We don’t get a chance to look inside during a bout of cheerful boredom, though. It only becomes a primary setting when an Air Force crew is dispatched there. An unknown flying aircraft has just crashed outside the base, and the head of the facility, the donnish Dr. Carrington (Robert Cornthwaite), is slightly fearful that something might be amiss.
And amiss something is — the aircraft turns out to be of the UFO kind, and inside of it is not one of the great Simpsons (1989-present) mouth-waterers but a titanic, shape-shifting beast who wants human hosts to help its race take over the Earth.
But Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) this isn’t: all The Thing From Another World is is one of those survival thrillers where the stakes end up being pretty low, where only a few casualties enliven the scoreboards, where the villain is defeated, and where one of the characters gives a heroic speech at the end and we’re supposed to have our palms pressed against our chests, moved.
Its ideas would bear more weight if the movie were actually nihilistic. The premise is terrifying for a variety of traditional reasons: the setting is inescapable, the foe quite literally comes out of nowhere, and the characters are intelligent and thoughtful and yet still struggle to outsmart the being trying to best them.
But the film is treated as a bleaker-than-usual adventure yarn by its makers, director Christian Nyby and screenwriters Charles Lederer, Howard Hawks (rumored to be the film’s real director), and Ben Hecht, and the lacking of palpable fear on the part of the characters and story makes The Thing From Another World’s grip loosen.
Its ending, optimistic and patriotic, is especially disappointing — we’re thinking we’re in for a we-cannot-defeat-all-the-evils-in-this-world kind of pessimism, but the movie does a 180 and gives us Hays Code hope. How much more powerful the film would be if it ended on a note that asserted that cinema’s greatest heroes don’t always get to make it to the end.
At least the characterizations are solid and the dialogue’s always half-joking; I especially got a kick out of female lead Margaret Sheridan, who’s really only there to be someone’s love interest and yet is a snappy, self-possessed femme who crashes this boy’s club and actively is a major part of the film’s action-packed set pieces.
But I vastly prefer the 1982 John Carpenter remake — an unforgivable sin by the standards of many — because it’s so much more bare and much more horrifying. Best yet, it has the all-is-lost conclusion that suits this material so much better. The Thing From Another World is sporadically thrilling, and can still be applauded for being among the few horror features of the time without camp sticking around to tarnish its name. But why leap downward into a horror movie that isn’t all that committed to turning our blood cold? C+
Robert O. Cornthwaite
1 Hr., 27 Mins.
The Thing From Another World October 12, 2017
he great wide open of the tundra is more claustrophobic than a windowless cell in The Thing From Another World (1951). In the film, it swamps a rusting scientific outpost, where the research is deep and therefore makes for a sleepy, almost invisible home base for the lab coats living there.