of what they’re up against!

In a film populated with honest cops, square jawed FBI agents and a feisty scientist’s daughter (not forgetting our man Dr. Medford himself) it’s the ants who steal the show and quite rightly so. There are only ever two or three ants on screen at any one time but it always seems like there are so many more, especially when they creep behind people who are not expecting it… The best example of this is when a nest of giant ants is found on a ship at sea. Only two ants are used but really tight camera work helps give the impression that the entire ship has been overrun and the crewmen are battling for their lives.
The final battle, in the storm drains underneath Los Angeles is handled in a similar fashion and also makes for some tense viewing.

In an age where ‘old classics’ are constantly being re-worked for a modern audience I'm actually quite surprised that no-one has taken up the option to rework ‘Them!’ I reckon it could work really well, I’ve been watching ‘Cloverfield’ (finally) over the last couple of days and I think a ‘Them!’ remake would be a lot better! :o)
In the meantime, keep an eye out for this one on Amazon, it’s really cheap and well worth a look…

No comments: