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Entry updated 16 February 2017. Tagged: Film.

Film (1954). Warner Bros. Directed by Gordon Douglas. Written by Ted Sherdeman, based on a story by George Worthing Yates. Cast includes James Arness, Edmund Gwenn, Joan Weldon and James Whitmore. 93 minutes. Black and white.

Unexplained deaths are occurring in New Mexico, and are initially treated as a police matter, with State Police trooper Ben Peterson (Whitmore) investigating on the spot with a Red Shirt junior officer; it is some time before we learn that atomic tests in the US desert have created gigantism (see Great and Small; Mutants) in a species of ant, whose strength is only enhanced by their vastly increased size – a Scientific Error frequently encountered in sf Cinema – and who are carnivorous. Investigators of the phenomenon now include FBI agent Robert Graham (Arness), and Department of Agriculture Scientists Dr Harold Medford (Gwenn) and his daughter Pat (Weldon), both ant specialists, and who are responsible for ferreting out the truth. The first ants' nest is duly located and destroyed, but two queens escape; one colonizes a military ship at sea, which must be sunk, and the second lays her eggs in the network of storm drains emptying into the often-filmed Los Angeles River Basin (see California). After the President has declared martial law in the City, this Underground location becomes the setting for a final battle between giant ants and US Army soldiers wielding flame-throwers.

Along with The Thing (1951) and The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953), Them! was a template for a series of similar Monster Movies that followed in the 1950s. For example, Monster from Green Hell (1957) replays the same general scenario with giant radiation-mutated wasps. Them! is unusually well made, and handles its scientifically untenable premise with an austere but vivid documentary style, thus standing out from most of the cheaper and more sensational variations on the theme that followed. The giant ants were not animated miniatures but full-scale mock-ups, whose close-up presentation reflects the original shooting of the film in 3-D. The film is retroactively notable for the uncredited appearance of the young Leonard Nimoy (1931-2015) in a small role. [JB/PN/DRL/JC]

see also: Hive Minds.


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