Airing on TCM November 22 at 4 PM EST
“Them!” was one of the first science fiction movies of the 1950s to explore the effects of nuclear radiation on nature—namely by creating giant mutant ants. But what sounds like a cheesy B-movie is actually the best of the “big bug” movies of the 1950s.
An extremely well-plotted thriller, “Them!” begins as your typical police drama, with New Mexico cop Ben Peterson (James Whitmore) and his partner Ed (Chris Drake) finding a little girl wandering around the desert in shock. They find a store owner dead, and soon Ed goes missing. This sequence is brilliant because the viewer doesn’t see the ants, isn’t given any indication of what it is that caused the murders and disappearances of people in the area; in fact, it isn’t until the movie is well under way that the source of the terror is revealed. Giant footprints and high-pitched, off-screen noises are the only signs that something strange is out there.
Peterson is later joined by FBI agent Robert Graham (James Arness) and myrmecologists Harold Medford (Edmund Gwenn) and his daughter Pat (Joan Weldon). What follows is the discovery of what the creatures are, and a mission to track them down and destroy them.
Warner Brothers initially conceived “Them!” as a 3D full color film, but last minute budget cuts resulted in it being filmed in black-and-white, with no 3D effects (although a few gimmicks that were intended to play up the 3D were kept in the final film). Interestingly, the film’s title was kept in color, and the red and blue letters on That worked out for the best though, as the black-and-white cinematography lends an air of creepiness to the film’s tone, and also makes the giant black ants seem more imposing. Those impressive-looking ants were giant mechanical creatures operated by a team of technicians off-screen; “Them!” was subsequently nominated for an Oscar for its effects.
Besides being a well-directed, well-acted, suspense-filled story, “Them!” is also a treat for film fans as it hosts numerous fun cameos. Fess Parker has a small role as a pilot living in a mental institution after claiming his plane was brought down by giant ants (Walt Disney was reportedly set on casting Parker as Davy Crockett after watching him in this movie). Leonard Nimoy, Ann Doran, and Richard Deacon are just a few of the other great actors who make an appearance in “Them!”, as their career was either winding down or just getting started.
For more info, feel free to email me. For updates on my latest articles, click the subscribe button at the top of this page. You can also follow me on the following websites: