S P Oldham
The latest of my humble little reviews based on the article written by Wednesday Lee Friday for ScreenRant, 15 Black & White Horror Movies That Are Scary As Hell - https://screenrant.com/scariest-black-and-white-horror-movies-ever-all-time/
Them! Is Number 15 on the list (I remind you I am reading them out of order) and I dithered over whether or not to watch it simply because the title and accompanying picture are very cheesy. Just goes to show you should no more judge a movie by its cover than you should a book – because I really enjoyed it.
First and foremost, I found it exceptionally well-acted, some real naturals amongst the cast, and by that I mean very real on screen, flowing speech – believable I suppose, in spite of the far-fetched concept. There again, there’s still plenty of that about… I really liked the two main male protagonists, James Whitmore as Sergeant Ben Peterson and James Arness as FBI Agent Robert Graham. I can’t claim to be familiar with either of these actors work, although apparently in their day they were big names, and having watched them in this it is easy to see why. I also like the female lead Joan Weldon as Dr Par Medford. Given the era, she plays a strong-willed, intelligent and feisty woman not afraid to stand up the (stereotypically chauvinistic but in a gentlemanly sort of way (they’d never get away with it now) men.)
So, all of that notwithstanding, the plot centres around a desert in New Mexico where the effects of radiation, the result of bomb testing nine years earlies, has resulted in giant mutated ants. They are of course killers, and the only way to eradicate the world of their presence is to find the nest and burn it – before the queen ant leaves. Cue plot twist – more than one queen equals more than one nest, and it appears the ants have moved into the city…
I don’t want to give too much away, so I will simply say that the ending is both happy and sad, depending on who you are rooting for, and leave it at that.
Scary? At the time, probably. The special effects by today’s standards are clumsy, but that is to be expected. In 1954 they were no doubt impressive. The noise the ants make starts out eerie, especially with the windblown desert as a backdrop, but quickly becomes irritating and probably the best reason for killing them! The first twenty minutes or so of the film, when the mystery and tension was building, was in my view the most suspenseful period. I feel they showed us the ‘monster’ too soon and that a lot of the emphasis on fear and trepidation was lost after that. So scary no, fun, yes.
I did find the slightly preachy, foreboding message Dr Medford senior (Pat’s father) delivers at the end to be a little grating, the element of a political message creeping in, although there are other such subtler references throughout. Again though, at the time this no doubt sent shivers up the spines of audience members and was undoubtedly food for thought.
Despite the fact that the excellent acting no doubt carried this film, I can see why this is at Number 15 on the list, and I’ve still a few to watch yet. Recommended for a highly watchable, fun monster flick.