Take out your textbooks and turn
to The Thing From Another World. This is how to
make a thriller.
One could make a case that The
Thing holds up better than any film of its vintage.
It is one of perhaps five films that I will watch again
the minute it concludes. How many films can you point
to that possess not a single lapse in dramatic narrative?
There's not a wasted frame in it. The staging is impeccable,
the atmosphere is palpable. It's the blueprint for every
successful thriller that followed it.
The film's genesis and plot line
scarcely need in-depth chronicling at this point. Based
on a rip-snorting pulp novella by John W. Campbell, producer
Howard Hawks and scripter Charles Lederer transformed
the tale of an alien menace, able to assume any form,
into a stark and streamlined story of a small band fighting
for survival against an unreasoning invader from space.
Importantly, Hawks preserved the story's isolated arctic
setting, a key ingredient in the film's terrifying success.
The publicity hoopla surrounding
its release was remarkable for its time. In fact, banking
on The Thing's prospective financial success, The
Man From Planet X was rushed through production, beating
The Thing to the box office by several months.
Still in need of several key outdoor scenes, The Thing's
second unit crew sat idly at their Utah location praying
A debate still rages among the
film elite as to who actually directed the movie. Produced
by the legendary Howard Hawks, it possesses all the intrinsically
Hawksian touches. Rapid-fire, overlapping dialogue, two-dimensional
yet altogether ingratiating male camaraderie, a cool,
collected, independent female and a fast-paced brand of
editing that keeps the film crackling. It is, in fact,
Hawks longtime editor Christian Nyby who receives the
Nominated for an Academy Award
for editing Hawks' classic western Red River, some have
stated that The Thing was Nyby's reward, a show
of esteem from an old master. The handful of undistinguished
films that Nyby directed following The Thing helped
fuel the argument that he wasn't actually in charge. Leading
man Kenneth Tobey states flatly that Hawks called the
shots, closely overseeing Nyby's role in the filming.
Without doubt, Hawks monitored the production's progress,
but as Nyby had learned the rudiments of efficient pacing
from Hawks, why wouldn't The Thing look like a
this debate is certainly of unlimited interest to all
film fans, in the end, The Thing succeeds because
it is an unequaled example of team filmmaking. Every element
is a part of a greater whole, an unstoppable juggernaut
of suspense hurtling toward a satisfying and spine-tingling
conclusion. Individual segments stand out, but never distract
us from the film's single fearsome theme -- that an unconscionable
horror is closing in on us and we've nowhere to run. There
are no showy performances. Various cast members are likable,
even funny, but their characterization does nothing to
alleviate the oppressive suspense. Likewise, there are
no unique directorial flourishes. No jump cuts or shock
close-ups -- nothing that might interrupt the narrative
Likewise, the teams within the
film reflect this philosophy. Kenneth Tobey is clearly
in charge of the Air Force detachment, but democratically
so. The survival of the group is paramount to him and
helpful suggestions from any source are implemented. The
interruptive, overlapping dialogue further serves to equalize
the team members, as no one seems to ever have the last
word. This team is focused. This team defeats the monster.
Conversely, the team of scientists on hand answer to just
one authority, the pompous Prof. Carrington, whose egomania
in the interest of science proves to be his undoing. His
Wisely, Hawks chose to display
the creature either in shadow or in fleetingly horrifying
shots. Scenes of the monster's blizzard-swept struggle
with sled dogs or dashing ablaze into a snow drift are
thrilling. It's clear that he's huge and wearing a uniform
of some kind, but beyond that he is a figure of mystery
who means only to kill us. The segment wherein our desperate
band learns of the Thing's intelligence is one of the
film's most chilling. It seems the murderous invader has
shut off the base's heat from the outside, attempting
to freeze its inhabitants from their shelter. "An
intellectual carrot -- the mind boggles!"
If many of these elements sound familiar
-- the bloodthirsty alien invader, the intrepid military
band, the autocratic scientist, the claustrophobic sense
of isolation -- it's because any thriller made after The
Thing is, in some way, indebted to it. No one's ever
done it better. More than likely, no one ever will.
Wildly murderous alien invaders entered
popular culture with the debut of Wells' War of the Worlds
at the turn of the century. The notion that another planet's
inhabitants might think of us Earthlings as food -- or simply
in the way -- has provided a recurring theme exploited by
sci fi filmmakers of every strata:
Earth vs. the Flying
When it comes to guilty
pleasures, watching the nation's capitol being obliterated
by soaring saucers mounted with death rays is curiously
untoppable entertainment. The aliens themselves are tin-covered,
wizened weaklings. The climactic saucer battle staged by
effects wizard Ray Harryhausen is unforgettable.
Dick Foran, Tom
Conway, Arthur Franz, Brett Halsey, Joi Lansing -- a sturdier
cast of B film stalwarts you'll never find. This time, the
alien -- a fearsomely furry cyclops -- is ensconced beneath
the polar ice cap feeding on the Earth's magnetic fields.
It Conquered the
Arguably Roger Corman's
best-known film, due in large measure to Paul Blaisdell's
justly familiar cucumber creature. A memorable troop of
scenery chewers -- notably Lee Van Cleef, Peter Graves and
Beverly Garland -- fall under the sway of the veggie Venusian.
Mars Needs Women
Director Larry Buchanan
concocted this frenzied embarrassment as part of AIP's direct-to-TV
package. Tommy Kirk and his troop of love-starved Martians
are trolling for mates in order to replenish their dwindling
female population. Catch of the day is lovely scientist
Yvonne Craig who possesses a brain to die for.