Them! is on my list of top five all-time science fiction movies - love it! This 1954 Warner Brothers creature feature rises above its brethren for the simple reason that it treats its absurd premise perfectly seriously forcing the audience (at least for the duration of the movie) to do likewise. The pacing on this movie is tremendous as it slithers from genre to genre with ease and keeps the audience engaged with several little tales strung together by the overall plot which defines the ultimate menace to mankind.
The story begins (as do all the great monster features) small as two policemen, Ben Peterson (James Whitmore) and Ed Blackburn, discover a catatonic girl roaming the desert. They find what's left of her family's caravan and soon enough the FBI are involved since her Dad was an agent. Agent Robert Graham (James Arness) joins with Ben Peterson to investigate the crime. Peterson's partner Blackburn is also mysteriously missing after another murder of a local store owner was discovered.
They are going nowhere when they are suddenly joined by Washington D.C. scientist Dr.Harold Medford (Edmund Gwynn) and his daughter Dr. Pat Medford (Joan Weldon) who, after much ballyhoo inform them all that giant ants are the culprits.
The story shifts into a monster hunt as giant ants confront the quartet and they join up with two army officers to hunt the nest and determine the scope of the threat. They go into the nest and find that two queen ants have escaped. A nationwide hunt ensues and they find that one queen hatched a brood aboard a Navy ship and is killed. The other remains elusive until they track it, after some dogged detective work and luck, to the drainage systems of Los Angeles. The climax of the movie erupts with military vigor as the final confrontation with the giant ants is made.
The movie changes gears back and forth as our heroes become whatever the story demands to keep the yarn spinning. Beautifully drawn character actors step forth to bring momentary luster to the proceedings like Fess Parker as a bewildered pilot, Dub Taylor as a put-upon railway employee, and Olin Howlin as a delightful drunk.
The little girl who opens the story is played by Sandy Drescher and she does a memorable job, compelling and frightening. The movie is a wee bit scary when it needs to be and becomes rife with military bluster when that moment calls. James Whitmore's character is the moral center of the tale, a man who seems genuinely to care about others more than himself, a noble public servant -- a hero.
If you haven't seen Them! you must. It's a keeper.
Return tomorrow when more ants rise up.