Cast & Crew
In New Mexico, policemen Ed Blackburn and Sgt. Ben Peterson find a little girl who is stunned and unresponsive, walking through the desert, tightly gripping her damaged doll. Nearby, they find an unoccupied trailer hitched to a car by the side of the road, its metal hull ripped from the inside out. While they investigate, they hear a high-pitched buzz and discover a large, unusual animal footprint on the ground. On their way back to town, the policemen find that a general store has been wrecked and its owner mysteriously killed. Ed stays behind to guard the store, and he, too, is brutally killed after hearing the high-pitched sound. Later, the coroner reports that the storekeeper died from a large injection of formic acid, not from the many fractures on his corpse. Upon learning that the owner of the trailer was a vacationing agent, the FBI sends Robert Graham to investigate. Bob sends a cast of the animal track to the FBI's Washington, D.C. headquarters, and in response, Department of Agriculture entomologists Dr. Harold Medford and his daughter and fellow scientist Patricia, are flown in. At the hospital, Harold examines the little girl, who remains traumatized and uncommunicative until he uncaps a bottle of formic acid under her nose. Jolted into a panic, she screams "Them! Them!" Although Harold has a frightening theory, he withholds it, until it is later confirmed by the appearance of a nine-foot, insect-like creature at the trailer site. By ordering his companions to shoot at the creature's antennae, Harold saves the group from its attack and the creature is killed. Harold then explains that it was a descendant of an ant that was present when the atomic bomb was first tested in the desert in 1945, mutated each generation by lingering radiation. With the help of the local Air Force officers, Brig. Gen. O'Brien and Maj. Kibbee, Harold instigates an aerial search of the desert for the creature's nest. When the nest is found, it is torched and its tunnels gassed with cyanide. Afterward, to determine if all the ants were killed, Bob, Ben and Pat gear up and enter the nest, rappelling through the tunnels hundreds of feet into the earth. After passing many gigantic, dead ants, they reach the queen ant's nest. Seeing that two eggs have hatched, Pat anxiously orders that everything be burned. Back on the surface, Harold and Pat announce that the problem is not over, as two queens appear to have hatched and escaped before the nest was destroyed, and will now mate and start other nests. Ants have limited flying ability during the mating process, Harold explains, but ants of that size would be able to travel a large distance. In top-secret conferences, the Medfords, Bob, Ben, Kibbee and O'Brien meet with Washington officials. After showing film footage demonstrating the strength, ferocity and mating habits of ants, Harold predicts that humans will be extinct within one year if the queens are not destroyed. Secrecy is maintained to avoid worldwide panic, but news is monitored for unusual sightings and mysterious disappearances or deaths. When ant-shaped flying saucers are reported by Texas ranch foreman Alan Crotty, who is then institutionalized, Bob knows that the man is not insane, but to keep the story from spreading, tells his psychiatrist that the FBI will let him know when his patient is well. Having assumed that, so far, only the American continents are in jeopardy, the Medfords and their colleagues are disturbed by reports that a ship on its way from Mexico to Singapore became infested with giant ants that killed all hands. Shortly after the ship is sunk to kill the queen and her offspring, forty tons of sugar is ripped out of a railroad car in Los Angeles. Thinking that the second queen is the culprit, Harold and his colleagues go there to investigate and learn that a man, who was last seen flying model airplanes with his two sons, died mysteriously and his children are missing. From a hospital room overlooking the Los Angeles River, Jenson, a half-coherent drunk, reports that he saw the family and the giant ants near an opening that leads to 700 miles of tunnels under the metropolis. Martial law is instated and the Army is called in. However, because they believe the children are in the tunnels with the ants, they cannot gas or burn out the creatures. Instead, armed with bazookas and flamethrowers, Ben, Bob and Kibbee ride jeeps into the tunnels with the soldiers. After finding the boys alive in a storm drain, Ben gets them to safety, then is killed by an ant. Later, Bob radios to the waiting Pat and Harold that new queens have not hatched in the egg chamber. He orders the chamber burned and the crisis is over. However, Bob later wonders if more mutations from later tests will be discovered. Harold responds that when man entered the atomic age, he opened a door to a new world and what will eventually be found in that new world no one can predict.
Mary Ann Hokanson
Frederick J. Foote
Robert Scott Correll
Mary Lou Holloway
G. W. Berntsen
Francis J. Scheid
William A. Thompson
George Worthing Yates
Best Special Effects
A precursor to all the giant insect movies of the fifties, Them! (1954) was also one of the first science fiction thrillers to issue a warning about the dangers of nuclear testing and radioactivity in the aftermath of the atomic bomb's creation. The film is truly unique in its conception - the first half is constructed like a detective thriller, the second half works as a fantasy adventure with the army and FBI agents invading the storm drains beneath Los Angeles where they hope to locate and destroy the queen ant's nest. Them! also has a welcome sense of humor that sometimes emerges during unexpected but appropriate moments, such as the sequence with the airline pilot (Fess Parker) who is being held for observation at a Brownsville, Texas, mental institution (No one believes his eyewitness account of the mutant ants). These comic touches are not surprising in light of director Gordon Douglas' earlier career: he got his start working for producer Hal Roach, directing Our Gang comedy shorts and Laurel and Hardy features like Saps at Sea (1940). And when Douglas first read the script for Them!, he thought it would make an ideal vehicle for Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin! Luckily, Douglas didn't treat the film as a farce once production began and directed the film in the same terse, fast-paced style of Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (1950) and I Was a Communist for the FBI (1951), two first-rate crime thrillers he previously directed for Warner Brothers.
But if anyone deserves credit for the film's success, it's Ted Sherdeman, a former staff producer at Warner Bros. who was instrumental in developing the project. First, he commissioned the original story from George Worthing Yates, which appeared as a diary account about giant ants nesting in the New York subway. Sherdeman later told Steve Rubin of Cinefantastique magazine that "the idea appealed to me very much because, aside from man, ants are the only creatures in the world who plan and wage war, and nobody trusted the atomic bomb at that time." Yates was also hired to write the screenplay but his version proved to be cost prohibitive since it would have required far too many special effects sequences. Russell Hughes, a contract writer for Warners, was brought in for a rewrite and it was he who fashioned the narrative as a detective story that transitions into a chase thriller in the second half, culminating in a climax at the Santa Monica pier. Unfortunately, Hughes died prematurely from a heart attack, completing only 20 pages of the script, but Sherdeman, undaunted, completed the screenplay himself, though he was forced to change the ending. The cost of renting the Santa Monica pier for one day was too expensive so the storm drains below Los Angeles became the setting for the film's finale. This was actually a much better choice since the dank tunnels provided a much more eerie and claustrophobic atmosphere.
Sherdeman's next hurdle after the scripting was convincing his superiors to produce the movie. He tried to generate interest with drawings and a beautifully shot 16mm film about ants made by two UCLA entomologists (their footage would later be developed into a film for Walt Disney - The Living Desert, 1953). He even went to the trouble of having art designer Larry Meiggs create a three-foot ant head with movable antennae and mandibles which convinced WB executive Steve Trilling to shoot a film test. When studio mogul Jack L. Warner, who wasn't interested in making giant ant movies, saw the test footage, he knew he could sell the idea to a rival studio and offered it to 20th-Century-Fox.
Sherdeman's cherished project almost ended there and would have if he hadn't convinced WB producer Walter McCuhan that the studio was making a big mistake. When McCuhan found out how much Fox was willing to pay for the story, he suddenly realized the commercial potential of Them! and finally got Warner Brothers to back the project. The studio left the casting up to Sherdeman though they initially opposed his choice of Edmund Gwenn for the role of Dr. Harold Medford (they thought he was too old for the part!). But Sherdeman held firm and cast the film with a wonderful group of character actors including James Whitmore as the ill-fated Sgt. Peterson, James Arness as FBI agent Robert Graham, singer Joan Weldon as Dr. Patricia Medford and, in minor roles, Onslow Stevens, Leonard Nimoy, Dub Taylor, William Schallert, Olin Howlin as a wino (he later played the first victim of The Blob, 1958), and most memorably, Fess Parker.
As for the actual filming of Them!, Cinefantastique correspondent Steve Rubin wrote that "Two main ants were constructed, one fully, the other minus the hindquarters and mounted on a boom for mobility. Behind this, a whole crew, mounted on a dolly, manipulated the various knobs and levers that made the mechanical model come alive. Douglas laughed: "You would have a shot where an ant comes into the picture and if you glanced back behind the creature you would see about 20 guys, all sweating like hell!" A number of "extra" ants were also constructed for scenes where large numbers of the creatures appeared, but where mobility was not essential. These ant models were equipped only with heads and antenna that would be activated by the force from the wind-machines used to whip up the sand storms required on the desert locations."
Them! had originally been conceived as a 3-D feature in color and the giant ants were given a purplish shade of green; their eyes were a soapy looking mixture of reds and blues that changed shades constantly and made them appear to be alive. Unfortunately, these effects were lost when Warner Brothers decided to release the film in black and white without the 3-D effect to save costs. Nevertheless, the film still proved to be enormously successful when released, becoming one of the studio's top grossing films of the year and even receiving favorable reviews from critics who usually dismissed horror and sci-fi films. The New York Times review proclaimed Them! "one ominous view of a terrifyingly new world" and that "it is definitely a chiller....fascinating to watch." Jack Warner remained unconvinced, however, and told his staff after a screening, "Anyone who wants to make any more ant pictures will go to Republic!" Obviously, the studio mogul was a poor judge of science fiction films for Them! is among the best, a cautionary tale about the dangers of the atom bomb and a frightening view of nature run amok.
Producer: David Weisbart
Director: Gordon M. Douglas
Screenplay: Russell S. Hughes, Ted Sherdeman, George Worthing Yates (story)
Art Direction: Stanley Fleischer
Cinematography: Sidney Hickox
Costume Design: Edith Head, Moss Mabry
Film Editing: Thomas Reilly
Original Music: Bronislau Kaper
Visual Effects: Dick Smith
Cast: James Whitmore (Sgt. Ben Peterson), Edmund Gwenn (Dr. Harold Medford), Joan Weldon (Dr. Patricia Medford), James Arness (Robert Graham), Onslow Stevens (Brigadier General Robert O'Brien), Sean McClory (Major Kibbee), Fess Parker (Alan Crotty), Sandy Drescher (the Ellinson Girl), Olin Howlin (Jensen).
By Jeff Stafford
Sean McClory (1924-2003)
Born on March 8, 1924 in Dublin, Ireland, he became a leading man at the famous Abbey Theatre in the early '40s and relocated to the United States shortly after World War II. His first roles were small bits as a police officer in two RKO quickies: Dick Tracy's Dilemma and Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome (both 1947). He eventually graduated to more prestigious pictures like The Glass Menagerie (1950), Les Miserables (1952) and John Ford's The Quiet Man (1952).
After a few more supporting roles in quality pictures: Niagara (1953); the sci-fi chiller Them! (1954); and for John Ford again in The Long Gay Line (1955), McClory turned to television. He kept busy for several years with guest roles in a variety of popular shows: Bonanza, Wagon Train, Rawhide, Gunsmoke, The Outer Limits (1964) and countless others. By the mid-'60s, McClory became slightly more heavy-set, and began tossing off variations of jovial, "oirish" blarney for, yet again John Ford in Cheyenne Autumn (1964); and in a string of Disney pictures: Follow Me, Boys! (1966, his best role, a moving performance as the alcoholic father whose behavior alienates his son, played by a 15-year old Kurt Russell); The Happiest Millionaire (1967), and The Gnome-Mobile (1967), before he returned to television. His final role was in John Huston's acclaimed Irish opus The Dead (1987). He is survived by his wife, Peggy Webber McClory.
by Michael T. Toole
Sean McClory (1924-2003)
We may be witnessing a Biblical prophecy come true--the beasts will reign over the earth.- Dr. Harold Medford
Spit's all that's holding me together, too.- Ben Peterson
Boy, if I can still raise an arm when we get out of this place, I'm gonna show you just how saturated *I* can get.- Robert Graham
We haven't seen the last of them.- Dr. Harold Medford
When this movie was first released in Sweden, it was strangely named 'The Spiders'
Was originally supposed to be filmed in color. Two days before shooting began a nervous studio cut the budget and the film had to be made in black and white.
It was also supposed to be in 3-D. Some elements of the 3-D effects, such as the ants having extreme close-ups and the flame throwers shooting straight into the camera, were used in the film.
This was Warner Bros.' highest grossing film of 1954.
The flamethrowers used in the movie were standard World War 2 weapons and were loaned by the US Army. The actors handling the weapons were WW2 combat veterans who had actually used them in battle.
Copyright records state that the film was shot in Eastman Color, and contemporary Hollywood Reporter news items and production charts reported that shooting was in 3-D and WarnerColor, but the final film was shot in black and white. Only the letters in the opening title card were in red and blue, over a black and white background. According to a September 1952 Daily Variety news item, Warner Bros., which had released the successful The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, was eager to make another science fiction film and paid George Worthing Yates $25,000 for his story about giant ants in the New York subway tunnels. A July 1953 New York Times article announced that Russell Hughes would write a screenplay based on Yates's story and Ted Sherdeman would produce it. Later, Sherdeman took over the completion of the script from Hughes and David Weisbart became the film's producer. According to modern sources, the New York locale of Yates's story was moved to the New Mexico desert and the Los Angeles River tunnel system to cut production costs.
According to a modern source, Warner Bros. studio technician Dick Smith designed two full-sized models of giant ants, which were controlled by ropes and pulleys, to interact with the actors. Film footage of smaller models and real ants, enlarged to appear nine to twelve feet long, were intercut with the rest of the film, according to the same source. Hollywood Reporter news items and production charts reported that the film was shot on location in the Mojave desert, near Palmdale. Modern sources identify Los Angeles' Tujunga Wash as the location of the river tunnel scenes. Although their appearance in the film has not been confirmed, November and December 1953 Hollywood Reporter news items add Lloyd Dawson and Charles Meredith to the cast. James Arness, who played FBI agent "Robert Graham" in Them!, was being considered for the lead role in Walt Disney's Davy Crockett television series when, according to modern sources, Disney saw Fess Parker's performance as the Texas rancher in the film and offered him the part. Despite its small budget, Them! was well respected by the critics and became Warner Bros.' largest grossing film of 1954. Modern sources credit it as the first "big bug" movie. It received an Academy Award nomination in the Special Effects category.
According to a September 1955 Daily Variety news item, Dr. John B. Grant of the Rockefeller Foundation filed a federal suit against Warner Bros., asking $200,000 for allegedly invading his right to privacy and ridiculing him in public by using his name and likeness in his professional capacity. The outcome of the lawsuit is not known. According to an October 1999 Daily Variety news item, Artists Production Group, an arm of AMG, planned a remake of the film, which was to be written by Mark Montgomery and directed by Joe Johnston; as of spring 2005, the picture has not been made.
Released in United States Spring April 1954
Released in United States March 1975
Released in United States June 2008
Shown at CineVegas Film Festival (Area 52) June 12-21, 2008.
Released in United States Spring April 1954
Released in United States March 1975 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (Science Fiction Movie Marathon) March 13-26, 1975.)
Released in United States June 2008 (Shown at CineVegas Film Festival (Area 52) June 12-21, 2008.)