Them! (1954)

I couldn’t resist diving back into another of these classic B/W flicks from the Cold War Era…and I’m glad I did. This one’s surprisingly well done! It’s a cautionary tale warning of the ‘negatives’ behind weaponized radiation; driven forward by a determined group of cop, soldier and scientist characters tasked with hunting down and destroying a mutant species of giant ant. The monstrous insects just happen to have emerged from the White Sands Test Facility, a real area used to detonate the first nukes, and are now on the prowl; indiscriminately destroying humans and structures alike. The script is intelligently written (for the time) and nicely paced, accented by an impressive amount of ‘location’ shooting and practical effects. It even manages to be a lil creepy at times. There’s a deftly-handled ‘cop procedural’-feel to the story; more so than a lot of the older genre films. The investigating characters did seem to be…well…investigating…and doing it properly, or at least as properly as 1954 would allow. Of course there was an attractive dame thrown in the mix, but where a hefty number of these flicks would exploit her presence with a cheezy romantic subplot,’Them!’ plays it smart and merely hints at an attraction between two of the leads. It helps reinforce the stakes stacked against humanity by showing a discipline to the characters and their motivations. While this sci-fi thriller clearly sets out to demonize the deadly mutant ants, it also demonstrates a clear fascination and respect for the species as a ‘whole’. This point is shrewdly realized with a brilliant scene of exposition that wants to show off the worthy traits of the animals as opposed to just ‘vilifying’ to move the story along. The bugs aren’t brilliant and crafty beasts hell bent on cleverly crushing us…they’re just simple ants following their natural urges who wound up on the wrong end of nuclear mutation. It’s merely their altered physical scale, to the world around them, that’s the problem for Them!… and us. Where a flick like The Deadly Mantis (1957) carries an undeniable under-current of harsh, metaphorical xenophobia, Them! turns the accusing finger back on humanity (and the USA!). The cold, savage creatures are a dangerous mistake made by man’s lack of scientific restraint; fueled by petty global squabbles and flawed ideologies. It’s a worthy message wrapped in an escapist sensibility that someone actually thought about for a minute or two before the cameras rolled. This one was a pleasant surprise for me.

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