The Thing from Another World

James Arness, in bulging-forehead pre-Klingon latex, is the “intellectual carrot” (“The mind boggles!”) in this fast, witty, scary sf-horror classic based glancingly on the John W. Campbell Jr. story. As Stephen King wrote in his excellent analysis in Danse Macabre, the script is a product of its time and therefore heavily reactionary — anti-Communist, pro-military, anti-intellectual. If you can get past that (and you’ll have to if you expect to enjoy 75% of the horror movies from any decade), you’ll crack up at Charles Lederer’s great speedball dialogue (one area where this film outdoes the John Carpenter remake), from an era when dead spots in the action were occasions for overlapping patter. (You can tell this is a Howard Hawks production; in fact, rumors abound that he directed much of it.) When scientist Robert Cornthwaite attempts to communicate with the savage Thing and is cast aside, it’s a defining moment in American science-fiction cinema, a declaration that the Unknown can’t be trusted or reasoned with; it wouldn’t be seriously challenged until Steven Spielberg’s pair of good-alien films. Frequent collaborators Hawks and Lederer (His Girl Friday, I Was a Male War Bride, Monkey Business, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes) pretty much initiated the American sf-horror craze of the ’50s but never returned to the genre. A perfect popcorn movie.

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