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  Thing from Another World, The Watch The Skies
Year: 1951
Director: Christian Nyby
Stars: Margaret Sheridan, Kenneth Tobey, Robert Cornthwaite, Douglas Spencer, James Young, Dewey Martin, Robert Nichols, William Self, Eduard Franz, Sally Creighton, James Arness
Genre: Horror, Science FictionBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 3 votes)
Review: Journalist Ned Scott (Douglas Spencer), known as Scotty, has just arrived in Alaska from warmer climes, and is not shy about letting people know he prefers to be warm. When he enters the bar where the military he is meant to be reporting on are spending time, he is welcomed and finds his interest piqued by a rumour that scientists have made a discovery closer to the North Pole, and steeling himself against this cold assignment, persuades the Captain, Patrick Hendry (Kenneth Tobey), to take him along. What has actually been found there is big news all right...

In 1951, two opposing but no less groundbreaking science fiction films were released; one was The Day the Earth Stood Still, which adopted the intellectual approach to its space aliens, suggesting they were of enormous intelligence and it was our burgeoning technology which provided the main source of their interest in us. Then there was this, The Thing from Another World, which had a far less high-falutin' opinion of our interstellar neighbours: they wanted our blood. So here was essentially the birth of one of the most enduring characters in horror: the monster from outer space, though this picture offered more to the genre than that.

The idea of flying saucers had caught on across the world, but particularly in the United States, ever since 1947 when a pilot named Kenneth Arnold spotted a fleet of odd craft soaring through the skies ahead of him like saucers skipping over the surface of water, as he described them. Thus a modern legend was born, a genuine mystery which spawned all sorts of theories, some more believable than others, but it took the decade of the fifties to really pick up that notion and run with it, laying down the groundwork for both fiction and supposed fact which would inform both genre and imagination right up to the present. If you thought such things were a threat, this movie had a lot to answer for.

Some have seen the alien discovered in the ice as a stand-in for the Communist menace to the Free World, and it's true this was a notably pro-military movie, but in adapting John W. Campbell's story for the big screen the fear of the unknown, specifically the fantastical unknown, was just as plausible for the target audience of the day. This may have been low budget compared to its rival, but the team of producer Howard Hawks and director Christian Nyby (the debate continues about exactly how much input each of them had) worked wonders in their resourcefulness, making a virtue of the fact most of this took place in a claustrophobic and none too attractive Arctic base.

It made it all seem that bit more authentic somehow, so once the monster (heavily made up, future Gunsmoke TV cowboy James Arness, who was not keen on the role) is thawed out from a block of ice - accidentally - and begins to stalk the compound, draining blood where it can find it, the tension is never overplayed, but kept at just the right simmering temperature until it explodes in select scenes. In the same way the creature was never overexposed, with any closeups removed to sustain its mystery, not that this prevented the film showcasing its threat in the correct and most apt circumstances with its tendency to jump out when you least expected it and display formidable power when it did.

We are in no doubt this was a danger to our planet, but the (bearded!) scientist here (Robert Cornthwaite) wishes to study and understand the visitor, making his would-be superiority the polar (pardon the pun) opposite of the can-do attitude, good sense and camaraderie of the others, as if to say the boffins - and by extension the statesmen - created the problems (specifically the atomic bomb) leaving the rest of us to solve them. That was with the assistance here of women's intuition courtesy of assistant Margaret Sheridan as it takes her to deduce what could work against the seemingly implacable foe, with its plans to spread its spores across the planet, presumably devouring us like the cabbages alluded to here in the colloquial, naturalistic dialogue. Not anti-science, more anti-unfeeling authority, the message here was nevertheless not one of reassurance, it was one of paranoia: that famous last line was "Keep watching the skies!", appropriate well into the future. Music by Dimitri Tiomkin.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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