Welcome to today’s show, my name is John. As always you can subscribe to the show on Apple Podcast formally known as iTunes or follow the links to social media in the podcast show notes. So please subscribe when you are finished listening. You can also go to classicmovierev.com to read notes, bios, and other random movie thoughts.
Today’s movie is Them! (1954). This movie is a beloved sci-fi film that fits in the “we messed up exploding atomic bombs” genre. There were spiders, grasshoppers, 50-foot women, shrinking men, and of course the king of the monsters, Godzilla, that were all created in this general way.
Most of the big reviewers left the movie alone. I don’t know why, it is really good and has Tommy guns, bazookas, gas bombs, and giant ants. So all my boxes are checked.
We have a lot of returning actors for this one. James Whitmore played Police Sgt. Ben Peterson, the man that stumbled on to the ants. Whitmore was covered in Episode 50 – Battleground (1949). Edmund Gwenn played Dr. Harold Medford, the brilliant absent-minded ant expert. Gween was covered in Episode 138 – Miracle on 34th Street (1947) and he will always be Chris Kringle to me. Joan Weldon was the daughter of Harold, Dr. Patricia Medford, and she was also an ant expert. Weldon was covered in Episode 60 – The Command (1954). James Arness played larger than life FBI agent Robert Graham. Arness was briefly covered in Episode 50 – Battleground (1949). Venerable Willis Bouchey has an uncredited role as a Washington, D.C. official. I thought he looked like Ike. Bouchey was covered in Episode 37 – The Violent Men (1955). William Schallert popped up as an uncredited Ambulance driver. Schallert was first mentioned way back in Episode 14 – Band of Angels (1957). Dub Taylor also had an uncredited role as a railroad yard watchman accused of helping to steal 40-tons of sugar. Taylor was first covered in Episode 15 – The Undefeated (1969).
Sean McClory played the Irish accented Major Kibbee. McClory was born in Ireland in 1924. He became part of The Abbey Players in Dublin. He rose through the ranks there and by 1947, he headed to Hollywood. He began in America playing Irish cops in Dick Tracy movies. He had a small role in MGMs The Glass Menagerie (1950) and other films. Director John Ford cast him in The Quiet Man (1952). Other films included Les Miserables (1952), Island in the Sky (1953), Film Noir Niagara (1953), Them! (1954), John Ford directed, The Long Gray Line (1955), Moonfleet (1955), another John Ford directed Cheyenne Autumn (1964), and Bandolero! (1968). He was a major star on television, especially in westerns.
I have heard, but have not yet seen that Plunder in the Sun (1953) was his best film, in which he played an evil archaeologist. He had bleached white hair and wore dark Ray-Bans for the film. A good look for an archaeologist. McClory died in 2003.
Harry Tyler was uncredited from the Alcoholic Ward. Tyler was born in 1888 in New York City. He is known for Babbitt (1934), The Grapes of Wrath (1940), Behind Green Lights (1946), San Quentin (1946), Bedtime for Bonzo (1951), Them! (1954), and The Naked Street (1955). He died in 1961.
Four other actors showed up in very small parts. I am going to wait to cover them until their roles are larger. Norman Field was uncredited as Gen. James. He is known as Mr. Roper, the snoopy landlord on TVs “Three’s Company” 1976-1982. Fess Parker played pilot Alan Crotty, who crashed in Brownsville, Texas, the driest place on Earth. Leonard Nimoy was uncredited as an Army Sergeant. Nimoy is famous for playing Mr. Spook on “Star Trek” 1966 – 1969 including franchise movies and shows through 1986. Finally, Olin Howland played the singing drunk in the alcoholic ward.
This movie was made for the drive-in and the title pops on the screen with loud music over a desert scene. A New Mexico State Police airplane sends a call to Police Sgt. Ben Peterson (James Whitmore) who is in a patrol car with another officer. The pilot spots a girl walking in the desert and gives the car radio instructions. The little girl is holding a broken doll and walking with no expression on her face. She does not respond when Peterson talks to her.
They load the girl into the car and the pilot radios that there is a trailer 3-miles up the road and they should check it. The driver of the police car goes to the trailer but quickly signals for the other officer to follow. The girl has fallen asleep, so they leave her in the car. The side of the trailer is torn off. There is old blood and money laying around, so it was not a robbery. They find some sugar cubes and the tracks of an animal they can’t id. They call for medics and support.
The good detectives make a plaster cast of the prints. The ambulance driver is William Schallert. They hear a high-pitched noise in the distance, and the girl sits up. Then the noise stops. Peterson and his partner head to Johnson’s general store as a sandstorm moves in.
When they get to the store it is destroyed like the trailer. There is no sign of the owner. Peterson finds a rifle bent in half. Finally, they find the dead owner in the cellar. The sugar barrel has been raided, and there are small ants there. Again, it is not a robbery. Peterson decides to go back to the station and leaves the other guy at the store. Uh NO!
Peterson is no sooner gone, that the other cop starts to hear the high-pitched sound. He goes outside to investigate. You hear him shooting, then screaming, and the sound continues.
Peterson blames himself for the death of his partner. They continue the investigation, but they have few clues. The captain orders them to search the desert. The father of the girl was an FBI agent, so they bring them into the investigation with Robert Graham (James Arness). There are no turf battles, just working together to find the killer. Graham sends the footprint to the FBI lab. They get the autopsies report on the store owner and other than generally being crushed, he was full of Formica acid.
Shortly, they get a telegram from the FBI saying that Doctors Medford from the Department of Agriculture will be arriving. They arrive in an Air Force plane. First off is Dr. Harold Medford (Edmund Gwenn). Santa is this what you do in the offseason. Next is Dr. Patricia Medford (Joan Weldon), the daughter of Harold. Harold wants to go right to work reading reports. Harold asks about where the first atomic bomb was exploded in 1945, nine years prior. It is right in the middle of the attack area. Harold wants to go see the girl. The girl is still staring blankly and not talking. Harold puts some Formic acid in a glass and lets her smell it. She snaps too and runs out screaming them! Them! They leave for the desert.
They go to the trailer site. Harold asks about a mound or a cone. Pat says they would turn carnivorous. Graham gets upset that they are not being told anything, but he and Pat are bonding. Harold calls Pat over. He has found another print and figure that the thing is over nine feet long. Harold still won’t tell them what he suspects. Pat wanders off and finds another print. Then the sound starts again. A giant ant almost catches Pat. The men come in guns a blazing and Harold tells them to shoot off the antennae. Peterson gets a Thompson 0.45 caliber machine gun out of the car and wares the ant out. Harold finally tells them it is giant ants created from leftover radiation. They stand around gabbing about ants as the sound begins again.
Peterson and Harold ride in a helicopter looking for the nest. Pat and Graham are in another helicopter. The pilot of the second helicopter is Major Kibbee (Sean McClory). They don’t really explain the Irish accent. Graham spends time looking at Pat and not out the window. Finally, she sees the entrance to the mound, complete with an ant guard. It is holding an intact rib cage, and there is a police belt there too.
The general wants to bomb the nest. Harold says that won’t work because the ants are hunting at night. He shows them a model of an ant mound. Harold says the time for the attack is high noon. He wants to flood the nest, but there is no water around. They will need to use heat. Major Kibbee says they can use bazookas to fire phosphorous on the top forcing them to stay inside. Harold then says, they will drop cyanide inside, before they go down and inspect.
They carry out the plan. When Peterson and Graham get ready to go inside, Graham gets upset that Pat is going in her father’s place. Finally, she drops the look man, I’m a scientist on him. They go in and only have to fight off a couple of ants that were in a sealed chamber. Of course, they use a Thompson and a flamethrower. The three explorers find the egg room and Pat finds the shells where the two new queens have hatched and left the nest. They burn the egg chamber.
Harold explains that the two queens mean two more nests. The queens travel on wind currents. Harold is very doomsday oriented. They inform Washington, D.C. One of the Washington nay-sayers, looking very much like Ike, is Willis Bouchey. They set up a war room where they search for UFO sightings, sugar thefts, missing persons, and ant sighting. They keep a complete press blackout. One of the Army Sergeants (Leonard Nimoy) knows what they are looking for but not why.
Finally, they get a notice that a man in Brownsville, Texas crashed his plane because he saw an ant-shaped flying saucer. Pat and Graham head to Brownsville. The pilot (Fess Parker) is raving about what he saw. Finally, they tell him that they believe him. When they leave, they tell the doctors not to let him out of the mental hospital until they call with the okay.
Harold is defining the search area as being from Panama to California. Apparently, one of the queens got in the hold of a ship docked in Mexico. They hatched and killed the crew at sea. A military ship recused survivors in the water and sunk the ship.
The last male ant carcass was found outside of Los Angles. Graham and Peterson go to LA to investigate the thief of 40-tons of sugar from a rail yard. The Railroad Yard Watchman (Dub Taylor) was being held at the jail. When they ask about the thief, he says if he was going to steal it wouldn’t be sugar. Did you ever hear of a fence for sugar? They let him go.
Peterson talks to a woman whose husband has been killed, and her two sons are missing. They ask the beat cops that found the dead man about all of the other people they had ticketed. Three drunks and blonde. The first two drunks are no help, and the blonde was rushing home from a date with a married man. The third, Jensen (Olin Howland) is in the detox ward. He is nutty as a squirrel turd. He finally tells them that he has seen things coming in and out of the sewer tunnels. Then he starts singing, make me a sergeant in charge of booze.
Peterson and Graham head into the aqueduct and find evidence that the dead man had been down there with his sons. However, there is no evidence of the boys. Major Kibbee finds ant prints in the dirt. There are 700-miles of tunnels under the city, and they think the boys may be in there with the ants.
They finally invite the press in and tell them about the ants. They put LA under martial law. Yes, folks, don’t panic, but there are thousands of giant ants living under your feet. The government has everything under control. They mobilize the Army and the Marines to begin the battle. Harold and Pat are on the scene too. They can’t burn the ants out because of the boys and the search for new queens. The military and police head into the drains from all sides. The tunnels are big enough so they can drive jeeps inside. Pat, Graham, and Peterson are all in different jeeps.
Peterson hears tapping and stops all of the jeeps. He goes into a small feeder drain. Oh, baby, he takes his flamethrower along. He finds the boys, and they are okay. But they hear the noise and two ants are closing in. Peterson thinks he is near the egg chamber. They send all the troops towards area 267, where the nest may be located.
Peterson does a little ant roasting. Peterson gets the boys out but doesn’t see the ant sneaking up behind him. It crushes Peterson, but Graham gets there and opens up on the ant. Peterson dies. The military form a firing line and the ants try to counter-attack. Harold comes down and stops the firing. They can’t use gas or explosives. The roof falls in and traps Graham alone on the ant side. A couple of ants get after him, but he holds them off with the Thompson until the others break through. Harold and Pat arrive, and there are new winged queens. They burn them out with flamethrowers.
Finally, Graham says if these ants are from the first atomic bomb, what about all the other bombs. Harold gives the dire warning that man has opened a new world and no one can predict what is in the new world.
World-Famous Short Summary – No animals were harmed during the filming of this movie.
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Beware the moors