Don't Open That Door! #51: 'The Thing From Another World' (1951)

Welcome to our weekly field guide to 1950s horror and sci-fi movies and the creatures that inhabit them. This week: the North Pole gets even chillier than usual in The Thing From Another World.

The Thing From Another World

Director: Christian Nyby
Cast: Kenneth Tobey, James Arness, Margaret Sheridan, Douglas Spencer
US Release Date: 1951-04-29

Alternative titles: Vampire Carrots from the Unknown; The Best Movie of the Decade (Maybe).


* Well-paced, intelligent thriller.

* Terrific dialogue with plenty of snappy banter.

* Isolated Artic locale, complete with sled dogs.

* Science vs. military vs. journalism tension throughout.

* Good suspense and action sequences.


* Well-made movie has few things to make fun of (though the requisite goofy "romance" is tempting).

SYNOPSIS: A strange flying object crashes into the Arctic ice, and it's up to USAF pilot Captain Henry to check out what's happened. Fortunately (or not) there's a scientific outpost nearby, led by testy Dr. Carrington—you can tell he's a scientist by his Lenin-esque beard. Fortunately (or not), Carrington's assistant Nikki is there, and a past romance with Captain Henry is duly rekindled. Ace reporter Scotty is also on the scene, commenting wryly on the goings-on, as ace reporters are wont to do. Before long the whole crew is off and searching for the mysterious once-flying-now-fallen object.

Fortunately (or not) they soon find it: a strange frozen object trapped uner the ice. Some genuinely spooky scenes ensue out on the tundra as the men plod around the horseshoe-crab-shaped stain in the snow, trying to figure out the shape of the "aircraft" below. After inadvertantly blowing up the vessel, they discover a body frozen in the ice, which they remove and bring to the base. Here it's locked up and kept cold. The men guarding it need to keep themselves warm, of course, but fortunately (or not) they have an electric blanket. Oops.

When the Thing starts clomping around the place, sowing seeds—literally—of destruction, the movie ramps up another notch. Adding to the tension is the frisson between Dr. Carrington, who wants to thaw/study/communicate with/start a collective-farming commune in Bimini with the creature--notwithstanding the fact that it seems to be some sort of ambulatory, sentient root vegetable--and Captain Henry, who's awaiting instructions from the generals. Lousy weather keeps messing up the radio, though, so instructions aren't forthcoming. With Henry and Carrington pulling in opposite directions, wise-ass reporter Scotty gets all the best lines, providing commentary on both sides.

Ultimately, the body count in this film is low—unlike the 1982 gore-fest remake starring Kurt Russell—but what it lacks in overt violence and splashing entrails is made up for in creepy suspense and, especially, snappy dialogue. Maybe more than any other sci-fi film of the 1950s, The Thing From Another World overcomes genre limitations to become a genuinely great movie.

Best line of dialogue: "Sorry, we already pulled one boner out there on the ice." (Ouch! That must've been painful.)

Did you notice? When Scotty walks onto the ice to view the spaceship, he stumbles and almost falls on his butt. (It's in the shot where the airmen are gathering around the ship's tail fin.) Maybe that almost-spill was written into the script, but somehow I doubt it.

What gets demolished: A flying saucer; three sled dogs; two scientists; one vampire space carrot. And a silly scientist gets knocked around a little, but he deserves it.

Did you know? Thing producer Howard Hawks was the director of such highly regarded films as The Big Sleep and To Have and Have Not (both starring Bogart and Bacall) and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (with Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe). His hallmarks were overlapping dialogue and snappy pacing—both of which are very evident in The Thing. Hawks himself is rumored to be the real director, but didn't want his name associated with a low-brow sci-fi movie. Credited director Christian Nyby's only other theatrical effort is 1967 war film First to Fight. He did direct plenty of TV, though.

Moral of the story: Vegetables can kill you too, under the right circumstances.

This reminds me of… John Carpenter's 1982 remake/sequel The Thing, starring Kurt Russell and lots of splashy special effects. Not a bad movie, but relying as it does on gross-out moments, it lacks much of the moodiness and earnest sincerity of the original. It must be credited for its unfashionably bleak ending, however.

Somehow their careers survived: Kenneth Tobey (Henry)'s illustrious trifecta of 1950s monster flicks would include The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953) and 1955's It Came From Beneath the Sea. His rugged looks may have typecast him as a military man, but he played the part well. James Arness (the Thing) would star in 1954's giant-ant drama Them! and a pile of westerns; This was the first role for Margaret Sheridan (Nikki), who would go on to appear in 1952's Korean War drama One Minute to Zero and I, the Jury (1953). Douglas Spencer (Scotty) had supporting roles in Trouble Along the Way (1953) with John Wayne, and This Island Earth (1955) alongside Jeff Morrow.

BOTTOM LINE: One of the all-time great 1950s movies, of any genre.

NEXT WEEK: Atomic Submarine (1959)





The Top 20 Punk Protest Songs for July 4th

As punk music history verifies, American citizenry are not all shiny, happy people. These 20 songs reflect the other side of patriotism -- free speech brandished by the brave and uncouth.


90 Years on 'Olivia' Remains a Classic of Lesbian Literature

It's good that we have our happy LGBTQ stories today, but it's also important to appreciate and understand the daunting depths of feeling that a love repressed can produce. In Dorothy Strachey's case, it produced the masterful Olivia.


Indie Rocker Alpha Cat Presents 'Live at Vox Pop' (album stream)

A raw live set from Brooklyn in the summer of 2005 found Alpha Cat returning to the stage after personal tumult. Sales benefit organizations seeking to end discrimination toward those seeking help with mental health issues.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

‘The Avengers’ Offer a Lesson for Our Time of COVID-19

Whereas the heroes in Avengers: Endgame stew for five years, our grief has barely taken us to the after-credit sequence. Someone page Captain Marvel, please.


Between the Grooves of Nirvana's 'Nevermind'

Our writers undertake a track-by-track analysis of the most celebrated album of the 1990s: Nirvana's Nevermind. From the surprise hit that brought grunge to the masses, to the hidden cacophonous noise-fest that may not even be on your copy of the record, it's all here.


Deeper Graves Arrives via 'Open Roads' (album stream)

Chrome Waves, ex-Nachtmystium man Jeff Wilson offers up solo debut, Open Roads, featuring dark and remarkable sounds in tune with Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus.

Featured: Top of Home Page

The 50 Best Albums of 2020 So Far

Even in the coronavirus-shortened record release schedule of 2020, the year has offered a mountainous feast of sublime music. The 50 best albums of 2020 so far are an eclectic and increasingly "woke" bunch.


First Tragedy, Then Farce, Then What?

Riffing off Marx's riff on Hegel on history, art historian and critic Hal Foster contemplates political culture and cultural politics in the age of Donald Trump in What Comes After Farce?


HAIM Create Their Best Album with 'Women in Music Pt. III'

On Women in Music Pt. III, HAIM are done pretending and ready to be themselves. By learning to embrace the power in their weakest points, the group have created their best work to date.


Amnesia Scanner's 'Tearless' Aesthetically Maps the Failing Anthropocene

Amnesia Scanner's Tearless aesthetically maps the failing Anthropocene through its globally connected features and experimental mesh of deconstructed club, reggaeton, and metalcore.


How Lasting Is the Legacy of the Live 8 Charity Concert?

A voyage to the bottom of a T-shirt drawer prompts a look back at a major event in the history of celebrity charity concerts, 2005's Live 8, Philadelphia.


Jessie Ware Embraces Her Club Culture Roots on Rapturous 'What's Your Pleasure?'

British diva Jessie Ware cooks up a glittery collection of hedonistic disco tracks and delivers one of the year's best records with What's Your Pleasure.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.