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The complete title of the viewed print was The Thing from Another World. In the opening credits, the words "The Thing" appear first in exaggerated, flaming type, followed by the words "from another world" in smaller, plain type. The picture was copyrighted in early April 1951 under the title The Thing. According to publicity materials contained in the file on the film at the AMPAS Library, producer Howard Hawks added the words "from another world" to avoid confusion with a novelty song entitled "The Thing," which was a hit single at the time of the picture's release. Contemporary reviews list the film by both titles. No cast members are listed in the opening credits. Although Robert Nichols' character is listed as "Lt. Ken Erickson" in the end credits, he is called "MacPherson" in the picture. Author John W. Campbell, Jr. wrote the short story on which the film is based under the pseudonym Don A. Stuart. The story was reprinted in a 1948 collection of Campbell's work, Seven Tales of Science Fiction.
The Thing marked the first co-production between Winchester Pictures Corp., Hawks's company, and RKO. It also marked the directing debut of Christian Nyby, a former editor who had worked with Hawks on To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep and Red River. Modern sources contend that, while Nyby was credited onscreen and in reviews as director, Hawks was actually responsible for most of the direction and contributed to the screenplay. In a 1982 interview, published in the San Jose Mercury News, Nyby acknowledged Hawks's directorial participation, stating that he "discussed every scene with him thoroughly." Nyby also noted that Hawks changed "things to keep the spontaneity of the actors." RKO production records, contained at the UCLA Arts-Special Collections Library, indicate that Hawks directed the sequence in which "The Thing" is set on fire. Production records also note that Ben Hecht contributed rewrites on the picture.
Margaret Sheridan, a former fashion model, made her screen debut in the picture. The CBCS credits Lee Tung Foo and Walter Ng as "Cooks" in the picture, but they did not appear in the final film. Everett Glass is listed by the CBCS in the role of "Wilson," but production records list Percy Hilton. Though not his debut, The Thing was James Arness' best known early screen role. His actual face is never seen in the picture.
Hollywood Reporter news items and studio publicity material add the following information about the production: Zoro was cast as the lead dog in the husky team, but his appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. Scientific equipment worth $500,000 was borrowed from Cal Tech for the production, and Hawks conferred with the heads of three different electronics companies during pre-production. During principal photography, the press was barred from the set because Hawks wanted to keep the Thing's appearance a secret. Because of its abundance of snow, Alaska was first considered as a possible location, but more accessible northern Montana locations, Lewiston and Cut Bank, were finally selected. Two weeks of filming in Cut Bank, MT were planned for December 1950, but the shoot was cut short by a week due to a lack of snowfall. Some scenes were filmed at California Consumers, an ice house in downtown Los Angeles, and at the RKO Ranch in Encino, CA.
According to modern sources, snowy conditions were artificially created at the RKO ranch using tempered masonite and salt. Weather problems in Montana caused the budget to increase from $980,000 to $1.1 million and added weeks to the production schedule, according to modern sources. Modern sources credit Larry Sherwood as dialogue coach. According to the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, despite protests from RKO, The Thing received an "X" certificate, identifying it as not suitable for children, when it was released in Britain.
Many modern critics consider The Thing a seminal science fiction film and note that it was the first Hollywood picture to combine science fiction and monster genres. The picture was reissued in both 1954 and 1957. In 1982, John Carpenter directed a second version of Campbell's story, also entitled The Thing. The Universal picture, which modern sources note was more faithful to the short story than the 1951 film, starred Kurt Russell and A. Wilford Brimley. As of spring 2005, the Sci Fi Channel had announced a miniseries based on The Thing, to be produced by Frank Darabont and David Foster, but filming had not yet begun.