Them! (1954)

Matt Wilson did the definitive review of this movie in 2006 for Cracked:

It’s an old black-and-white movie about giant irradiated ants attacking southwestern American cities.

It’s an old black-and-white movie about giant irradiated ants attacking southwestern American cities.

It’s an old black-and-white movie about giant irradiated ants attacking southwestern American cities

Them! has a great trailer, too, as well as an Oscar nomination, a Golden Reel award for sound editing, and a 100% rating at Rotten Tomatoes.

And a young Leonard Nimoy is the extra who takes a paper off the teleprinter in the latter half of the movie.



And it got Fess Parker his Davy Crockett gig, reportedly.

Personally, there are a whole lot of favorite scenes, not least of which is the old alcoholic hiding under the blankets in the hospital.

I first saw the movie on TV several years after its release, as a kid, and James Whitmore’s fate gave me my first clue that life is unfair and good guys don’t always win.

Later, as an adult, I appreciated its “under plot” (all good ’50s science fiction movies like this had them) about paranoia.

Who's paranoid?

Who’s paranoid?

So why did I think about it today?

Boko Haram

Well, yesterday was a day of extremes. I’ve done many posts in the Boko Haram newsline, and the editor asked me to do some early ones on the group’s formation. That’s great when an editor asks you to do something like that, and I really put my heart into it.

I ran smack dab into the tough part about handling news in any way, shape or form. People do terrible things and you have to face that and then deal with the fact that you’re making money off it, even if indirectly and only a little bit of money in my case.

But mostly it was the badness that got to me.

I learned that they seemingly started out as a religious commune sort of thing out in the bush, and when locals complained about it, they promised to leave the area and instead turned violent.

Seriously, why are you talking about paranoia?

Seriously, why are you talking about paranoia?

That was back at the end of 2003. I followed their bloody trail after that for many years. It left a foul taste in my mind, of course. Then I found a video (warning: a couple grisly images) someone had made of the January 2012 bombings in Kano, Nigeria’s second largest city. The group really unleashed the apocalypse there.

It got to me. I had the mistaken but inevitable psychological downer thought that, had that happened in the US, we would have wept and lamented and really thought it was the end of the world, yet we didn’t even notice it happening in another country.

That thought is mistaken, by the way, because something that horrendous wouldn’t happen in America. Similar groups – many of Boko Haram’s members, like the American radicals in the 1960s, reportedly grew up in wealthy, politically connected families – sure tried to bring it about in the Sixties, and they failed. Let me do a Shatner here. And. They. Failed.

But it’s happening in Nigeria, and, well, at the end of the day I really needed a change of pace and retreated to Pratchett’s Discworld with Jingo. By this morning, I’d gotten far enough along to the point where he talks about “us” versus “them.” It’s such a good answer to the stupidity of people like those who belong to or support the Boko Harams of this world.

It also helps me better understand why the film makers back in 1954 called their movie Them!.

And then he realized why he was thinking like this.

It was because he wanted there to be conspirators. It was much better to imagine men in some smoky room somewhere, made mad and cynical by privilege and power, plotting over the brandy. You had to cling to this sort of image, because if you didn’t then you might have to face the fact that bad things happened because ordinary people, the kind who brushed the dog and told their children bedtime stories, were capable of then going out and doing horrible things to other ordinary people. It was so much easier to blame it on Them. It was bleakly depressing to think that They were Us. If it was Them, then nothing was anyone’s fault. If it was Us, what did that make Me? After all, I’m one of Us. I must be. I’ve certainly never thought of myself as one of Them. No one ever thinks of themselves as one of Them. We’re always one of Us. It’s Them that do the bad things.

If it’s the Fifties and you’ve got a Joe McCarthy in Congress, you avoiding the above realization by turning Them (Communists) into giant ants. If it’s the opening years of the 21st century – well, Jingo (1997) proves that Terry Pratchett is a time traveler.

Anyway, after reading that long paragraph up there for the first time, I remembered the 1954 movie and figured now would be a good time to review it.

We know our faults. We try to deal with them, sometimes coming up with very entertaining ways to look at them as painlessly as possible.

And I’ve got to say that this moment on film in the early 1960s had the exact same “wow!” effect on me that Otachi’s sudden unveiling of her wing’s did last year when I watched Pacific Rim.

Categories: Reviews of old movies

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