“the thing – from another world!”, the 60th anniversary

the thing poster

On April the 27th, 1951, RKO pictures released one of the greatest Science Fiction movies of all time. Howard Hawks, “The Thing”.  The film is loosely Based on a 1938 novella called “Who goes there?” by John W. Campbell which appeared in a publication called Astounding Science Fiction.  The film was produced by the legendary Howard Hawks and stars Kenneth Tobey, Margaret Sheridan, Robert Cornthwaite, and “the Thing” played by a very Young James Arness.

The story takes place in Anchorage Alaska where a group of US service men are summoned by a Dr. Carrington (Robert Cornthwaite) who has a scientific research facility near the North Pole. The Dr. has reason to believe an unknown aircraft has crashed into the ice nearby. The Air Force crew, joined by a local reporter looking for a story, sets out to join the scientific team aboard a modified  C-47. Once they arrive the adventure begins.  Debriefed by the Dr., the team sets out in search of the craft and from the air they find a long skid in the ice and a circular imprint where something very hot melted it’s way through the ice only to refreeze just below the surface. Upon landing and closer inspection, a stabilizer is the only thing protruding from the ice, and the crew mark out the edges of the ship and confirm it’s shape to be that of a flying saucer.  The crew sets thermite (heat explosives) charges to remove the top layer of ice and accidentally set the ship on fire which causes the entire craft to explode.  The crew inspects the incredible loss of the greatest scientific find of the century only to find something else below the ice.  Geiger counter readings find what appears to be a body thrown from the ship and frozen just feet below the icy surface. Pick axes are used this time to remove a huge block of ice with the unidentifiable human shape inside.

Upon arrival back at the camp the  separation between science and military begins, the good Dr. wants to thaw the creature out to get a better look and the Captain feels that it is best to leave frozen. A huge storm is on it’s way and communication comes to a halt for a while. The captain places a guard to watch the thing. Feeling uneasy about looking at what he is guarding, he covers the block of ice with a blanket… An electric blanket it happens to be which in turn melts the ice and  revives the creature.  The thing breaks out of the compound and is attacked by the sled dogs that manage to rip off one of the thing’s arm.  The military side finds this newly released being  dangerous while the scientific side are beside themselves with excitement.  Examination of the arm puts the notion that this thing is not from earth into everyone’s conscious and the divide of military and scientific research begins to broaden.  Geiger counter readings keep the crew on edge as they feel that the thing is getting inside the base unnoticed.  One encounter takes place in the green house where the Dr.notices some of his plants have been exposed to the cold.  Ushering out the servicemen, the Dr. and his men investigate the green house further to find that the creature has been visiting the green house regularly.  The scientific team discover a dead sled dog hidden in a box that has been drained of blood. The team come to the conclusion that these discoveries must be kept secret and further studies must take place immediately.

The story progresses for a fairly quiet couple of days only to be interrupted by one of the scientists beaten and barely alive breaking into the servicemen’s quarters. The captain and his crew find the bodies of two more of the scientific team and, as they find their way to the green house, they encounter the good Dr. who has devised a way to grow more creatures by feeding tissue from the severed arm blood plasma from the medical storage unit.  As all of this revelation is coming to light that the thing is more vegetable than man, another attack takes place and the crew find out that he is immune to bullets.  The men trap the creature in the green house and come up with a plan to douse the thing with kerosene and set him ablaze.  It’s not long and the crew have their chance.  The creature is set on fire and the scene is pretty long and very tense, especially when you see how close this huge fire is getting to the crew on the set.  The burning creature escapes into the cold again.   The captain orders everything in the lab concerning the creature to be burned, and the Dr. highly objects.   In the height of their argument the communications officer breaks in with a long awaited message from Alaska.  The USAF communique states that at all costs the creature needs to be captured and not destroyed.  Ending the argument between the two on a sour note.  Moments later the temperature of the camp starts to drop rapidly.  The crew find that the creature has sabotaged the fuel line to the camp, and it’s only a matter of time before they all freeze.  To hell with keeping this thing alive, the captain orders the men to devise a trap to kill the creature.  The team has moved down to the generator room, and the plan is to set up a section of the floor with metal screen panels and when the creature steps on the trap the captain will hit the trap with some serious current from the generator.  The plan goes perfectly in the beginning. The thing breaks into the generator room and, just a few feet away from the trap, the power goes out.  The Dr. has shut off the generator and tries to save the creature.  Within seconds the crew get the power back up, only to have the Dr., for a second rescue attempt, jump the line and face off with the thing.  A few moments of peace talks end with the thing backhanding the Dr. across the room.  The creature is ticked back onto the path and the electricity flies. The thing is hit by some awesome VFX added Tesla coil electric bolts and withers and shrinks to the massive charge.  The scene is well constructed with James Arness in the begging scenes and then replaced with a much shorter actor as the shrinking continues.  The thing is reduced to a pile of smoking ashes, and the captain destroys the thing’s seedlings in the lab without a trace.  Once communication is established again, the reporter (Douglas Spencer) broadcasts the recent events and the film ends with his final words to  “Watch the skies….”

The film was a smash hit and has become one of Hollywood’s best SCI FI films of all time. I have been an avid fan of this one since ever since I first saw it as a kid on late night Arizona channel 5 TV.  The cast is brilliantly ensembled and The Towering James Arness started his Hollywood career off with a huge hit.  The film has been admired by fans and film buffs since it’s opening 60 years ago today.  One in particular was a young director named John Carpenter.  John was a huge fan of Howard Hawks and the Thing being one of his particular favorites films. So much so that he used the film as the Halloween Late Night Feature seen on all of the TV sets throughout his 1978 film “Halloween”.

In 1981, Universal gave the green light to a remake of the Hawks film, and Carpenter was awarded the project of remaking the Thing.  Sticking more to the original story by Campbell, the Thing would veer from the vegetable alien story to a more digestive type of monster.  John’s cast would be solely male in gender and would take place in Antarctica, the opposite pole from the original.  Hot off the production, “Escape from New York,” Carpenter would team up again with Kurt Russel as the lead.  Carpenter’s film was released in 1982, 31 years after the original.  As Hawk’s version was no doubt a shocker of it’s time leaving the audience screaming in horror, John’s film did the same with his audiences showcasing an entirely different and very unique sense of what a horror sci-fi movie was going to look like from now on.  As much of a fan I am of the 1951 film I am more so of Carpenter’s version.  These films are great to watch back to back and I have heard that a DVD of the original was was released in the UK with Carpenter himself doing the commentary.

Hawks film was the last of the movies to made at the original Culver City studio location.  RKO was on the move from the West Side of LA to it’s new home at Paramount studios, and with the release of “The Thing” was also the end of an era for original home of RKO.

So happy 60th to “the Thing” and now enjoy some captures from the film.

Howard Hawks production logo

the title graphic

the crew en-route to the polar research station

the C-47 adapted to the cold

the tiny love affair between Tobey and Sheridan

The discovery of something buried beneath the ice

the crew on foot finds the incredible mark on the frozen landscape

on the rim of the most astounding discovery the world would ever see

part of the ship protrudes from the ice

the men mark the boarders of what lies beneath

thermite charges

while trying to reach the saucer the charges destroy the unknown vessel

Wait a minute, there is something else down there

lets use picks this time instead of explosives

getting the block of ice back to camp

the first glimpse of whats in side

the guard, disqusted with what is inside covers the mass so he no longer has to look at it

What's this...OH NO it's an electric blanket!!!

melting away the thing becomes exposed and begins to revive

the sled dogs outside sense something is very wrong going on inside the camp

the guard is surprised by the off camera Thing as it advances towards the unhappy camper

the crew rushes in to see what has just happened

a ruckus outside gets everyone's attention

the thing and the dogs don't get along

the dogs sever off one of the things arms

the crew discovers that when the thing is near the Geiger counter goes off

differences of opinions between the scientists and the air force drive a wedge between the two on what to do with this unknown creature

after the military has left the green house the scientists discover the remains of a sled dog and come to the conclusion that they will experiment with the thing's arm and the dog secretively

the thing returns to the green house and attacks the scientists in the middle of their secret experiments

en route to the green house the air force encounters the thing along the way

Oh he's a mean one

the crew find out that bullets are useless as thing gets away again

when finally reaching the green house, the Dr.'s secret experiments are exposed

uesing human blood plasma the Dr has found out that the thing is more vegetable than humanoid and has been growing new things from the creature's severed arm.

just as the captain orders everything in the lab destroyed, word comes from Alaska that everything must be saved and the creature captured alive at all costs

Ignoring orders the captain and his team get ready to douse the thing with kerosene and set him on fire

3, 2, 1, here it comes

that's a big, BIG fire with all those actors so near by

the burning mass fights and flees

and escapes to the frozen wasteland

The thing has sabotaged the fuel line to the camp, and the crew has very little time before they all freeze. The crew devise a new trap by setting an electrical grid across the floor in the generator room.

the trap is wired and set

without delay the thing approaches according to plan as the men wait to throw the switch

the good Dr. shuts off the generator and almost spoils the trap

once the generator is back on the Dr. jumps the line to try and communicate with the thing

the crew watch on as the thing ends the negotiations with the Dr. with a fatal backhand slap across the body

once in position, the switch is thrown and the thing meets his doom

James Arness is replaced by a smaller actor as the disintegration and shrinking continues

a smoldering pile of ash is all that's left

a cup of Folgers is always a way to celebrate the victory over evils from space

the film ends when communications are restored and the reporter (Douglas Spencer) sends out his report and makes the iconic statement to "Watch the Skies"

the big thing and the little thing

James Arness haveing smoke emitters placed in his suit

Testing the smoke

18 Responses to ““the thing – from another world!”, the 60th anniversary”

  1. 1 DeanneM
    April 28, 2011 at 12:40 pm

    This IS indeed a classic! The first time I watched it all the way through was when you told me it’s a must see a couple of years ago…thank for the prodding!! 😀

    I always forget just how MASSIVE James Arness was…geeeez.

  2. 2 johneaves
    April 28, 2011 at 12:51 pm

    Hey when I loaded this post today I saw the Happy b-day page!!! When did you do that??? I have to go read everything,,, So sorry I didnt
    catch it till today!!!!

    • 3 DeanneM
      April 28, 2011 at 5:09 pm

      Heh. On your bday. 🙂 I emailed you a couple days later. You owe me an email…or call. 😀

      • 4 johneaves
        April 28, 2011 at 9:12 pm

        Yes I do,, I have been back n forth to Wyoming and working far far from home so time and consciousness have been avoiding me lately!!!

  3. April 28, 2011 at 2:35 pm

    A real classic! 60 years, hard to believe but, of course, I was only around to watch it on cable 🙂

    Despite the changes from the story (having read the Campbell piece) it was a wonderful play on the paranoia of the time.

    Watch the skies!!

  4. April 28, 2011 at 5:54 pm

    This was one of the frist Sci-fi film I saw as a Kid. All the classic B movies where being show in the mid to late 80’s.

    It’s a great stroy, but I am with you John, Carpenter’s version, is still stunning today.
    Frist time I saw that was mostley behind the sofa. LOL

    • 8 johneaves
      April 28, 2011 at 9:16 pm

      I’m there with you too, I saw it in the theater opening night and I was so unprepared for the visual feast the Carpenter had in store… Carpenter’s thing has been in my top 5 favorites since that first night.

  5. 9 Matt Boardman
    April 28, 2011 at 6:32 pm

    Another “thing” to add to the list of movies to watch! Love these anniversary pieces as they show how much you care about these classics. They help make sure that film deprived people like me get to watch them! 🙂

    I think the 25th anniversary of Top Gun is coming up next month!

    • 10 johneaves
      April 28, 2011 at 9:19 pm

      I love old movies and so love watching them on their anniversary’s
      Yes, Top Gun’s 25th is coming, I have to find the device to scan slides because all the pictures I took on the show are on Kodochrome

      • 11 DeanneM
        April 28, 2011 at 9:22 pm

        Ya I hope you have time to scan those, that would be fun to see!

        And on Die Hard 2’s Anni you should show the pics of giant you in relation to the airport tower model. 😀 And not bad legs, too. >.>

  6. 12 Buckaroohawk
    April 29, 2011 at 12:19 am

    For me, the original film rises above the typical “B Movie” genre because it takes the time to tell it’s story well and the sci-fi aspect isn’t treated as hokey or silly. It has the same creepy vibe that makes the original “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” so much fun to watch. Actually, that would make one heck of a cool double feature!

    John Carpenter’s version is something else entirely. When I first went to see it I was expecting a simple remake. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Carpenter’s version has the visceral impact of a sledgehammer to the forehead, and he blended suspense, paranoia and sheer terror perfectly.

    It’s a tough choice, but I prefer Carpenter’s version just a bit more. I’ve never watched them back-to-back. I think that would make for a very interesting evening, though. A prequel to Carpenter’s film is currently in-production. I’ve got my fingers crossed that the filmmakers can reach the high bar he set way back in 1982.

    • 13 johneaves
      April 29, 2011 at 5:25 am

      Growing up in the B&W era it was great to be exposed to these early B movies and to build up to what the 80’s had to offer was a very fun ride. I love these two films and also the incredible work of Carpenter. He is one extremely gifted storyteller

  7. 14 evil_genius_180
    April 29, 2011 at 9:26 am

    The “thing” looks like J’onn J’onzz (Martian Manhunter, from DC Comics.) I wonder if that’s a coincidence. 😉

    I don’t think I’ve seen this movie. I’ve seen quite a few old Sci-Fi movies but this one has eluded me. I’ll have to check it out, it looks cool. 😀

  8. 15 johneaves
    April 29, 2011 at 9:55 am

    yeah it’s a ton of fun!!!!

  9. 17 the bluesman
    April 29, 2011 at 12:19 pm


    Great post. Love the shot of the C-47 and the pilots with the A-2 flight jackets. I like the original film and John Carpetners version as well. And of course this film has the classic “dont show the monster too much” it’s actaully more scary that way becasue you dont know waht you’re dealing with.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

April 2011

%d bloggers like this: