Classic Cinema #29: Them! (1954) – By Jason S. Lockard

My Name is Jason S. Lockard and I love classic films! I wasn’t born till the late 70s so I didn’t live through thew 50s fear of war, fallout and what it might do, but I can relive the movies that were inspired by that era on DVD! In the 50’s; movie theaters were taken over by "nuclear monsters" and this month we are looking at the film that started it all! 1954’s THEM! starring our star of the month James Whitmore.

James Allen Whitmore, Jr. was born in White Plain, New York on October 1, 1921 to Florence Belle and James Allen Whitemore Sr. who worked as a park commission official. James Whitemore Jr. attended Yale University, where he was a member of Skull and Bones. He was commissioned a Second Lieutenant and served in the Marines Corps in Panama Canal Zone during World War II.

Following World War II, James appeared on Broadway in Command Decision. MGM hired Whitmore on contract. Whitmore’s first major picture was Battleground, in a role that was turned down by Spencer Tracy, and for which Whitmore was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. James would go on to act in some great films as The Asphalt Jungle, Kiss Me, Kate, Oklahoma!, Black Like Me, Guns of the Magnificent Seven, Tora! Tora! Tora!, and Give ’em Hell, Harry!, for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of former U.S. President Harry S Truman.

In 1954 James Whitmore starred in our film for this month. In New Mexico a State Police Sergeant Ben Peterson [Whitmore] and his patrol partner Ed Blackburn discover a little girl wandering the desert mute and in shock. They track her back to a trailer owned by an FBI agent named Ellinson. The trailer is found to have been ripped open from the outside. The girl briefly responds when strange sounds echo out of the desert wind, but the troopers miss this moment.

More mysterious deaths and disappearances occur in the area. The police think there is a maniac killer on the loose, so the FBI sends in local agent Robert Graham (James Arness) to assist. A single strange track as big as a mountain lion’s is found in the desert near the trailer and a plaster cast of it is made and sent to Washington, D.C. The elder Doctor Medford arrives on the scene with a theory, but will not disclose it until he tries an experiment on the Ellinson girl, having her smell the contents of a vial of formic acid, which frees her from her state of near-catatonic withdrawal, screaming "Them!

What is the little girl screaming about who are "Them!" I can’t imagine anyone not seeing thing classic, but in case there is someone out there that hasn’t seen it! I won’t spoil it for you!

Originally Warner Brothers Pictures wanted to shoot this film in 3-D, but when it was time to shoot the 3-D camera rig malfunctioned and the idea was cut. Still many 3-D test shots still remain, such as the opening title and flame throwers that are shot at the camera!

In the end the film is a bit of a cheese fest, but that in my opinion adds to the charm of this film!

Them! was nominated for an Oscar for Special Effects and won a Golden Reel Award for Best Sound Editing. Later the film was nominated for inclusion in AFI’s 100 years 100 thrills and AFI’s Top 10 10!

Now back to our star of the Month! In 1960 Whitmore would transition to television starring in the ABC crime drama entitled The Law and Mr. Jones it would only last two seasons. In 1963, Whitmore played Captain William Benteen in The Twilight Zone, 12 O-Clock High, The Invaders, The Big Valley just to name a few. Than in 1979, Whitmore hosted a talk show called simply Comeback. The show lasted just 22 episodes.

Late in his career Whitmore would play librarian Brooks Hatlen in 1994’s The Shawshank Redemption. Two years later, he co-starred in The Relic and in 2002 he had a supporting role in Jim Carrey’s film vehicle The Majestic.

In November of 2001 the award winning actor James Whitmore was diagnosed with lung cancer, which took his life just three months later on February 6, 2009. His ashes were scattered into the Pacific Ocean. Whitmore’s acting talent lives on his films such as Them!

Until next time this is Jason S. Lockard reminding you if you want to see a good film, check out a classic!

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Moral Rating: Monster Violence
Audience: May not be suitable for young children.
Genre: Science Fiction
Length: 94 min.
Released: 1954
Our Rating: B-