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THEM, Was probably the best known atomic age gigantic monster movies second only Godzilla. (at least in the authors opinion). Made in 1954 the black and white science fiction film is about a nest of gigantic (caused by atomic duck and cover here) ants. It is based on a story by George Worthing Yates. It was developed into a screenplay by Ted Sherdeman and Russell Hughes for Warner Bros. Pictures Inc., and was produced by David Weisbart and directed by Gordon Douglas. It starred James Whitmore, who went on to play in many other big budget films, Edmund Gwenn, Joan Weldon and James Arness who was better known for his role as Marshal Matt Dillon in the western TV series Gun Smoke.Being One of the first of the “nuclear monster” movies, and the first “big bug” film, Them! was nominated for an Oscar for Special Effects and won a Golden Reel Award for Best Sound Editing. James Whitmore fires his Thompson Machine gun on a giant ant.

Movie plot (with a little help from IMDB & wikipedia) The movie begins as a simple suspense story, with police combing the desert for missing persons and unexplained deaths. The giant ants don’t make and appearance until almost a third of the way into the film, but when they do it’s quite dramatic. New Mexico State Police troopers (first it was Roswell, then the giant ants) Ben Peterson (James Whitmore) and Ed Blackburn (Chris Drake) discover a little girl in shock, wandering the desert near Alamogordo. They retrace her steps to a mobile home owned by an FBI agent named Ellinson, who was on vacation in the area with his wife and two children. The side of the trailer was ripped open from the outside, with a hole big enough to drive a truck (or a giant ant) through, and of course, the rest of the family is missing and presumed dead. The girl briefly responds when strange sounds echo out of the desert wind. More mysterious deaths and disappearances occur in the area. A general store owner named “Gramps” Johnson is found dead in his store, which was literally torn apart. No money was taken from the register, but a barrel of sugar was smashed open. Gramps’ empty rifle has been fired and is twisted out of shape. Peterson leaves to check on the little girl and make a report, leaving Blackburn to guard Gramps’ store. Not long afterward, Blackburn hears a strange noise outside and leaves to investigate. Offcamera, there is the sound of gunshots, the strange sound gets louder, and Blackburn screams. A single strange footprint bigger than a mountain lion’s is found near the trailer, and a plaster cast of it is made and sent to Washington, D.C. The police think there is a maniac killer on the loose, but Peterson’s boss points out that Gramps, a known marksman, fired all of his ammunition at his attacker. Even more puzzling is the coroner’s determination of Johnson’s cause of death: broken neck and back, skull fracture, crushed abdomen, and “enough formic acid in his body to kill twenty men”. FBI agent Robert Graham (James Arness) is unable to identify the footprint, and it attracts the attention of Harold (Edmund Gwenn) and Pat Medford (Joan Weldon), a father/daughter team of entomologists from the Department of Agriculture. (Thank God for the Feds) Harold has a theory, but he won’t present it until he tries an experiment on the Ellinson girl and examines the footprint site. He exposes the girl to formic acid, reviving her from a catatonic state; she screams, “Them! Them!” Harold’s theory is validated when he sees the footprint, measuring eighteen centimeters across.

Both Graham and Peterson are frustrated that Medford has not revealed his theory, but Harold explains that he is trying to avoid a nationwide panic. Pat encounters an eight foot long specimen of foraging ant. The lawmen fire their revolvers at the monster, to little effect. On Harold’s advice, Peterson and Graham shoot off the creature’s antennae, blinding it, and then kill it by firing a submachine gun into it.  Harold finally relents and reveals that the ant was mutated by radiation from the first atom bomb tests, conducted near Alamogordo. A U.S. Air Force General O’Brien (Onslow Stevens) brings in a squadron to locate the ants’ nest and exterminate the inhabitants with poison gas. Pat finds evidence that two queens have hatched but are absent; they have flown away to establish new colonies. Trying to avoid a general panic, the government covertly investigates reports of unusual activity or sightings of “flying saucers”. One report leads them to a rail yard where a crushed boxcar is missing its cargo of forty tons of sugar. Another report takes them to a Brownsville, Texas, hospital and a pilot who claims that his small plane was forced down by UFOs resembling giant ants. One of the queens is finally discovered, having invaded the hold of a freighter. The vessel is sunk by a U.S. Navy cruiser. The investigators use unusual methods to ensure that the general public does not learn about the ants. An alcoholic in a Los Angeles hospital “drunk tank” reveals that he saw giant ants flying around outside his window. The investigators receive a report of a man and his two young sons who have disappeared while flying a model airplane near the Los Angeles River; the man’s mutilated body and the airplane are found near a large storm drain system. Given the significant  threat to the city, the U.S. Army holds a press conference to reveal the existence of the giant ants. The Army declares martial law and a curfew for the city. More troops are assigned to the area to find and assault the new nest. Peterson finds the two missing boys alive deep in the storm drain, but they are trapped near the ants’ nest. He calls for reinforcements but goes in alone to rescue the boys. He gets the boys to safety, but before he can escape he is mortally wounded by an ant. Graham arrives with reinforcements and they fight off the swarming ants. A cave-in temporarily cuts off Graham from the rest of the men; several ants charge him, but he is able to hold them off long enough for the other troops to tunnel through the debris and come to his rescue. The queen and egg chamber are then destroyed with flamethrowers. Harold issues a grim warning that “The atomic genie has been let out of the bottle,” and further horrors may await mankind. “When man entered the atomic age, he opened the door to a new world. What we may eventually find in that new world, no one can predict.”

G.S. Monsters After Midnight (c)

Photo Courtesy of emovie poster


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