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The Thing About The Thing
by Jon Schuller

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You must be our new next-door neighbor

You must be our new next-door neighbor
Let's take a trip in my time machine. We'll be going back to the late 1940's, not long after the end of World War II. America is ready for peace and prosperity. The new enemy is an old ally, Russia.
Fear of Communist domination is not new but Russia's military strength has grown since the 1945 victory against Germany. She's clamped an "Iron Curtain" around countries "liberated" from the Nazis by the Russian Army. Technologically the U.S. has triumphed and many inventions, especially in aviation, have put us on top. The jet engine, invented in England in the 1930's, changed flying forever and we are working on advanced models under highly secret conditions at this time.


In 1947 Chuck Yeager, a famous U.S. Air Force fighter pilot ace,
breaks the sound barrier totally in secret. No newspaper or radio reports of this momentous event are allowed to be made public. The government doesn't want the Russians to know about it. Many such daring flights were made in the same undercover manner, including several fatal crashes. Air bases located in highly isolated desert areas out West were used for such experimental flights. We all know now about the famous "Area 51".

About the same time reports of so-called "UFO's", or Unidentified Flying Objects, started to appear in
OK. Who forgot to to bring the shovels?

OK. Who forgot to to bring the shovels?
newspapers. Several commercial and Air Force pilots claimed to have "chased" these objects but couldn't catch them due to the extreme high speeds supposedly exhibited by the unknowns. Of course the Air Force immediately stepped into the controversy and proclaimed that the objects were "weather balloons" or other common items. Not flying saucers or secret experimental aircraft.
Operation Bluebook was coined as the Air Force operation.

So we've got two sources of mass hysteria and paranoia going on simultaneously: rampant Communism and rampant UFO's. Let's not forget the little green men who pilot them. It wasn't long before Hollywood discovers these are great sources for movies.

We get a rash of films about Communist spies, infiltrators, former friends turned enemies all made in cinema-noir black-and-white. Hollywood simply changes the bad guys from Nazis to Communists, mostly dressed in ill-fitting double-breasted suits and fedoras. But in 1951 a film debuts that will create a genre we're still watching today: aliens from another galaxy with only idea take over the Earth. Sort of sounds like the fear of Communists doing the same thing doesn't
I agree, Doctor.Everything in the lab is yours except....

I agree, Doctor.Everything in the lab is yours except....
it?

"The Thing From Another World", based on the story "Who Goes There" by John Campbell, Jr., was produced by the renowned Howard Hawks. With an eerie musical score featuring a Theremin from Dimitri Tiomkin "The Thing" became the trademark movie for science fiction fans and probably scared a whole generation of 1950's teenagers and adults.

A small isolated grouping of scientists, civilians and Air Force personnel is confronted by a magnetic anomaly near their North Pole base. They investigate and discover a crashed flying saucer under the ice.
They try to "melt" the ice and pretty much destroy the spacecraft yet manage to "rescue" the pilot trapped in a block of ice. We all probably remember the critical scene where the alien escapes the base thanks to an electric blanket. Now the Earthmen must capture or destroy the creature who is determined to kill them all and create a race of aliens to take over the Earth. From movies to video games in 2010 this tried-and-true formula is alive and well today.

The similarities
He DOES look like Peter Graves

He DOES look like Peter Graves
between this film's theme and the outcomes and fight against Communism are striking (and I admit obvious). America must practically stand alone in the battle with world-wide domination by the "alien" philosophies of Marx, Lenin and Stalin. Protect the common man from this totalitarian idea. Space aliens became the object of our wrath. And we usually triumphed in the end. 1954's "War of the Worlds" shows this plot in 50's high-tech and Technicolor.

I think "The Thing" is one of the best movies of its kind. Tight scenes with terse dialogue and direction, a Howard Hawks signature, make this film still exciting to watch today. Characters are allowed to interrupt either other's lines just like real conversations. Great character actors keep it moving rapidly throughout every scene. James Arness, The Thing, went on to fame and fortune as "Gunsmoke" Marshall Matt Dillon on TV. Ken Tobey, the male lead also went into TV on "Whirlybirds" in the 1950"s. George Fenneman, playing a scientist, went on to work as the announcer with Groucho Marx on his famous TV quiz show, "You Bet Your Life". I think there were some "colorized" versions on VHS from the '80's but the original black-and-white is still the best. Watch this movie - more than once You might soon forget it was created fifty-nine years ago.

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Cinema Savant
Every other Thursday

My views on an eclectic mix of films and personalties, past and present; emotional interpretations; some laughs, some cries.


Other Columns
Other columns by Jon Schuller:

But Can She Act? That's What I Want to Know

They're Not the Same People They Used To Be

Time Does Fly When We Watch Movies

Before Minimum or Maximum, There Was Only Prison

A Story of Bravery, Truth and Devotion

All Columns


Jon Schuller
I am a former New Jersey native, living in Charlotte, N.C. for almost 30 years. I am a lifelong movie lover with lots of movie trivia knowledge and soundtracks in my CD collection. I enjoy sharing my love of films with everyone and have so many fond memories growing up in darkened movie theaters. I have been married 50 years (as of December 22, 2018) and we both share a passion for film (and each other of course).



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If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Jon Schuller by clicking here.


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