In 1949, in the Officers Club in Anchorage, Alaska, the pilot Captain Patrick ''Pat'' Hendry is summoned by General Fogarty to fly to a remote outpost to investigate something that has crushed on Earth. Captain Hendry flies with his crew and meets Dr. Arthur Carrington and his team of scientists and they fly to the location. They discover a flying saucer buried in the ice and they use Thermite bombs expecting to release the spacecraft. However, it explodes and is totally destroyed by the bombs. They also find a frozen life form and bring it to the research station. When the creature thaws, it attacks the dogs and loses one arm. Dr. Carrington researches and discovers that it is a vegetable life that reproduces like plants. Captain Hendry believes that the dangerous creature is an invader and decides to find a way to destroy it with his team. But Dr. Carrington believes that the scientific discovery is more important than lives and protects the creature.
Directed by: Christian Nyby
, Howard Hawks
. Starring: Margaret Sheridan
, Kenneth Tobey
, Robert Cornthwaite
, Douglas Spencer
, James Young
, Dewey Martin
, Robert Nichols
, William Self
, Eduard Franz
, Sally Creighton
, James Arness
, Edmund Breon
, Nicholas Byron
. Music by: Dimitri Tiomkin
Although there were two directors on THE THING (or THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD), the fact that Howard Hawks got involved adds one more star to his list of first rate movies - and the only one that he did in the area of science fiction. If one thinks of the director of comedies like BRINGING UP BABY or I WAS A MALE WAR BRIDE directing a science fiction film, you would be surprised - but then Hawks also did well with crime films (SCARFACE) and westerns (RED RIVER). Apparently Christian Nyby took most of Hawks' ideas and put them to work in the film. Good move Christian!
It's now generally assumed that most of the great science fiction and horror films of the early 1950s were veiled discussions of either the Communist threat to America or of the threat McCarthism in this country. But there were strong currents in that period that were not really available earlier periods of film science fiction films. In the 1950s the remarkable (if bloodstained) achievements in science in the World War (radar, jet planes, rocket bombs, the atomic bomb) made people more aware of science as never before. Tied to this was the sudden phenomenon of UFO sitings that - whether true or not - were finally being given serious consideration by the media.
THE THING is set in a hostile environment - but one that is an "acceptable" hostile environment for government purposes. Polar exploration had been in the hands of the military from all nations from the 16th Century onward. Such explorers like Martin Frobisher were part-time naval commanders. In the 19th Century it was a rarity for a civilian to get involved (Thomas Simpson, the man who actually first sited the spot the "Northwest Passage" would most likely be at, was an exception - but he worked for the Hudson's Bay Company). More typical figures involved were Sir John Franklin (lost with two shiploads of British naval personnel in 1848) or Lt. Robert Peary (later Rear Admiral Peary) or Commander Robert Scott. After 1920 the typical polar expedition would be one led by somebody like Rear Admiral Richard Byrd. In 1931 Byrd would nearly die in an experiment in Antarctica regarding isolation in a tent (his stove malfunctioned, but some of his men found him in time).
So the cast here are at the North Pole, under joint command of Captain Hendry (Kenneth Tobey) and Dr. Carrington (Robert Cornthwaite). There is also a member of the fourth estate present to report the expedition's results (Scotty, played by Douglas Spencer). During the expedition's regular work they find the wreckage of an unidentified flying saucer. They also find the frozen remains of a creature. The creature is the title figure of "The Thing". If you look closely you will recognize the actor playing this creature is James Arness. While far from his GUNSMOKE role of Marshal Matt Dillon, keep in mind that in the 1950s Arness varied western roles (John Ford's WAGON MASTER) with serious adventure films (ISLAND IN THE SKY) and other science fiction parts (THEM!). He is actually quite effective as the creature, especially in his later rampages.
As long as the creature is frozen there is no real problem, but one of the men makes the mistake of putting a blanket on top of the permafrost "icecube" the Thing is lying in. The blanket is an electric blanket, and it melts the permafrost - thus releasing the Thing. Subsequently it is discovered that the creature is not mammalian like man, nor reptilian, but an intelligent form of vegetable.
The best science fiction films manage to get some convincing dialog in about these points. Carrington and his fellow scientist Dr. Stern (Eduard Franz) discuss the possibility of intelligent vegetable life forms on earth, including plants that eat small rodents. Carrington is fascinated by this creature, and realizes that it is actually more intelligent than man is - he (in his misguided zeal) hopes to actually talk to the creature and learn from it for man's benefit. This does not sit well with Hendry, especially after two of the staff are butchered by the creature (apparently it's survival is predicated on the use of animal blood).
I will go on a limb and say no other 1950s film really dealt with the conflict of pure science (Carrington) and self-defense or government defense (Hendry) as THE THING did. Carrington, a Nobelist, sees learning as the end and be-all of mankind. Hendry sees survival as more important. Most would probably agree with Hendry, but Carrington does maintain a type of respect with the audience until nearly the end of the film when he loses it a bit.
The cast handled the roles well. Cornwaithe never had a better part in movies (and I'm glad to note in his last film he repeated the part). Tobey's Captain is intelligent and keeps the loyalty of both his own men and most of the scientists. He also has several moments when a romance between him and scientist Nikki (Margaret Sheridan) heats up (in typical Hawkian role reversal, she plies him with drink while he is tied up, to make sure she controls the date!). Spencer's newsman is rather believable (his skepticism about outer space creatures gradually dissolving - he has the famous last words of the film, "Look to the skies!"). Spencer also is constantly remembering past assignments in World War II, and even covering the execution of Ruth Snyder in 1928. Also doing well in supporting parts are Franz (a more rational scientist than Cornwaithe), Dewey Martin (an electrician who figures out how to solve the danger), and - of all people - George Fennimen as one of the soldiers. In short the film is one of the best science fiction thrillers to come along, and well worth watching.
Review by theowinthrop from the Internet Movie Database.