(1951) dir. Christian Nyby, Howard Hawks
The funny thing about this film for me, one that I actually had seen several times as a kid, was that it was my dad’s favorite science fiction/horror film. I grew up loving horror films, “monster movies” as I referred to them then. But this was the only one that my father really liked and would watch with me. I don’t know why. Maybe as a 12 year old he’d seen it in the theater and it had scared him real good. Or maybe it’s simply that The Thing is considered to be one of the best Hollywood science fiction/horror films of all time and my dad simply would have agreed.
Part two of my Howard Hawks double feature, and a part of my ongoing look at 1950’s science fiction films, The Thing is good quality stuff. It’s one of the few films that actually had an excellent re-make, too, John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) might well be Carpenter’s high point as well. I don’t know if it’s because I watched it right after the stunning Scarface (1932) but while the film was very good, I wasn’t as riveted or as impressed as I had been by the earlier gangster film. Hawks’ name doesn’t appear as director, rather as producer, but it is commonly thought that he had a significant hand in directing the film.
It’s a great scenario for a horror film. Following a crash near the North Pole, a team of military men and scientists uncover a spaceship (which they manage to blow-up) and the titular “thing”, an alien being, thought to be of greater intelligence despite the fact that he developed from vegetable matter rather than fauna. He’s a big, scary guy, seen almost entirely in long shots, particularly the compelling image of him strangling the dogs as they leap and fight him. It’s not the clearest of images, shrouded in a snowstorm and silhouette, but the savagery of the action has the power of an E.C. Comics cover.
The film retains the classic 1950’s xenophobia. The alien represents the unknown, the viscious outsider. It also is cynical about science, featuring a ruthlessly committed scientist who would sacrifice the entire outpost to save their visitor. The action is slick and intensely well-handled. When the “Thing” attacks the room and is set on fire, the whole sequence has the action and power of any film perhaps ever shot.
Hawks well deserves his place in the cinema hierarchy. He made some amazing films.