Since its release 65-years ago, the film is a fan favorite with the hardcore sci-fi and a portion of horror fans remembering this movie with a fondness for what it presented then as incredible storytelling and a new venture in the b-movie market. Now an overwhelming majority will recall seeing and enjoying John Carpenter’s The Thing, however this 1951 flick from director Christian Nyby aired during Carpenter’s masterpiece Halloween (1978). This film, while aging well still brings a fun tale of exploration and wonderment all at a cost of $40,000 (inflation cost $364,486) hence the writing had precision and was economical, not allowing any excess or waste. The entire concept of science fiction believes in expounding the limits and testing both scientific ethics and human motives, many movies attempt to include both, but few ever truly have them defining their movies for generations, this film achieves it. It basis itself off of the short story ‘Who Goes There?’ by the science fiction editor/writer John W. Campbell Jr. however, it isn’t a very faithful adaptation, though it does include a tale of isolation, and alien invasion. This story conveyed in film one other time not mentioned beforehand as The Thing (2011).
One must look back to the past to understand where many of the sci-fi/horror flicks of today’s cinema came from, in the early to mid-50s many B-Movies graced the screens of America with the keywords of ‘attack’ and ‘invaders’ and many dot the screens of television and computers. A serious debate grows constantly as to whom actually directed this movie, was it Christian Nyby or the producer Howard Hawks, whose style the film very closely resembles, the odds the Nyby knocked the film out of the park, based on his other works after this movie, cast serious doubt over it. Many cinema buffs frequently argued that Howard Hawks directed the film in supervisory position allowing his good friend and former editor Nyby earning him the coveted Director’s Guild credit. As stated Nyby never went on to direct anything else of distinction, leading to a very dark cloud over his feature film debut, especially with the majority of his remainder of his career subjected to television episodes. Meanwhile Hawks excelled wonderfully and made the transition from directing silent films in the 1920s, to the talkies with two stellar films Scarface (1932) and Rio Bravo (1959). His career mirrors that of legendary director, Alfred Hitchcock, as he like Hawks never won the Oscar for Best Director but achieved an honorary Academy Award.
The essence of the story has an Air Force crew sent to assist and investigate a crash in the Arctic with a group of top experience scientists at a military outpost en route their instruments find themselves affected by unknown reasons. The film takes the time to explain reasoning and give much needed groundwork for the audience of then was less sophisticated than those of today. Once at the site their actions become jumble and mixed with a zany reporter wanting to report the finding of a UFO but denied by Captain Patrick Hendry (Kenneth Tobey). Trying to free the UFO with thermite bombs, the ship is inadvertently destroyed, but checking with a Geiger counter measuring the radiation though no one seems worried about the count, once again recalled the era (duck and cover a way to protect you from an atomic bomb) but the little things worth overlooking. Soon enough, a creature larger than a human found trapped in the ice quickly they work to dig it out and return to the research station. The slow pacing allows for subplot to open involving the conflict of science and military, with blustery talking characters who quip back and forth about what to do and the harm befalls them. Dr. Arthur Carrington (Robert Cornthwaite) begins butting heads over what should do over The Thing not only with the Captain but his own team members. The creature, accidentally awakens and the first victims is the draining of sled dogs blood, soon enough a couple of scientists, with all the killing occurring off screen. Herein the audience learns that the Frankenstein lookalike creature, basically one large vegetable and learn that plant life on Earth can feel, and communicate. Kenneth Tobey shines in the role leader of his men and aware of his limitations, but listens to various others for input. One must not over look the wise cracking Douglas Spencer as Scotty, the reporter eager to get a shot of the creature and a wonderful assortment of other colorful characters. A love story takes place also to involve the girlfriends in attendance and showing how often it appears as underlying pivotal impact into the film from Carrington’s secretary Nikki Nicholson (Margaret Sheridan). Still the alien is nothing more than a killer vegetable, while quite silly; it is many years ahead of the insane movie Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (1978) works very well and leaves all the men baffled of how to destroy it. Enter in a woman’s perspective and wisdom as she answers the bold concept and yet hints to domestic chore of her position of knowing what to do with veggies. The scene in which The Thing doused with kerosene and set ablaze strongly believed by many cinema buffs to be the first full body burn accomplished by a stunt man.
The characters in the movie portrayed as strong individual characters, presenting believable emotions, and at times a bit biblical reference adding to a quality sense of realism, even though the smartest scientist doesn’t make a connection to the radiation and radios not working. Lastly, the lack of the alien in the movie, mainly due to the poor special effects and makeup techniques in the creation of the monster, showed not scary and more comical.
This movie brings wonderful memories, and a classic film for the bonding experience with the family and yet also a for recalling the early times of sci-fi, so many care about this movie, that in 2001 it was added to the Nation Film Preservation Board. It still keeps its richness of black and white low-budget influence filmmakers of today with a classic creation and reminds an all time favorite for cinema fans.