Them! (1954)

I know it’s difficult to imagine ants growing suddenly huge and quite unfriendly. After all, we spent our childhoods alternately raising them in those cool little ant farms and setting them on fire with magnifying glasses. Those bonds formed between us and them aren’t easily broken.

But perhaps that’s why the film is such a cautionary tale about our entry into the atomic age – if the unlocking of the atom can turn man and his close relative, the ant, against one another, can there really be anything good to come out of all this atomic insanity?

Heck yeah, there can! How about a movie starring James Arness, James Whitmore, and a bunch of huge ants? Once Them! was finished, I was hoping for some more atomic tests so I could get more cool movies about its dangers!

The desert holds many mysteries in its mysterious sandy depths! Like, why is it that only the ants took a hankering to all that radiation? What about the scorpions? Oh yeah, they have their own movie, The Black Scorpion. Well then, the Gila Monster sounds like it would be really cool if it got huge. The Giant Gila Monster you say? Okay, then surely the king of the desert beasts, the tarantula, deserves some recognition since it’s super-icky looking. Already at least two movies from the period starring them, Tarantula and Earth vs. the Spider? Remind me to never visit the mysterious desert.

The state police are baffled by the discovery of a young girl in a state of shock, the disappearance of her tourist family, and the death of a local yokel. Throw in some strange tracks and sugar cubes and you’ve got yourself a clear cut case of First Degree Giant Ant Rampage!

Somehow or other the state police can’t connect these dots and call in the FBI as played by James Arness. In real life Arness is the brother of Peter Graves which made me wonder whether they sat around at Thanksgiving dinner comparing giant ant stories and giant grasshopper stories since Peter starred in Beginning Of The End. Somehow though I imagine they preferred to focus on their roles in Gunsmoke and Mission: Impossible.

Both the state police and FBI are stumped until they call in the father-daughter team of doctors, the Medfords. The father is played by Edmund Gwenn who won an Oscar for playing Santa in Miracle On 34th Street. The doctor is played by Joan Weldon who should have won some kind of award for traipsing around the desert after giant ants in heels. And also for wearing a pair of silly goggles that made her look like a refugee from Speed Racer.

Using all of their scientific expertise, they uncover the shocking fact that it is giant ants that are responsible for these shenanigans. And by “scientific expertise” I mean that Joan gets herself attacked by a giant ant resulting in the guys having to demonstrate their crack shooting ability by shooting off the ant’s antennas because as all of us learn from the time we’re knee high to a giant grasshopper, the only way to stop an oversized ant is to bust up its antennas. Well, that or take a flamethrower to them. That works pretty well, too.

This brings up one of the reasons why Them! is top notch big bug action: the frequent use of flamethrowers. I love flamethrowers. There’s something very satisfying about watching a dude with a fuel pack strapped to his back shooting a stream of flame and just setting crap on fire.

When a guy (or giant ant) gets shot with a gun, he might groan, stagger and fall down. But light his butt up with a flamethrower and he writhes around while someone is probably telling the guy with the flamethrower, “give him some more!” Plus, can you imagine what a cooked giant ant must smell like?

Them! shows it’s a notch above the usual pumped-up pest picture as it doesn’t resort to some silly extermination plan like Peter Graves’ Pied Piper routine in Beginning Of The End, or the gimmicky electrocution bit in Earth vs. the Spider.

How does Arness and company dispatch his bugs during the final showdown? They go into the L.A. storm drains, locate the nest with the queen and from there it’s just a matter of “flame on, you six-legged bastards!” They’re even torching egg sacs! Egg sacs? Gross! And awesome!

Fans of oversized creature drama are well served by Them! in all departments. You get a good dose of ant attacks, you get the eerie ant sounds that precede each attack, you get the short educational film about how tough and ruthless ants are that Dr. Medford shows the military brass, you get tense scenes of people putting little flags on a map marking the sightings of giant ants, you get some little brats trapped by ants and you even get to see a guy get crushed to death by ant mandibles! (There’s a lot of talk about the killer mandibles. That’s money, just like flamethrowers and egg sacs!)

© 2015 MonsterHunter

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