July 3, 2006

The Thing from Another World (1951)
Grade: 66/100

Director: Christian Nyby
Stars: Kenneth Tobey, Margaret Sheridan, Robert Cornthwaite

What it's about. A sentient, violent alien is found frozen in the Artic. A team of military and scientific personnel recover the alien, which naturally melts, comes to life, and goes on a rampage. The officers are led by even-tempered Captain Hendry (Kenneth Tobey), who has the hots for interested brunette Nikki (Margaret Sheridan). A veteran comic-relief journalist (Douglas Spencer) is added to the mix, along with a "mad" scientist (Robert Cornthwaite). The monster itself is played by James Arness, later of "Gunsmoke" fame.

How others will see it. This classic science fiction story is better known today by its John Carpenter remake from 1982. Obviously, the remake has better special effects, and is less constrained by a production code (i.e. the violence can be limitless). But the original has its advantages, such as a snappy script and appealing characters.

How I felt about it. There's no shortage of suspense, and although the romance is both unnecessary and hurried (yet inevitable), it hardly interferes with the main story, man versus monster. As usual in this type of film, the monster is nearly impossible to stop, much less kill, and "he" is smarter and stronger than his human foes.

But determined military teamwork is up to the job, thanks in particular to the Crew Chief (Dewey Martin), who has the monopoly on good ideas. Hendry also knows when to ignore orders from headquarters, since following them would put his team at peril. He also knows better than to listen to the Mad Scientist, whose love for the Frankenstein-like alien has no limits.

Story holes. We have a plane that can pass through the Earth's atmosphere without a scratch, yet it disintegrates to nothing once melted from the ice. We have an alien pilot, allegedly of great intelligence, who choses to land his craft on an Arctic glacier. Presumably, the alien is inside the craft, which burns to nothing, yet the alien inside is unharmed.

Once revived in Mummy-like fashion, the monster's actions prove predictable. The soliders are able to anticipate, and prepare for, his two unfriendly visits to their shelter. It would be wrong, however, to complain about the stereotype of scientists as "mad," since only Cornthwaite is so affected. The other doctors are both pleasant and practical.

I can complain, though, that the Big Man On Campus (Tobey) is prodded into romance with the only attractive women within a hundred miles (Sheridan) by his own crew. It's mindful of a prom king compelled to date the prom queen. And you think they could have preserved at least one of the pods inside a block of ice. As a souvenir, or at least as evidence for their preposterous story.