Monster of the Day #38

While his brother toiled in the lowest ends of ’50s sci-fi, James Arness had rather better luck, starring in two of the decade’s absolute best movie monsters.  Indeed, in this instance he actually played the menace, the first cinema creature in a decade that would become the golden age of movie monsters.

  • John Nowak

    I just saw this again recently — the “Science vs. Military” conflict was quite a bit more nuanced than I remembered.

  • BeckoningChasm

    In many ways, this is a perfect movie.

  • Reed

    This and Forbidden Planet make a hell of a double feature.

  • Yeah, I really can’t say enough good things this film. As BC says, it’s pretty much perfect. The scene with them waiting for the alien in a darkened room is just a great sequence, and it’s amazing how the bit where they open the door and the monster is right there remains startling no matter how many times you see the film. Perfect direction by Howard Hawks, a great cast (easily Kenneth Tobey’s best role), and a very nice grace note at the end where they avoid demonizing the foolish scientist.

  • Terrific movie, terrible monster.

  • BeckoningChasm

    Robert Cornthwaite’s best role, too. I know, who? His makeup is so good that he said he got lots of offers, only to be told at the audition, “Why, you’re not an old man at all!”

    I love the little touches, like when Hendry subtly points the hysterical guard’s gun away from the middle of the room.

    And of course, we have comic relief that’s actually funny. Not just Scotty, but most of the cast.

    I could go on all day about this film, so I’ll stop and just recommend you see it.

  • BobTanaka

    I don’t care what anyone else says; I think this monster is really cool.

  • The suspense was superior for its time (or any other time, for that matter). The other really superior flick for Arness, of course, was the all-time great horror classic “Them”.

  • The concept of the moster was cool – a vegetable creature that drinks blood and grows pods.

    The realization of the monster was lame – it looks like a poor man’s Frankenstein.

    It was great that you hardly ever get a good look at it, but be fair – there were much better monster suits even at the time.

  • KeithB

    Another example where the movie(s) and the short story are both excellent.

  • Sandy — I agree, the monster is the weakest part (the opposite of so many other films!), but Hawks was wise enough to cloak it in shadows or just give glimpses of it.

  • BC: I’m pretty sure we’ve got a higher than normal percentage of people here who know who Bob Corthwaite is! And yes, if there were five sci-fi/horror films I were to recommend, this would be high on the list.

  • Elizabeth

    Hell yeah blood-drinking space carrot.

    I used this movie in a term paper on America’s love/fear relationship with science, representing Science the Appeaser. Worked great.

  • I guess someone has to be the outsider here, but I liked John Carpenter’s version more. The monster was truer to the one in the original short story, there was no romantic subplot getting in the way, and it just freaked me out more when I saw it as a kid in 1982. It was also one of the last movies I saw at the drive-in that used to be in St Peters, MO, before the googleplex replaced it. The 50s Thing is still a good movie, but Carpenter’s version holds a warmer place in my heart.

  • Rock Baker

    Indeed a great film, but then Hawks knew how to do what he did. And talk about gutsy, at the time he made this, monsters were considered kiddie stuff!

  • Rock Baker

    “It was also one of the last movies I saw at the drive-in that used to be in St Peters, MO, before the googleplex replaced it. The 50s Thing is still a good movie, but Carpenter’s version holds a warmer place in my heart.”

    I can see that. And you’re certainly entitled to that opinion, many of us love the Carpenter version. What makes them stand apart is that one is a science fiction/adventure movie and the other is a horror movie. The kid in me likes the 51 version, the adult part of me likes both takes for different reasons.

  • John — Again, the movies are different enough that I don’t even know if comparing them makes sense. And I’ll point out that the original has a very *good* romantic element, not something you can say about a ton of genre pictures. It doesn’t feel forced, the characters actually feel as if they like each other, and man, Margaret Sheridan could wear a pair of slacks.

  • Rock — Re: Hawks being gutsy, remember, he didn’t take the director’s credit! And nice call on Earth vs. the Spider, which I’ve always preferred to the much more upscale Tarantula.

  • Re: The songs, which I wrote a loooong time ago, I was mostly inspired by Son of Svengoolie (now just Svengoolie) who does a weekly song parody tied to that’s night movie. I tried these occasionally back in the day, but think I only did some for The Swarm and Brain from Planet Arous. I could try it all the time, however, and never top Sven’s opening for his Night of the Living Dead song, sung to The Night Has a Thousand Eyes by Bobby Vee:

    They saw that all the boys have to have her,
    but I’m got a horrid hunch,
    that if she meets a human cadavere,
    that he’ll want to have her for lunch.

    It goes on from there. Really one of his best.

  • Rock Baker

    Hawks may not have taken the director’s credit (which was done as a favor to Nyby, wasn’t it?) but his name and mark are still all over the picture. I’d still call it as a gutsy move. It’d be like John Ford producing (or even distributing) a similar picture. Given what the results would’ve been, I wish he had produced a monster flick!

    I like both the giant spider movies, but I think ‘Earth vs’ better captures the feel of American 50s sci-fi films (that and Monolith Monsters would make a fine double feature). I think its the teenage angle. (Plus, I can think of few actresses that have everything I like in a woman as much as June Kenney, tho Gloria talbott comes very, very close!)

  • Oh, yeah, Hawk’s fingerprints are ALL over TfAW. Indeed, it’s one of the more representational films of his oeuvre. There’s no doubt at all he directed it. Still, he could winkingly disown it if he wanted to.

  • BeckoningChasm

    Even Christian Nyby has said, “Well, obviously for my first film as director, I’m going to use everything I’ve learned from Howard Hawks.” I’m sure Nyby yelled “Action!” and “Cut!” but there were many discussions during set ups.

  • My dissatisfaction with the monster does not extend to the movie as a whole, which I love beyond measure. Indeed, when my son wanted to see “The Thing” I made him watch the Hawks version, then the Carpenter version, and he agreed that both were fantastic films.

  • sandra

    I remember someone writing to the TV Answer man to complain that she watched THE THING because Tv Guide said that James Arness was in it, but she didn’t see him.:-D We never do get as clear a look at the monster as we so in the photograph.

  • John Nowak

    I’m mixed about the monster design. It looks awful in stills, but since you barely see it in the film it works pretty well there.

    I seem to recall that James Cameron said the Alien costumes for Aliens were designed to be easy to move about in — he wasn’t going for “doesn’t look like a man in a suit;” he was going for “doesn’t move like a man in a suit.”

    Ironically, the Daleks seem to have taken the opposite approach — the idea there was to accept limited mobility as long as the human form was concealed.