After several people in the New Mexico desert wind up missing or dead, including an F.B.I. agent and most of his family, police Sgt. Ben Peterson teams up with F.B.I. agent Bob Graham to find out what's causing the strange occurrences. They find send a strange print found at one of the crime scenes and it is sent to the Department of Agriculture. Doctor Harold Medford and his daughter Doctor Patricia Medford arrive and ask to be taken to the scene of some of the disappearances. When they get there they are shocked to find gigantic ants, whose mutations were caused by the first atomic bomb explosion nine years earlier. They manage to destroy the nest of ants, but not before two winged queen ants and a couple of drones have hatched and escaped the nest. Now it is a race against time to find the two queen ants before they can establish more nests and hatch more queens.
Directed by: Gordon Douglas
. Starring: James Whitmore
, Edmund Gwenn
, Joan Weldon
, James Arness
, Onslow Stevens
, Sean McClory
, Chris Drake
, Sandy Descher
, Mary Alan Hokanson
, Don Shelton
, Fess Parker
, Olin Howland
, Richard Bellis
. Music by: Bronislau Kaper
Whenever one thinks about the many horror movies of the 50s, it's nearly impossible to not think about the multitude of creature features that had in common a basis on science-fiction that reflected the newly discovered fears of uncontrolled science and the cold war paranoia; and when one thinks about this 50s creature features, the ideas of cheesy story lines and laughably awful special effects quickly come to mind as those were two elements typical in many low-budget productions. However, it would be a big mistake to think that every 50s horror movie was a bad display of special effects, as the classic Warner Brothers film titled "Them!", one of the first of those nuclear monster films, proves clearly. Made a year after the success of "The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms", this movie followed similar themes, but gave them a more horror oriented spin and single-handed became the source of countless imitators.
Sgt. Ben Peterson (James Whitmore) investigates a strange series of disappearances and murders happening in New Mexico's desert, and since one of the missing persons was an FBI agent, agent Robert Graham (James Arness) is sent to collaborate with Peterson in the investigation, however, the only clue they have is the strange prints found at the crime scenes. As the death toll increases, they send the print to be analyzed in the FBI headquarters, but in return the FBI sends Dr. Harold Medford (Edmund Gwenn) from the Department of Agriculture and his daughter, Dr. Patricia Medford (Joan Weldon), in order to aid them in their work. While the two law enforcers are confused at first by this decision, soon they discover that the Medfords were sent because the responsible of the killings is not human.
Based on a story by George Worthing Yates (actually his first foray into science fiction), "Them!" presents a story that still feels fresh in this its original form (despite having been copied countless times). Playing on the Cold War fears of Nuclear technology, "Them!" starts as a murder mystery that grows bigger and suddenly becomes a matter of global security. What truly makes "Them!" to stand out among the rest of the movies of its time, it's the way it takes its plot (as silly as it may sound to today's audiences) with a respect that few works of science fiction (not only films) do. Another of the elements that makes "Them!" a very special movie, is the way the characters are fleshed out in a very realistic and human form. While basically stereotypes (scientist, cop, government agent, etc...), every one is given enough depth to stand out and become really multi dimensional characters.
Experienced b-movie director Gordon Douglas brings the story to life in a sober yet very effective style that at times echoes his work in Westerns and Film Noirs. Just like the script does, Douglas takes the plot of his movie seriously and with a strong basis on reality; creating an atmosphere of dread and a slight dose of pessimism that adds a lot of feeling to the movie. Unlike his imitators, Douglas favors suspense over visual shock, and by hiding the monster during most of the time and giving a really brilliant use to the score and sound effects, he transforms it into a terrifying and very real threat despite his low-budget effects. Combined with the serious take on the plot, this really makes the whole movie be more believable and adds an powerful feeling of impending doom that makes it haunting and truly terrifying.
The four actors that give life to the key roles in the film really make the most of the characters they play, starting with James Whitmore, as the county cop whose simple and quiet life gets changed after his discovery in the desert. James Arness is excellent as agent Graham, and shows off the natural talent and charm that would make him a star in "Gunsmoke". Joan Weldon is also very good in an atypical (for the 50s) role very ahead of its time. She plays Dr. Pat Medford with a confidence that shows that women can be both beautiful and intelligent. However, the true highlight of the film is the performance done by Edmund Gwenn as Dr. Harold Medford. It is he who gives the film the heart and becomes the basis for the "old scientist" role of future creature features.
Like many movies of its time, "Them!" has earned a reputation as outdated, silly or worse, badly done movies of a bygone era; however, "Them!" is a film that offers not only a glimpse of the 50s attitudes, but also an example of a movie that twisted the conventions of its time. While James Arness and Whitmore play the typical archetypes of the "hero" in this kind of films, they are shown as confused at first, and later afraid of the nature of the beasts they must fight. They are not know-it-all macho men ready to save the world, but everyday people who must learn to overcome their own fears. As written above, Joan Weldon's role was also ahead of its time, and certainly, Edmund Gwenn's role represented the fears of a society afraid of the results of Nuclear testings.
I was not expecting a lot of "Them!", I mean, the overall concept is really simple, yet the way the movie is crafted makes it one of the most haunting movies of its type ever done. This is a movie that proves that the 50s creature features could really be worthy pieces of horror and science fiction that were more than a bunch of cheap special effects and Cold War paranoia.
Review by José Luis Rivera Mendoza (jluis1984) from the Internet Movie Database.