Happy 70th Anniversary to THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD!

It creeps… It crawls… It strikes without warning!

A group of scientists and military officers at a remote Arctic outpost near the North Pole discover a mysterious craft buried in ice. They also find a body, similarly entombed, and excavate it from its frozen grave.

And — as things tend to do in stories of this sort — everything goes straight to Hell, for what they have discovered is not a human or indeed like anything on Earth. Instead, what they’ve found is….

Following premieres in Cincinnati and Dayton as well as Washington, D.C., The Thing from Another World stomped its way onto theater screens across the United States on April 7th, 1951, seventy years ago today. The film’s screenplay was written by Charles Lederer, loosely adapting John W. Campbell, Jr.’s seminal 1938 novella Who Goes There? (originally published as a 12-capter serial in the magazine Astounding Science Fiction under Campbell’s pen name, Don A. Stuart).

A pre-Gunsmoke James Arness as “the Thing.”

While managing to hit most of the original story’s main beats, the script also takes a few liberties. First, it inserts into the narrative a new character in the form of journalist Ned Scott, who flies with an Air Force crew from Anchorage, Alaska, to the outpost after hearing about a mysterious plane crash they’re being sent to investigate, and which turns out to be the alien spacecraft. The most notable deviation from Campbell’s novella is “the Thing” itself. Described in the original story as a creature which can essentially turn itself into a duplicate of any living thing it encounters and kills, here it’s brought to life in the form of actor James Arness. Still a few years away from the role which ultimately would make him a television icon – Marshal Matt Dillon in the long-running TV series Gunsmoke – here Arness is outfitted with makeup, prosthetics and costuming which would become all too common when realizing alien beings in 1950s science fiction films. The effect is heightened somewhat by the decision to keep the Thing largely cast in shadow, to the point where we never really get a good look at its face.

Though humanoid in appearance, this “Thing” is described as being more akin to vegetation; a “super carrot” as mentioned in the film itself. It doesn’t display the shape-changing abilities depicted in Campbell’s original story, but it’s got a fierce appetite for human blood, which naturally motivates the scientists and military men to find some way of killing the alien before it finds them and commences to snackin’. With the alien seemingly hiding behind every corner, attacking and killing people while also destroying vital equipment including the furnace providing heat the outpost’s heat, the team’s surviving members work quickly to find some way of combating the creature. They finally succeed in electrocuting it, . With the immediate threat neutralized, journalist Scott radios back to Anchorage about the incredible encounter he and the others have just survived, and includes a warning that there may be more aliens like the one they’ve just defeated.

As is the case with several science fiction films of the 1950s, aliens and threats from space offered screenwriters cover as they commented on the threat of the Russians and “the Red Scare” of communism which was so prevalent in post-World War II America. Before the team discovers the truth about the wrecked spaceship, there’s even speculation that the crash could be a plane belonging to the Russians, who are described as being “all over the pole like flies.” The alien “Thing” naturally is meant to stand in for the unseen enemy that is communism, which lurks in the shadows, ready to pounce on our heroic American servicemen and even the scientists working – perhaps naively, in some cases – to understand this new life form rather than see it indiscriminately destroyed.

Produced by Hollywood legend Howard Hawks, The Thing from Another World was a modest critical and commercial success when it was released in 1951. Though it’s officially listed as being directed by Christian Nyby, rumors and stories persist that Hawks, a prolific director and writer as well as a producer, actually directed most of the film. Likewise, Hawks is also acknowledged with an uncredited rewrite of Charles Lederer’s script.

Often mistakenly referred to as a remake, 1982’s The Thing from writer/director/producer John Carpenter is in reality a much more faithful adaptation of Campbell’s original novella, and of course it’s also a classic in its own right; one of the absolute classic SF/horror movies of the 1980s if not all time. That film got its own prequel, the confusingly titled The Thing, in 2011. I have less laudatory feelings about this one but it’s far from the worst flick I’ve ever seen. Of somewhat lesser renown is 1972’s Horror Express, a production from Spain that’s another very loose adaptation of Who Goes There? and which takes place on a train rather than a remote Arctic or Antarctic outpost. Why? Because the studio obtained a massive train set, and a producer demanded scripts which could make use of it as a filming location. Therefore, the film takes place almost entirely within the confines of these train interiors. Talk about your bottle shows!

As for future adaptations, there have been on-again/off-again reports of a new take on the original story, in the form of adapting Campbell’s Frozen Hell, a novel he wrote and from which he extracted the material which became Who Goes There? The original novel manuscript was discovered in 2018 and eventually published in 2019 following a successful crowdfunding campaign. In addition to the novel itself, an anthology of short stories inspired by the original novella, Short Things, was also was curated and published that same year.

In the decades since its release, The Thing from Another World has come to be recognized as one of the best of 1950s science fiction movies, frequently mentioned alongside Forbidden Planet, The War Of the Worlds, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, When Worlds Collide, and — of course, The Day the Earth Stood Still. It’s one of my personal favorites….along with these others I just namechecked (though I admit it’s behind TDTESS on my list).

“Every one of you listening to my voice…tell the world. Tell this to everybody wherever they are: Watch the skies everywhere. Keep looking. Keep watching the skies.”

4 thoughts on “Happy 70th Anniversary to THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD!

  1. I love The Thing it’s one of my favorite horror /sci-fi movies. I haven’t watched the 80s version but I have read Who goes there. The 50s sci-fi movies are some of my favorites, War of the Worlds,and Forbidden Planet are also among my favorites.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I thought I saw something this week indicating that Arness didn’t much care for it. Well, it’s a favorite around our place anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

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