Greatest Golden Age Sci-Fi Movies - 1951 The thing from another world
A scientific research base near the North Pole and a sudden discovery that places everyone on the base in turmoil: a huge circular shadow which is constantly moving under the ice. This is how the first great science fiction film of the postwar period begins, thanks to an extremely tight and balanced plot; a sense of suspense which is masterfully managed; brilliant, sparkling, and thoroughly profound dialogue; and the direction of the "hidden" uncredited Howard Hawks (a great director that I had the pleasure of meeting late in his life). This is the formula for a motion picture which has earned its rightful place at the peak of the history of cinema, and certainly not only to the science fiction genre of movies.
As everyone knows by now, the film proceeds by narrating the discovery of an alien in a block of ice. This extraterrestrial in spite of its humanoid appearance and a definite intelligence, is actually a monster thirsting for blood (literally)! Only after several attempts is the alien monster drawn into a trap and killed by a massive application of electric current.
How many science fiction fans will have recognized in this plot the famous short novel by John Campbell "Who goes there?" which is clearly one of the masterpieces of the science fiction genre of the first half of the twentieth century? Actually, very little of the novel's plot survives into the movie. In fact, the screenplay only shares the broad strokes of the novel, while the actual characteristics of the alien and the development of the titanic struggle against him, follow vividly different paths.
Why the variation? Undoubtedly, the special effects of the era were not sufficiently evolved to the point that they were able to allowed to create a visual image on the big screen of the type of strange and terrifying creatures that were the feature of the book. However, it is also likely that in the early Fifties the concept that a monster can take on the appearance of a human being, hiding among a group of people, and being able to use its intelligence and cunning to outwit them, was too shocking for viewers of the time.
The audience of the time had become accustomed to a film story structure in which good and bad (usually Cowboys and Indians, or Cops and Gangsters) were quite distinct in a white hat, black hat manner. Therefore a monster who was ferocious and cunning but in reality very little different from the people who are fighting against him, was a revolutionary concept for the era. The audience is left many questions at the end of the movie, including just how intelligent this evil alien was, given the ease with which he falls into the deadly electric trap.
It is interesting to note that before another filmmaker showed the courage to go back and remake the famous novel by John Campbell, more than thirty years will have elapsed.
1951: The thing from another world
Howard Hawks (not shown in the credits)
John W. Campbell Jr. (for the story "Who Goes There?")
Charles Lederer (as a writer)
Howard Hawks (not shown in the credits) &
Ben Hecht (not shown in the credits)
Nikki - Margaret Sheridan
Captain Patrick Hendry - Kenneth Tobey
Dr. Carrington - Robert Cornthwaite
Scotty - Douglas Spencer
Lt. Eddie Dykes (as James Young) - James R. Young
Crew Chief - Dewey Martin
Lt. Ken McPherson - Robert Nichols
Corporal Barnes - William Self
Dr. Stern - Eduard Franz
Mrs. Chapman - Sally Creighton
The Thing - James Arness
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