RogerBW's Blog

The Thing From Another World 07 November 2021

1951 science fiction, dir. Christian Nyby, Kenneth Tobey, Margaret Sheridan: IMDb / allmovie. So the arctic scientists find an alien spaceship in the ice…

This is officially an adaptation of Who Goes There?. They paid Campbell and everything. But while it starts off close enough, with the crash site (one of my favourite shots ever, the flat circle of ice and the track leading to it)

and the loss of the spacecraft and the ice-block holding the survivor, the meat of the film diverges sharply: no shapeshifter here, just a nigh-invulnerable creature that lives on blood.

That said, this is a groundbreaking film – beating out The Day The Earth Stood Still by a few months to be, I think, the first filmic depiction of an alien landing on Earth, and very much setting the mood for 1950s alien-invasion paranoia in which the military is suspicious and right, and the scientists are welcoming and wrong.

But unlike many of the imitators, there's room for at least a little subtlety here: Scotty the reporter is an intellectual more than he's a military man, but he's no wimp, he was at "El Alamein, and Bougainville, and Okinawa". Meanwhile Carrington, oh dear, is not only shown to be wrong in every single thing he does (except when he quite reasonably objects to the military taking over the civilian station with no more legal justification than "we have guns and you don't"), he wears a heavy coat and a furry hat, he's clearly one of those non-Manly repressed people rather than immediately indulging every emotion he feels, and most of his assistants have foreign accents.

Captain Hendry, on the other hand, is the perfect CO, not only always right in his decisions but willing to take advice from people who know more about a specific subject than he does, And "Nikki" Nicholson is about as strong as female characters got in 1951 – not to mention that she and Hendry clearly have non-marital intentions towards each other. (Many people found it hard to take the Production Code seriously after everyone knew about the reality of WWII, but it got revised and strengthened later in the year.)

At least as far as film is concerned, this is the origin of the alien invasion story, the origin of the base under siege, and certainly the prototype for "aliens are something like Commies". (It could even have used the actual novella to riff on "they look just like us", but that would have to wait for Invasion of the Body Snatchers a few years later.) Yes, James Arness's monster suit clearly owes a lot to Frankenstein's Monster, but where this film fails for a modern viewer it's because the same things have been done since and better, not because things here are being done badly.

As usual if you want more of my witterings you should listen to Ribbon of Memes.

See also:
Who Goes There?, John W. Campbell

  1. Posted by J Michael Cule at 11:28am on 07 November 2021

    In your 'influences' section you inexplicably failed to mention DUCK DODGERS IN THE TWENTY FOURTH (AND A HALF) CENTURY.

    "Happy Birthday, you thing from another world, you."

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 08:09pm on 07 November 2021

    Oddly enough, I have never seen it…

  3. Posted by Chris Suslowicz at 11:07am on 08 November 2021

    What? It's a classic, and contains the "ACME Disintegrating Pistol" - which does exactly what you would expect it to do when fired.

  4. Posted by RogerBW at 12:07pm on 08 November 2021

    I have remedied this deficiency.

    And it was made only two years after this film…

    (Also it has a commonality of cast with the 1979-1981 Buck Rogers TV series.)

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