Oct 101951
two reels

Arctic researchers find a spaceship that has been buried under the ice for thousands of years.  Led by Captain Patrick Hendry (Kenneth Tobey), they bring a frozen alien back to their station.  Unfortunately for them, it thaws, and it doesn’t want to make friends.

In 1938, John W. Campbell Jr., the most influential editor in the history of science fiction literature, wrote the award winning story, “Who Goes There.”  In it, a team of scientists in the Antarctic are confronted with a predatory, shape changing alien that can impersonate any of them.  How can they tell who is human?  The filmmakers read this story and found the most compelling elements to be the snow and the space ship, so they ripped out all of the challenging science fiction concepts (the stuff that won awards) and replaced them with a carrot in the shape of Frankenstein’s monster.  I suppose audiences, who had little acquaintance with either clever sci-fi films (not that many had been made yet), or the written word, could be pulled in by the nearly invisible plot, but anyone literate should have been horrified by what had been done to one of the important stories of the genre.

Ah well.  For a simplistic, conservative, anti-communist rant, The Thing From Another World is nicely made.  It should be.  While Christian Nyby has the director’s chair, Howard Hawks (Bringing Up Baby, The Big Sleep) was at his shoulder.  The dialog scenes (an area where Hawks excelled) certainly bear his mark, and there are a lot of them.  Many of these conversations approach comedy (again, an area of expertise for Hawks).  The simple story is filmed to generate as much paranoia as possible; the monster is unseen for most of the movie while the humans are confined in buildings with no escape.  Not bad for building tension.  It also helps to hide the creature as he’s not exactly frightening.  But there’s no hiding that there isn’t a lot of substance here.

As The Thing From Another World was promoting fear of communists, the scientists are given a ludicrous position so as to discredit these liberal intellectuals.  The soldiers (the good guys) want to blow away aliens on sight, but the scientists want to talk.  Since this is the ’50, and viewing communists…ummm, I mean aliens…sympathetically is evil, the lead scientist is given the view that the alien is superior because it lacks emotion and sex; it would be better for all the humans to die if that would allow the alien to live.  Not exactly a position that’s going to get a lot of support, nor one that puts any interesting debate into the film.  As a final hammering blow for anyone who missed the point, the film is set in the arctic (that’s where those Ruskies will come from, you know) and ends with the words “Watch the skies, everywhere! Keep looking. Keep watching the skies!”

If you can, ignore all of the messages and just take it as a monster-fights-man picture.  You’ll enjoy it more.

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