Thursday, November 12, 2015

Anty Raid

I don't know how, but I've managed to live my whole life without ever seeing Them! (1954), the greatest of all giant ant movies. As a child, I was too scared. A friend told me the story in gory detail, or maybe it was The Naked Jungle - either way, I vowed never to watch it. Once grown up, I guess I assumed it would be just camp. But it is still the Halloween season, so...

It starts in New Mexico, with police in a cruiser and a small plane surveying the desert, looking for a Russian ambassador -- wait, that's Beast of Yucca Flats. They find a little girl, mute and in shock, clutching a doll. All she will say is "Them!"

An odd animal track brings kindly old professor Edmund Gwenn and his beautiful daughter Joan Weldon on the scene. James Arness, representing the FBI, also shows up to be their foil, as they resolutely refuse to let him know what is going on, until one of Them shows up - a giant ant!

This is full of the cliches of bad 50s SF movies: The absent-minded professor and his beautiful daughter, the giant puppet monsters, "our weapons are powerless against them," etc. But the overall effect is actually quite suspenseful, and hardly cheesy at all. The noise the ants make, heard before they are seen, is very creepy, and the trip into their nest is legit scary. Or at least as scary as a mid-budget black-and-white monster movie gets.

I also liked Joan Weldon's character - she was tart and independent and as far as I recall, never needed rescuing - although she did remind me of the lady scientist in The Deadly Mantis. And speaking of giant grasshopper movies, James Arness looked and especially sounded so much like Peter Graves, I kept getting confused.

No, Peter Graves was not in this movie, but you may recognize an uncredited William Schallert (Trouble with Tribbles), and, to continue the Star Trek theme, a young Leonard Nimoy.

In conclusion, I had a lot of trouble coming up with a punny title for this - Should I have gone with "The Battle of Ant-Eat-Em"?

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