The Thing From Another World (1951)


Directed by Christian Nyby and Howard Hawks

Written by Charles Lederer (based on the short story “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell)

Starring: Margaret Sheridan, Kenneth Tobey, Robert Cornthwaite, James Arness

Tagline: Where did it come from? How did it get here? What is it? Will it destroy us all? Can we escape it?

Trivia:  James Arness played The Thing, he would go on to star in the long running TV series Gunsmoke.

The Thing From Another World is a chatty and at times frightening study of paranoia. Set at a remote military base in the Arctic, a group of military personal and scientists discover a frozen alien who will eventually threaten the lives of everyone. A film that shaped the consciousness of a generation, The Thing is a tightly directed classic brimming with Cold War unease.

Andrew Sarris in his book The American Cinema singled out Howard Hawks as one of the “pantheon” directors, a director with a style so unassuming and natural that it’s hard to decipher: eye level camera shots with multiple characters in the frame. Action in a Hawks film happens within the frame, emphasizing cooperation and community.  All these style characteristics are evident in The Thing.

There’s also no clear protagonist to the story, possibly Margatet Sheridan or Kenneth Tobey.  As the seasoned army captain, Tobey appears to be in charge.  But Sheridan, the only female in the cast, brings a calming, civilizing presence to the proceedings.  The action seems to orbit around her.

John Carpenter’s 1982 remake features an all male cast, creating a heightened sense of gloom.

Cold War Consensus

The Cold War angle comes from their encounter with the creature, an entity they cannot understand except that it means to do them harm. Their only choice is to resist and eventually kill the alien. WWII keeps getting referenced and the thing reminds them the world is not yet safe, in fact the threat’s even more dangerous since it works in stealth.

There’s a slight tension between the scientist and military men, the scientist wants to study the alien, maybe even use it for a weapon.  Only in this case the military-industrial complex prevails.

The Thing From Another World is known for the way it influenced a generation of filmmakers. Carpenter copied shots in his remake, but also made a superior movie faithful to the source material.  James Cameron’s Aliens copied the attack scene verbatim.  So we have the DNA of 80s popular cinema: therein lies the persistent popularity of an otherwise above average product of the 1950s studio system.






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