Friday, November 06, 2015

Tonight's Movie: The Thing From Another World (1951) at the Palm Springs Classic Science Fiction Film Festival

I saw seven films at the recent Palm Springs Classic Science Fiction Film Festival, and five of them were new to me.

It was serendipitous that one of those "new" films, THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951), was also on my list of 10 Classics to see for the first time in 2015! It had been my husband's suggestion to include it on the list, expanding my viewing of classic science fiction; little did we know that not only would we be able to enjoy the film together on a big screen, but that I would be broadening my viewing horizons with a whole bunch of sci-film films the same weekend!

Of all the movies seen at the festival, this one was my favorite, edging out the wonderful THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953) and THEM! (1954). I definitely had a feeling of "Where has this been all my life?!" I'm so glad that I've gotten past my longtime aversion to '50s sci-fi so that I can enjoy wonderful movies like this one.

The film is sometimes referred to as HOWARD HAWKS' THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD, and it's well known among film fans that though the credited director was former editor Christian Nyby, Hawks was actually the director.

Alan K. Rode quoted lead actor Kenneth Tobey as saying that Nyby only directed one scene, when characters walked into a room. Hawks was always on the set, huddling with the actors, making suggestions, and adding uncredited dialogue; the lines were sometimes suggested by the actors themselves, such as Tobey's smark-aleck reply about closing the door in one of his first scenes. Incidentally, the marvelous Charles Lederer screenplay also included uncredited work by Ben Hecht.

THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD has it all, including lots of humor, romance, and Hawksian camaraderie. At times I thought of it as a less serious Arctic version of ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS (1939). It's highly enjoyable from start to finish; at times the banter is such it almost feels like a comedy, but then the title creature stirs things up again. It's a terrific, well-paced blend of fright and fun.

The movie also has Hawks' trademark overlapping, naturalistic dialogue, although I found it easier to follow in this movie than HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940), perhaps because the characters weren't shouting as much!

A UFO lands at the North Pole, and the Air Force sends Captain Patrick Hendry (Tobey) and his team up to investigate. Hendry and his men arrive at a remote, snowy base which is also home to several scientists.

It turns out that on a prior occasion Hendry had made an unsuccessful pass at lovely, sharp-witted Nikki (Margaret Sheridan), assistant to one of the scientists. Despite his past history with her, there is clearly an attraction between the two as they trade jokes and flirt. A sample: Hendry says, "I've given all the orders I want to give for the rest of my life," and Nikki immediately snaps back "If I thought that was true, I'd ask you to marry me!" I enjoyed the way the script drops viewers right into the middle of an ongoing relationship. Things even get a bit racy at times, all the while there's that creature to deal with...

The UFO turns out to be some kind of unusual plane which has a frozen body in it; an ice block with the body is brought back to the base, and no one is quite prepared for the body, aka "the Thing" (James Arness) to wake up...or for one of the scientists, Dr. Carrington (Robert Cornthwaite) to be so excited by a creature from another planet that he's more concerned with studying it than keeping his colleagues alive.

There is so much about this movie I loved, starting with the fact that it's a scary movie which isn't terribly scary -- perfect for someone like me! I enjoy the storytelling excitement of a team working together to solve a big problem; that's a key theme of many '50s sci-fi movies and is at its best in this film.

I'm really coming to appreciate Kenneth Tobey and his contributions to the sci-fi genre, which also included THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953) and IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA (1955). He's pitch-perfect in this, simultaneously "one of the guys" yet very much the respected leader; he's open to suggestions from his subordinates but no one doubts who's in charge when the chips are down. Even the feisty Nikki doesn't dare argue when he orders her to leave the hallway when the men are about to have their final confrontation with the monster.

I previously enjoyed Margaret Sheridan as the second female lead in ONE MINUTE TO ZERO (1952) and she's terrific as the smart, confident Nikki. In fact, it's a comment from Nikki which leads to the solution for stopping the monster's rampage. You have a feeling that she and Hendry are going to end up married and have a good time together.

THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD was filmed in black and white by Russell Harlan and scored by Dimitri Tiomkin. The excellent supporting cast also includes Douglas Spencer, Dewey Martin, James Young, Eduard Franz, Robert Nichols, and William Self.

THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD has several running times listed at IMDb; the program from the film festival says it was 87 minutes.

THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD is available on DVD and also had a release on VHS.

Coming soon: My final review from the festival, with James Arness going from monster to protector, playing an FBI man battling giant ants in THEM! (1954).

"Keep watching the skies!"

January 2019 Update: This film is now available on a beautiful Blu-ray from the Warner Archive. My review of the Blu-ray may be found here.


Blogger Jerry E said...

I'm glad this was your favourite film from the festival, Laura, as I agree it really is one of the very best of this great group of films.

Ken Tobey has long been a bit of a favourite of mine, I think mainly because when we were kids in the 50s and early 60s the BBC always seemed to be showing the "WHIRLYBIRDS" TV series in which Ken was the star. Up would come the Desilu logo, the swirling music and off would go one of those great Bell helicopters with Chuck and PT heading off for another adventure! LOL

11:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So glad you like this film which I've loved for years. As you say, almost a sci-fi version of Only Angels Have Wings - the Hawks camaraderie is there among all the characters. And a great starring role for Kenneth Tobey which he handles so well.

12:24 AM  
Blogger Kristina said...

Great! one of my favourite movies, so neat that you liked it this much! Agree with everything you wrote here, the speed and feel of it just make it so lively and thrilling. By the way, this is another one you saw at the fest (like Body Snatchers) that has an excellent remake, in fact John Carpenter's The Thing is one of the best horror movies ever made. Doesn't matter if you never see that though,because you now added one of the greatest scifi movies to your movie bank.

5:51 AM  
Blogger Caftan Woman said...

No matter how many times I've enjoyed "The Thing from Another World", (my mother has been known to say "you always watch that Thing), I've not yet had the opportunity to see it on the big screen. How thrilling!

8:34 AM  
Blogger Bill O said...

Hawks usually had the possessive credit on most of his films. He later said he gave Nyby director's credit to get him into the Directors Guild, but there may have been an element of shame there, scifi being the bottom of the cinematic totem pole then. Carpenter's The Thing isn't really a remake, but rather an accurate filming of the original novella, which deals with human assimilation and imitation. Something antithetical to Hawks, whose characters always know who they are and what to do. The new version is filled with beautiful/grotesque imagery of the alien as it transforms itself into anything living in the area.

9:16 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Definitely a fun film to watch, and I read a penetrating review of it at Steve Lewis's MYSTERY*FILE bog.

1:27 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you all so much for sharing your own thoughts on insights on this wonderful movie. I'm glad I finally "joined the party"!

Jerry, loved your childhood memories of Tobey's TV series, that's neat. :)

Vienna, it's interesting Tobey was totally off my "radar screen" until just the last few years. I am catching up!

Kristina, thanks much for the info and thoughts on the John Carpenter version.

Caftan Woman, if you ever get the chance to see it on a screen with an audience, jump! It was so much fun.

Bill, Interesting theory that Hawks might not have wanted a director's credit for a sci-fi film. I should note here, as I did not in my post, that despite not directing this Nyby did go on to a successful career as a TV director!

Thanks, Daniel, I enjoyed heading over and checking out that review. ;)

Best wishes,

10:15 AM  

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