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The Thing from Another World

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The Thing from Another World (often referred to as The Thing before its 1982 remake), is a 1951 science fiction film based on the 1938 novella Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell, Jr. It tells the story of an Air Force crew and scientists at a remote Arctic research outpost who fight a malevolent plant-based alien being. It stars Kenneth Tobey, Margaret Sheridan, Robert Cornthwaite and Douglas Spencer. James Arness appeared as the Thing, difficult to recognize in costume and makeup. No cast members are named during the opening credits; the only cast credit is at the movie's end.

In 2001, the film was deemed "culturally significant" by the United States Library of Congress and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

Plot

A United States Air Force (USAF) re-supply crew is officially dispatched by General Fogerty (David McMahon) from Anchorage, Alaska at the unusual request of Dr. Arthur Carrington (Robert Cornthwaite), chief of a group of scientists working at a North Pole base, Polar Expedition Six. They have evidence that an unknown flying craft of some kind crashed nearby. Ned Scott (Douglas Spencer), a reporter in search of a story, tags along. A minor romantic sub-plot involves Captain Patrick Hendry (Kenneth Tobey) and Carrington's secretary, Nikki Nicholson (Margaret Sheridan). On arrival, Dr. Carrington briefs the airmen, and Doctor Redding (George Fenneman) shows high speed photos of an object moving downward, up and on a straight line - not the movements of a meteor. Hendry wonders to the doctor, "Twenty thousand tons of steel is an awful lot of metal for an airplane." "It is for the sort of aeroplane we know, Captain," Carrington responds. From Geiger counter readings, Hendry's crew and the scientists fly to the crash site aboard the supply team's ski-equipped C-47. The craft is buried in the ice, with a vertical stabilizer protruding from the surface. They are shocked to discover that the shape of the craft is that of a flying saucer. They try to free it with thermite heat explosives, but in doing so accidentally destroy the craft. Crew Chief Sergeant Bob's (Dewey Martin) geiger counter locates a body nearby, frozen in the ice.

They excavate the tall body, preserving it in a large ice block and return to the research outpost as a major storm moves in, making communication with Anchorage very difficult. Some scientists want to thaw out the creature immediately, but Hendry orders everyone to wait until he receives orders from Air Force authorities. Feeling uneasy guarding the body, Corporal Barnes (William Self) covers the ice block with a blanket, not realizing it is an electric blanket, and the creature thaws out, revives and escapes to the outside cold. The creature wards off an attack by twelve sled dogs, and the scientists recover an arm, bitten off by the dogs. As the arm warms up, it ingests the blood from one of the dogs and begins to come back to life. They learn that, while appearing humanoid, the creature is in fact an advanced form of plant life. Dr. Carrington is convinced that the creature can be reasoned with and has much to teach them, but Dr. Chapman (John Dierkes) and other colleagues disagree. The Air Force men are just as sure it may be dangerous.

Carrington soon realizes that the creature requires blood to reproduce. He later discovers the hidden body of a sled dog, still warm, drained of blood, in the greenhouse. He has volunteers from his own team, Dr. Voorhees (Paul Frees), Dr Olsen and Dr Auerbach, stand guard overnight, waiting for the creature's return. Carrington secretly uses blood plasma from the infirmary to incubate and nourish seedlings he has taken from the arm, failing to advise his colleagues or Capt Hendry of what he has done, or of having found the bodies of Olsen and Auerbach, drained of blood. Dr. Stern (Eduard Franz) is almost killed, but escapes to warn the others. Nikki reluctantly updates Hendry when he asks about missing plasma. Hendry confronts Carrington in the greenhouse, where he sees that the creature's planted seed pods have grown at an alarming rate. Dr. Wilson (Everett Glass) advises Carrington that he hasn't slept, but Carrington is unconcerned. The creature returns and the USAF crew, after gunfire has no effect, trap it in the greenhouse. The creature escapes and tries to break into another part of the camp. Following a suggestion from Nikki, Hendry and his men set it alight with kerosene, causing it to flee into the night.

Nikki notes that the temperature inside the station is dropping quickly, probably due to a cut fuel line. The cold forces the scientists and the airmen to make a final stand in the generator room. They rig a booby trap, hoping to electrocute the thing. As the creature advances on them, Carrington twice tries to save it, once by shutting off the power, and then by trying to reason with the creature directly. It throws him aside, before falling into the trap and being reduced to a smoldering husk. Its seedlings are also destroyed. Scotty files his "story of a lifetime" by radio to Anchorage, warning his listeners to "Watch the skies!"

Cast

Production notes

James Arness behind the scenes - The Thing (1951)

James Arness as The Thing, behind the scenes of The Thing from Another World.

Screenplay

The film was loosely adapted by Charles Lederer, with uncredited rewrites from Howard Hawks and Ben Hecht, from the 1938 novella Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell, Jr.; the story was first published in Astounding Science Fiction under Campbell's pseudonym Don A. Stuart (Campbell had just become Astounding's managing editor when his novella appeared in its pages).[1] The film took full advantage of the national feelings of the time to help enhance the horror elements of the story. The film reflected a post-Hiroshima skepticism about science and negative views of scientists who meddle with things better left alone. In the end it is American servicemen and several sensible scientists who win the day over the alien invader.[1]

The film's screenplay changes the fundamental nature of the alien as presented in Campbell's 1938 novella: Lederer's "Thing" is a humanoid life form whose cellular structure is closer to vegetation, although it must feed on blood to survive; reporter Scott even refers to it in the film as a "super carrot." The internal, plant-like structure of the creature makes it impervious to bullets but not other destructive forces. Campbell's "Thing" is a life form capable of assuming the physical and mental characteristics of any living thing it encounters; this characteristic was later realized in John Carpenter's 1982 remake of the film.[1]

Director

There is debate as to whether the film was directed by Hawks with Christian Nyby receiving the credit so that Nyby could obtain his Director’s Guild membership,[2][3] or whether Nyby directed it with considerable input in both screenplay and advice in directing from producer Hawks[4] for Hawks' Winchester Pictures, which released it through RKO Radio Pictures Inc. Hawks gave Nyby only $5,460 of the $50,000 director's fee that RKO paid and kept the rest, but Hawks denied that he directed the film.[5]

Cast members disagree on Hawks' and Nyby's contributions. Tobey said that "Hawks directed it, all except one scene"[6] while, on the other hand, Fenneman said that "Hawks would once in a while direct, if he had an idea, but it was Chris' show." Cornthwaite said that "Chris always deferred to Hawks, ... Maybe because he did defer to him, people misinterpreted it."[5] Although Self has said that "Hawks was directing the picture from the sidelines",[7] he also has said that "Chris would stage each scene, how to play it. But then he would go over to Howard and ask him for advice, which the actors did not hear ... Even though I was there every day, I don't think any of us can answer the question. Only Chris and Howard can answer the question."[5] One of the film's stars, William Self, later became President of 20th Century Fox Television.[8] In describing the production, Self said, "Chris was the director in our eyes, but Howard was the boss in our eyes."[5]

At a reunion of The Thing cast and crew members in 1982, Nyby said:[5]

"Did Hawks direct it? That's one of the most inane and ridiculous questions I've ever heard, and people keep asking. That it was Hawks' style. Of course it was. This is a man I studied and wanted to be like. You would certainly emulate and copy the master you're sitting under, which I did. Anyway, if you're taking painting lessons from Rembrandt, you don't take the brush out of the master's hands."
― Christian Nyby[[[5]|[src]]]

Reception

The Thing from Another World was released in April 1951.[1] By the end of that year, the film had accrued $1,950,000 in distributors' domestic (U. S. and Canada) rentals, making it the year's 46th biggest earner, beating all other science fiction films released that year, including The Day The Earth Stood Still and When Worlds Collide.[9]

Bosley Crowther in The New York Times observed, "Taking a fantastic notion (or is it, really?), Mr. Hawks has developed a movie that is generous with thrills and chills…Adults and children can have a lot of old-fashioned movie fun at 'The Thing', but parents should understand their children and think twice before letting them see this film if their emotions are not properly conditioned."[10] "Gene" in Variety complained that the film "lacks genuine entertainment values."[11] More than 20 years after its theatrical release, science fiction editor and publisher Lester del Rey compared the film unfavorably to the source material, John W. Campbell's Who Goes There?, calling it "just another monster epic, totally lacking in the force and tension of the original story."[12]

The Thing is now considered by many to be one of the best films of 1951.[13][14][15] The film holds an 89% "Fresh" rating on the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes, with the consensus that the film "is better than most flying saucer movies, thanks to well-drawn characters and concise, tense plotting."[16] In 2001, the United States Library of Congress deemed the film "culturally significant" and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.[17] [18] Additionally, Time magazine named The Thing from Another World "the greatest 1950s sci-fi movie." [19][20]

Remake

In 1982, John Carpenter made a more faithful version of the story "Who Goes There?" under the remake-suggestive title The Thing. It was already well-known that Carpenter was a fan of the original film, as he included considerable footage from it in his own Halloween. Carpenter continues with his trend by referencing the "burning letters" title card of Hawks' in his own version. However, Carpenter has adamantly stated several times that his movie is not a direct remake of Howard Hawks' film.

Universal Pictures have filmed a prequel to Carpenter's 1982 version, with the identical title of The Thing. The film was released October 2011 and stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead as female protagonist Kate Lloyd, a character based on Margaret Sheridan's character Nikki Nicholson.

Trivia

  • The last line of the film, "Watch the skies", was the working title of the film that would become Close Encounters of the Third Kind. A sequel to that film was then considered that would have been titled Watch the Skies - except this time with malevolent aliens terrorizing a farm family. That film project eventually became the movie E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.
  • The first two episodes of the Doctor Who story The Seeds of Doom borrows some of the elements from the plot of this film.
  • William Self who portrayed Corporal Barnes in the film later became President of 20th Century-Fox Television.

Images

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Warren, Bill. Keep Watching The Skies Vol I: 1950–1957 McFarland, 1982. ISBN 0-89950-032-3.
  2. Weaver, Tom. Eye on Science Fiction: 20 Interviews With Classic Sf and Horror Filmmakers. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2003. 0-7864-1657-2., p. 346.
  3. "Christian Nyby: About This Person." The New York Times. Retrieved: January 10, 2015.
  4. Mast, Gerald. Howard Hawks: Storyteller. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982. ISBN 978-0-19503-091-4., p. 344.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 Fuhrmann, Henry "A 'Thing' to His Credit." Los Angeles Times, April 20, 2012. Retrieved: May 25, 1997.
  6. Matthews, Melvin E. Jr. 1950s Science Fiction Films and 9/11: Hostile Aliens, Hollywood, and Today's News. New York: Algora Publishing, 1997. ISBN 978-0-87586-499-0., p. 14.]
  7. Weaver, Tom. Eye on Science Fiction: 20 Interviews With Classic Sf and Horror Filmmakers. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2003. 0-7864-1657-2., p. 272.]
  8. "Self Promoted to Presidency of 20th-Fox TV"Daily Variety (1968 11 1) Pgs. 1;26
  9. Gebert, Michael. The Encyclopedia of Movie Awards, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996. ISBN 0-668-05308-9., p. 156.
  10. Crowther, Bosley. "The Screen: Two films have local premieres; 'The Thing', an eerie scientific number by Howard Hawks, opens at the Criterion." The New York Times, May 3, 1951.
  11. Willis, Don, ed. Variety's Complete Science Fiction Reviews. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1985. ISBN 0-8240-6263-9., p. 86.
  12. del Ray, Lester. "The Three Careers of John W. Campbell", introduction to The Best of John W. Campbell 1973. ISBN 0-283-97856-2., p. 4.
  13. "The Greatest Films of 1951." AMC Filmsite.org. Retrieved: May 23, 2010.
  14. "The Best Movies of 1951 by Rank ." Films101.com. Retrieved: May 23, 2010.
  15. "Most Popular Feature Films Released in 1951." IMDb.com. Retrieved: May 23, 2010.
  16. "'The Thing from Another World Movie Reviews, Pictures." Rotten Tomatoes, Retrieved: May 23, 2010.
  17. "Librarian of Congress Names 25 More Films to National Film Registry (press release)." Library of Congress. Retrieved: April 20, 2012.
  18. "National Film Registry." National Film Registry (National Film Preservation Board, Library of Congress). Retrieved: November 26, 2011.
  19. "1950s Sci-Fi Movies: Full List." Time, December 12, 2008. Retrieved: June 20, 2010.
  20. "1950s Sci-Fi Movies." Time, December 12, 2008. Retrieved: June 20, 2010.


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