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03 July, 2010

DVD Review: THEM!

Title: THEM!

Year of Release—Film: 1954

Year of Release—DVD: 2002

DVD Label: Warner Home Video

THEM! is the grand-daddy of Giant Bug movies, and is easily the best of this sub-genre of 1950’s Sci-Fi/Horror. Directed by Gordon Douglas and starring James Arness, James Whitmore, Edmund Gwenn, and Joan Weldon, this was Warner’s biggest money-maker for 1954, as well as an Oscar-nominee for Best Special Effects.

Though the Atomic-Mutated-Monster theme seems hackneyed today, in the early fifties it was all brand new, frightening, and exciting. After all, the world had entered the Atomic age only nine years prior to the movie’s release, and it really was on the leading edge of the Mutated Beast trend.

Not only is THEM one of the first, it’s by far the best. The acting is far above-par for films of this type, with excellent performances from Arness, Whitmore, and Gwenn. James Whitmore is especially impressive as the laconic, determined State Trooper Ben Peterson, out to avenge the death of his partner due to the ants. The story is strong and well-written, with a plot that makes sense and is remarkably uncontrived. The hunt for the ants progresses in a logical, sensible manner, free of the mass of red herrings common in films of this sort. While the dialogue is typical 1950’s Hollywood, (“Golly-Gosh-Darn, Peggy, that’s a giant ant!”… [no, that’s not an actual quote!—JS]) it’s no worse than usual, and not nearly as bad as some.

This movie has few weaknesses, though Joan Weldon’s acting ability certainly qualifies. She’s the typical Universal Starlet of the ‘40’s and ‘50’s… paid $250 a week to look good, say her lines, and scream on cue. Also, the resolution of the movie seems anticlimactic to me. While the battle in the sewers is exciting, I wanted more of it… maybe a battle through the streets of Los Angeles. What there was was good. It just wasn’t enough.

One thing you can say about Warner Home Video… they know how to put out a quality DVD. Whether for a newly released blockbuster, or a classic from their vaults, WHV always turns out a top-quality offering and the DVD for THEM! is no exception.

They started with an absolutely beautiful print of the film, and added subtitles, a full scene selection menu, and packaged it up nicely.

The only complaint I have on the disc, and this is common to Warner Home Video releases, is their use of their proprietary “Snap Case.” This case, constructed largely of cardboard, is cheaper than the “Keep Case” that is the standard for most manufacturers, offers nowhere near the protection for the disc, and is just a general annoyance to me. Still, that’s a very minor negative in a disc full of positives.

For a fifty-six year old movie, Warner really got it right on the Special Features for this baby. While there are not a large number of them, the quality of the offerings really shines. There’s a “Behind-the-Scenes” look at how the Ants were operated, a photo gallery of on-the-set and publicity stills, a cast biography section, as well as a text history of the “Big Bug” films of the ‘50’s through the ‘90’s.

While the history is interesting, the ant footage is great, and a thrill for fans of the movie, such as yours truly. All the special features are tremendously well-done, and my only complaint is that there isn’t more of them.

If asked to pick one film to define the decade of the ‘50’s, I’d be hard-pressed to find a better choice than THEM. It succeeds on virtually every level, and gave birth to an entire genre of Horror & Sci-Fi films.

I can’t imagine anyone who’s a fan of the 1950’s B-Movie Drive-In type of movie to not want this one in their collection. While the $20 list price is higher than what I consider “Impulse Buy” range, you can always find it cheaper. Besides, this one is too important to pass up, even at full price. You have to have this one… take my word for it!

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