Stars: Margaret Sheridan, Kenneth Tobey
Genre: Science Fiction, Horror
Released the same year as The Day the Earth Stood Still and When Worlds Collide, this film still manages to hold its own as some genuinely great '50s science fiction.
It was famously remade in 1982 by John Carpenter as The Thing. Oddly enough the remake actually stays truer to the novella they're both based on, Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell.
A group of scientists and the U.S. Air Force discover a giant UFO buried under some ice in Alaska. The try to melt it out but they end up blowing up the entire thing and turning it into dust! Wow, quite a way to avoid building an actually flying saucer for the film. However, the do find a creature frozen in the ice and they chip out a block of ice with the creature inside and drag it off back to their base.
There's a varying degree of characters in the film; you have the soldiers, the scientists, etc. And they are all in constant debate as to what should be done with the frozen creature. Scientists say they should examine and study it immediately, soldiers say they need to wait for orders. It kind of reminds me of how in Romero's Day of the Dead everyone was always in disagreement. Anyway, while all are busy arguing, the creature unfreezes! Then proceeds in hunting down and killing everyone.
The story is pretty slow-paced, taking its time to talk science and stuff, which is cool. I'm no scientist but all the science in here sounds believable enough, it never feel too ridiculous. The alien itself, though it looks very strangely humanoid, behaves in a manner that an alien species may very well behave with us: it kills us for food because, well, because it doesn't see us as intelligent life. "An intellectual carrot. The mind boggles."
The dialogue is pretty good, it gives a hectic and paranoid atmosphere. Though since all the characters are pretty much always talking over each other, there's really not much room for character development. Though the film tries with a kind of romance going on between two characters, but it pretty much fails, and they even tie the romance into the ending which is kind of a bummer. But the romance is pretty well done so I can't really complain.
There's a lot of debate on who actually directed this. The film credits say it was directed by Christian Nyby and produced by Howard Hawks. But many people, including some of the cast, say it was Howard Hawks who actually did most, if not all, of the directing. The film certainly does have Hawks' excellent pacing. It's something that still to this day is a bit of a mystery.
[Spoilers in following paragraph:] The film's pacing and build-up are great. It takes a while before we actually get to see the alien. What the film did was have characters constantly opening and closing doors. Seriously, this film may have the record for door openings and closings. So it gets the viewer accustomed to opening doors, and it creates a sense of normalcy. But where does the monster first pop up? That's right, they open a door and bam, there's the monster. Quite effective, I must say.
The monster itself is kind of cool. It's a very simple design and quite honestly isn't very alien, in the true sense of the word. He's also slow as hell and not very intimidating besides the fact that he's nearly invincible. I think a cooler monster design would have benefited the film greatly. After all, this is essentially just a monster movie.
All the acting is good. Margaret Sheridan is stunningly beautiful.
The film has a cool atmosphere too. That snowy terror feeling that H.P. Lovecraft invented with At the Mountains of Madness, which this films seems to draw a bit of inspiration from.
I also feel like the warning right at the end greatly contributed to the UFO craze of the time. "Watch the skies, everywhere! Keep looking. Keep watching the skies!"
Overall it's some great '50s sci-fi and very enjoyable. Perhaps not as good as John Carpenter's remake, but still fun.