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.