Review: The Thing from Another World

The conflict between Hendry and Carrington is one between Force and Reason.

The Thing from Another World
Photo: Warner Bros.

Legend has it that Christian Nyby’s The Thing from Another World was actually helmed by producer Howard Hawks. The film certainly provides ample evidence to suggest that such a covert switch occurred, given the controlled atmosphere of dread and the rapid-fire repartee between the primary players. Nonetheless, what’s most remarkable about The Thing from Another World (remade in 1982 by John Carpenter as The Thing) is its continued ability to function as both a taut science-fiction thriller and a telling snapshot of the Cold War paranoia that was beginning to sweep the country in post-WWII America.

The story, about a battle between a group of stranded military personnel and a blood-hungry alien creature, is a model of economic storytelling. Soldiers led by no-nonsense Captain Patrick Hendry (Kenneth Tobey) travel to the North Pole to examine an aircraft crash near a scientific outpost. What they discover is a flying saucer and its extraterrestrial pilot, whom they bring back to the lab, frozen in a block of ice, for further study. It’s not long before the Thing (James Arness)—essentially a super-intelligent vegetable man with the ability to regenerate its limbs and reproduce by spreading seeds—thaws out and wreaks havoc.

But Nyby—or, um, Hawks—wisely maintain tension by keeping the creature hidden from view and focusing on the clash between mad scientist Dr. Arthur Carrington (Robert Cornthwaite) and Captain Hendry. Carrington deduces that the Thing feels no emotional or sexual pleasure and, thus, is “our superior in every way,” while Captain Hendry sees the visitor as merely a monster bent on harvesting the planet for mankind’s blood.

An early remark by one military official concerning the burgeoning Soviet presence in the North Pole reinforces the Thing’s allegorical status as communist “other” (one can deduce that Hendry fears the creature not only because it’s emotionless and sexless, but also godless). The conflict between Hendry and Carrington is one between force and reason, and represents a debate over whether America should cope with its Soviet adversaries through military confrontation or intellectual and diplomatic study. Given the ’50s political climate, it’s no surprise that the film’s climax answers such a question by painting the sympathetic Carrington as a danger to mankind and the violent Hendry as a heroic warrior.

 Cast: Margaret Sheridan, Kenneth Tobey, Robert Cornthwaite, Douglas Spencer, James R. Young, James Arness  Director: Christian Nyby  Screenwriter: Charles Lederer  Distributor: Warner Bros.  Running Time: 87 min  Rating: NR  Year: 1951  Buy: Video

Nick Schager

Nick Schager is the entertainment critic for The Daily Beast. His work has also appeared in Variety, Esquire, The Village Voice, and other publications.

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