THEM! (1954) B/W 93m dir: Gordon Douglas

w/James Whitmore, Edmund Gwenn, Joan Weldon, James Arness, Onslow Stevens, Sean McClory, Christian Drake, Sandy Descher, Mary Alan Hokanson, Don Shelton, Fess Parker, Olin Howland, Lou Marcelle

One of the best of the 1950s rush of flicks about visitors from "outer space," this is an entertaining sci-fi thriller about strange creatures --- giant ants! --- who appear suddenly near the Mojave Desert. If the film seems familiar, that's probably because it was so successful that it spawned a lot of imitations.

From the Alternate Ending website (, this review of the film by Tim Brayton:

"In truth, Them! is quite damn good. Easily the best of the giant insect movies that were so common in the '50s (a genre it largely created), which again sounds dismissive. The problem, perhaps, is that Them! comes from a genre and a time frame when even being moderately decent would have been an impressive success; there are no comparisons to be made that could really point to how strong it is as a movie qua movies. It had Oscar-nominated effects work, for God's sake (this was before visual and sound effects were given separate awards). How many '50s B-thrillers can make that kind of claim? But then, not many B-thrillers were made by a studios as well-heeled as Warner Bros. ...

"Of course, it's still a really fine giant ant thriller. It was not a massively well-appointed production, but there was still plenty of time and money spent making the giant robotic ants look as ... well, not realistic. But in their fanciful, abstract way, they're gorgeous props with an impressive range of articulation and movement, making for genuinely impressive antagonists for the humans in the cast. And after being downgraded from a widescreen, 3-D color spectacle, the full-frame black-and-white cinematography by Sid Hickox is rich and full of smart lighting and framing: the bleached-out New Mexico desert (played by the bleached-out California desert) is foreboding and bleak, while the ants' lairs are wonderfully gloomy and threatening, with the low light having the added benefit of keeping the monsters out of situations where full illumination might call attention to their technical shortcomings.

"In short, director Gordon Douglas was taking all of this extremely seriously, exploring the subject with the full gravity of its horror and drawing out some surprisingly stable and earnest performances. Gwenn has a bit of comic relief business here and there (there's a little routine involving military radio etiquette that I find genuinely funny), but otherwise everyone is encouraged to behave as a normal person would under the circumstances: it's not a character-driven giant ant movie, exactly, but it's a movie where the naturalism of the acting and the steadfast refusal to allow even a drop of campiness to infect the proceedings serve to make the giant ants seem like a real and legitimate danger (the film even manages to sell what should, by rights, be a corny sequence with a grieving mother). And that is no small victory, nor a small part of why Them! is able to make the impact it does. From the little girl being plunged back into her memories and screaming 'Them!' with all her might, to the sweaty tension exuded by the heroes as they crawl around the Los Angeles storm drains hunting for monsters, Them! genuinely cares about what kind of fears and other emotions its loopy scenario would entail, and that invites us to believe in its objectively absurd notions without any kind of good sense holding us back. For all that it ends up suggesting that the might of the U.S. military will always save the day, and for all that there's never really the possibility of Godzilla-style widespread devastation, the film is shockingly sincere in its expression of its concept and themes, and that gives it a potency that no other giant bug picture ever came close to achieving. In it's highly circumscribed, genre-based way, this is an outright masterpiece."

THEM! was nominated for an Oscar for Best Special Effects (Ralph Ayres for Warner Bros.).