Caftan Woman

Caftan Woman

Friday, May 15, 2015

National Classic Movie Day - My Favourite Classic Movie blogathon




This post is part of the My Favorite Classic Movie blogathon in celebration of National Classic Movie Day (May 16th).  Click here to view the schedule listing all the great posts in this blogathon.


Sometime in 1994 I had the following conversation with my mother.  

SHE (offhandedly as she kissed the grandchildren goodbye after a visit):  "Do you have any plans for tonight?"

ME (shocked that she appeared to be unaware of that evening's TV schedule):  "The Thing from Another World is on."

SHE (exasperated):  "Oh, you always watch that "Thing"!"

It's true.  I always watch that "Thing".  I was introduced to this favourite movie by Elwy Yost, the host of TV Ontario's Magic Shadows back in 1974.  My recollection is that it was the first movie shown on Magic Shadows.  The premise of Magic Shadows was that one movie would be shown in four or five parts throughout the week with educational aspects and background of the film provided by former teacher Elwy and guests.  There was a serial on Friday unless the movie ran over.


"We found one! We found a flying saucer!"


My first viewing of The Thing from Another World was piecemeal, but it didn't dim my enjoyment.  Elwy was an enthusiastic friend with whom to share movies.  He made the all-consuming pastime of watching classic movies "okay".  I still get shivers recalling how the first episode break came when the airmen and the scientists spread out to determine the size and shape of the thing under the ice.  Oooh!

John W. Campbell's novella Who Goes There? in which a research team in the Antarctic battles a shape-shifting, telepathic alien was the basis for the 1951 film.  Charles Lederer (His Girl Friday, Ride the Pink Horse) wrote the screenplay with uncredited input from Ben Hecht (The Front Page, Where the Sidewalk Ends) and Howard Hawks.

  
Robert Cornthwaite, Margaret Sheridan,  Everett Glass
Paul Frees, Norbert Schiller, George Fenneman

A team of scientists on a remote outpost near the Arctic Circle have recorded some unexplained activity which requires the attention of the Air Force.  The scientists are led by Dr. Carrington played by Robert Cornthwaite.  His fellow scientists are played by Eduard Franz, John Dierkes, Sally Creighton, Paul Frees, George Fenneman, Edmund Breon, Everett Glass and Norbert Schiller.  Radio operator Tex is played by Nicholas Byron and the cook, Lee by Lee Tung Foo.  Margaret Sheridan is Nikki, Dr. Carrington's assistant.

"Who wants some coffee?"

 
James Young, Robert Nichols, Douglas Spencer, Kenneth Tobey

Heading up the Air Force contingent is Kenneth Tobey as Captain Hendry.  His crew is made up of actors Dewey Martin, James Young, Robert Nichols and William Self (in charge of production).  That part in parentheses is for those of us who grew up watching television in the 60s where we read that credit at that end of many programs when Self left acting for a career as a producer.  Douglas Spencer plays "Scotty", a newspaper man hoping there is a story to be had in this expedition to the North Pole.

"I didn't belong at Alamein or Bougainville or Okinawa. I was just kibitzing. And I write a very good obit, obituary to you." 

The elements that were gleaned from Campbell's story are the isolated setting and the imminent threat to mankind.  Through misstep and chance, a humanoid creature found flash frozen under the ice is brought back to the research station where it thaws, creating death and havoc.  Communications are down so the only help for our valiant men and women is what they can do for themselves.  The sleep deprived and overly analytical Dr. Carrington proves to be an adversary to human safety with his single-minded schemes to understand the phenomena from space.

"We owe it to the brain of our species to stand here and die... without destroying a source of wisdom." 



Four years since his start in movies (Farmer's Daughter) and four years prior to the biggest break of his career (Gunsmoke), James Arness was cast as the boogeyman in The Thing from Another World.  From James Arness: An Autobiography published in 2001:

"In all honesty I would have to say that my height and size contributed to the successes I've enjoyed throughout my movie and television career.  They certainly were major factors when I was selected to play the alien monster in RKO's The Thing, produced by the famed Howard Hawks." 

"What can we learn from that thing except a quicker way to die?" 

The Thing from Another World has a look and a sound that contributes to its atmosphere of danger and siege.  The exemplary black and white cinematography is by six-time Oscar nominee (To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Race, Blackboard Jungle, Hatari!, Hawaii, The Big Sky) Russell Harlan.  Harlan was a former stuntman and actor who turned to the camera in the 1930s and became the lead cinematographer on the Hopalong Cassidy series.  The quality of his work on those films are a big argument for that series popularity to this day.  Russell Harlan would collaborate with Howard Hawks on 7 pictures from 1948s Red River to 1964s Man's Favorite Sport?.



Another frequent Hawks collaborator is composer Dimitri Tiomkin (Only Angels Have Wings, Red River, The Thing from Another World, The Big Sky, Land of the Pharaohs, Rio Bravo).  Tiomkin's score for this movie is both commanding and eerie, making use of the theremin, so appropriate for the imaginative science fiction films of the time.  The score is not among Tiomkin's 17 Oscar nominations from 1939s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington to 1970s Chaykovsky.  His Academy wins are High Noon, The High and the Mighty and The Old Man and the Sea.

The Thing from Another World and The Big Sky are the only two movies from Howard Hawks' production company Winchester Pictures Corporation.  Hawks is the credited producer and, most likely, uncredited director or co-director on The Thing from Another World.  Christian Nyby, Hawks' editor on To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep, Red River and The Big Sky was given his first directing credit on this picture and subsequently directed much well-remembered television including Perry Mason, Bonanza, Wagon Train, Mayberry R.F.D. and Adam-12.  Over the years different cast members in different interviews recall different versions of who actually directed The Thing from Another World.  Perhaps it depends on which day they were working.  That the movie bears Hawks stamp is no surprise given the close working relationship of all involved.

The Thing from Another World fits the Hawks mold of competent men and women getting on with their jobs.  It is a script laced with humor in the face of risk.  The romantic subplot steers clear of mush, with both characters on an equal footing - when the girl allows it.  The acting ensemble plays together like a well-rehearsed orchestra, clearly enjoying their feisty characters and handling the overlapping dialogue with delightful surety.

The Hawks movie world as presented in The Thing from Another World is one that appeals to me.  In my imagination I would like to display such skill; to be so calm when disaster strikes and casual with my affection.  And I've come pretty close a time or two.  Inspiration and entertainment are the hallmarks of The Thing from Another World that make it my most watched favourite classic movie.

"Watch the skies, everywhere! Keep looking. Keep watching the skies!" 







52 comments:

  1. "Watch the skies!" I remember that so well -- I LOVE The Thing! If I even get a whiff that it might be on TV, I plan my whole day around it just like you. The feeling of terrible cold and claustrophobia really came across to me as a kid, and the music is indeed perfect. (Thanks for the clip!) You touch on some really interesting aspects of the movie's making, CW. Wonderful article!

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    1. Thanks, Becky. I know we can count on each other when we're trapped and fighting for the survival of the planet.

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  2. I love well-written science fiction films, but they're hard to find. Thank you for recommending this one! It's the humor that's so key (i.e., Harrison Ford in the first Star Wars, which admittedly, doesn't have the best script in spite of its many other pros).

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    1. You are so right. It all starts with the words. With such a good script, everything else about the production can soar.

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  3. I admit I've never seen it, but your eclectic taste in movies never fails to impress me, and crack me up. Thank you for, yet again, guiding me through the chaos to a film which might just save me. I'll keep an eye open for it now.

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    1. I boldly predict that this movie will win you over in no time flat.

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  4. How does John Carpenter's remake compare, in your opinion?

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    1. Excellent, but not as a remake. It is a closer take to the ideas in the original story and although a little too gory for my tastes, Carpenter created something true to his vision. He really makes you feel the isolation.

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  5. CW, I'm pretty fond of "that Thing", too! It is the first science fiction film that I can remember seeing. That was a pretty good introduction to the genre, wasn't it? It appeals for all the reasons you stated, but the best part for me is the isolated snowy setting. That enhances the chills significantly (and THE THING crosses over into the horror genre at times). It took me awhile to appreciate John Carpenter's remake, but I've become a fan of his remake as well.

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    1. Great introduction. The horror chills are there, but with that something extra. Maybe you don't believe in ghosts, but aliens are something you can't really be sure of.

      I love "The Thing from Another World", but you can sense Carpenter's appreciation for the earlier film in his reimagining (love that word).

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  6. I LOVE the fact that this movie is Appointment Viewing for you. That is awesome!

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  7. Like Rick, The Thing was one of the first science fiction films I ever watched. As you mention, Hawks stamp is all over this film whether he directed most or just certain scenes. I always watched it as a Howard Hawks film. Carpenter film is completely different. It's good but I always preferred the original.

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    1. So many memorable lines and performances. A pleasure every time I watch it.

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  8. I have a feeling if my father were a blogger, he'd be writing about The Thing this weekend! Which means, I've seen this baby quite a few times, great selection! Big fan of the Carpenter version too, and I even enjoyed the more recent prequel.

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    1. I think I like your dad!

      One of my few parenting missteps (!!) was trying to get my daughter to watch this with me too early. She was 6 or so. Left the room before it barely started and wouldn't give it another chance until she was 20. She says she gets why I like it, but has never joined me for a rewatch. H'm.

      I've not seen the latest member of The Thing family yet. Must keep that in mind.

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  9. Hawks later claimed that he directed, but gave Nyby the credit to get him in the Directorss' Guild. 'Course scifi was bottom of the food chain then, but a profitable genre..Hawks considered a really alien-looking alien, before he decided to "Just make it look like Frankenstein". Spielberg was going to use "Watch The Skies" as a title, back when ET was to be a much nastier critter.

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    1. I didn't know ET started out in life as an enemy. That's the way I prefer my outer space aliens - as something to be eliminated.

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  10. Excellent choice! "The Thing" is my favorite 1950s sci-fi/monster movie (with "Them!" a close second). It's possibly the movie I've watched the most times over the years. Not surprisingly, the urge to watch my DVD of "The Thing" usually occurs with the first chill of winter weather!

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    1. Early in November, I pour a glass of something warming and settle in with Scotty and the gang. "Them!" is a definitely must see. Always ends the same way no matter how loudly I shout at James Whitmore.

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  11. Great choice! I saw this on a 50 foot screen several years ago and you are so right about the exemplary black and white cinematography -- it's even more obvious how well it sets the tone on a huge screen. The original was paired with the John Carpenter version and most of us in the audience left preferring the original.

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    1. Tracy, how I envy you seeing this film on the big screen. It is a dream of mine. I'm not surprised, but very pleased that the audience preferred this favourite. So glad you dropped by.

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  12. One of the greatest science-fiction films ever made, and still the best version of the story.

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  13. Oh, CW, you are a woman full of surprises. If it's your favorite, it must be something I will have to watch. Now normally, if I see this film on the schedule I'll just pass, but now have to remember that Caftan Woman recommended it and I will have to watch (and report back to you). As always, a well written and convincing post, my dear.

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    1. Thanks so much. The thought that I may have lead you to this treat of a film makes me giddy.

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  14. Tho it's really not a version of the paranoid novella, uses just the setup, but not the characters, nor the shape-shifting nature of the alien. The story gets a jump on such films as Invasion of The Body Snatchers.

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    1. It is part of that sometimes troubling relationship between books and movies. The novella is extremely unsettling and the idea worked well in this movie version.

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  15. Great use of black and white. Wonderful direction. Unforgettable score. CW, thanks for doing that "Thing" you do!

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  16. The movie came out in 1951; I don't know when it first started playing on TV, but it must have been the mid- to late-50s, because I started watching it then and have never stopped. It was the first movie I bought when I first got a VCR, a laser disc, a DVD player, and my first illegal torrent! :) I prefer it to Carpenter's remake, though that was closer to Campbell's novella. I'm always going back to watch this and "The Day The Earth Stood Still." Not just favorite sci-fi movie, but favorite movie, period.

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    1. I think all your "firsts" involving "The Thing from Another World" are terrific, and say so much about your connection to the movie. The film has so many fans that we don't even have to explain it to each other. We all know why it is so special.

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    2. Indeed it is special. Watching Ken Tobey/Capt. Hendry and his crew (how I wish they had made a movie just about those guys and their war-time experiences before this timeframe) led me to Tobey and his later TV show "Whirlybirds," which cemented my interest in aviation and then space exploration, which has also continued to this day. Small movie, large legacy.

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    3. Amazing. You never know where inspiration will be found and what impact it will have.

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  17. Loved this post! I didn't realize that Howard Hawks produced it! It becomes extra-interesting when viewed through that lens. I loved this line: "In my imagination I would like to display such skill; to be so calm when disaster strikes and casual with my affection." It is an enticing world, isn't it?

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    1. It is a most enticing world. You never know when you start out to watch a movie, which one will have the greatest effect on your life.

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  18. I haven't seen this film, but after reading your post and hearing that Howard Hawks was involved, I think I'll have to add it to my list! Sounds very interesting.

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    1. It's a real winner. I can't help but think this movie will become one of your own favourites.

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  19. If I had to guess your favorite movie, it certainly wouldn't be The Thing from another World! (I thought about something like a musical or a detective adventure). But, lady, you have a great and varied taste!
    Dimitri Tiomkin's name in the credits always makes me happy. His scores are superb! The only matter I had with this film is that there is only one female cientist. Boo.
    Thanks for the kind comment!
    Le

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    1. It's fun to think we can still surprise each other after all this time!

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  20. Your enduring love for this is infectious! If there's any genre I'm woefully ignorant of it's 1950s sci-fi - I've just never got around to it. I look forward to checking this - and the others you mentioned out. Thank you :)

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    1. You'll find a mixed bag in 50s sci-fi, but it will definitely be a fun and eye-opening journey.

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  21. Great job covering this sci-fi classic, Caftan Woman! I share your love for this THING, for all the reasons you mention. I think the lack of big star name talent really adds to the believable ensemble feel. The concept of "Magic Shadows" sounds really interesting, splitting a movie up in several parts like that. THE THING is paced in such a way that it might lend itself well to such treatment, ending with some suspenseful cliffhangers each day.

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    1. "Magic Shadows" was a much anticipated treat at the end of the day. They really chose the right movie to start off the series.

      I have noted over the years that we fans of "The Thing from Another World" are a loyal bunch. We "get" it, and we love it.

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    2. Great thing about '50's scifi was it was such a disreputable genre you could apply almost any subtext to it, and no one would notice. Certainly Rod Serling took advantage of that. Even in something like Superman And the Mole Men, there's an anti lynch mob message right during the McCarthy Era.

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    3. True. Once a story is "ours", we can make of it what we will. And when the wise guys look down their noses at something, it is easier to say what you want.

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  22. Paddy, THE THING... is one of Team Bartilucci's favorite movies, and we love the cast, too! But beware if you watching it from TCM, as it's not a good version; go for the best version! I also get a kick out of the witty romance with Margaret Sheridan and Kenneh Tobey! Your taste in movies is tops, Paddy! Warmest wishes to you and yours, my friend!

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    1. I appreciate any and all warnings, but you know darn well if I'm channel surfing and THE THING comes into view, I'm stopping and staying. You know you'd be doing the same thing!

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  23. Very well written up here, comprehensive and evocative of the mood of the movie.
    I fully agree with those sentiments you expressed at the end about being attracted to the world Hawks creates - not the besieged ice station of course so much as the lose-knit and dependable group dynamic, it does draw you in.
    Colin

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    1. Thank you. It is indeed a movie that seems to get under people's skin and into their hearts.

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  24. Great piece, this. Love how you did this, really nice writing.

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