Starring James Whitmore, Edmund Gwenn, Joan Weldon & James Arness
Warner Home Video
RRP: £12.99

Certificate: PG
Available now

When an extensively damaged caravan and a little girl deep in shock are discovered on the edge of the desert, a professor and his doctor daughter show up at the local police department to begin their own investigation. As more deaths and damage occurs, the team is joined by an FBI agent and then the army. Their worst nightmares are realised when they are confronted with the horror of rapidly multiplying giant ants...

What is the difference between a 1950's b-movie turkey and a remembered classic? Happy accident or careful planning? A multitude of science fiction and horror films were turned out during that decade of cold war suspicion and uncertainty. Some were so bad they were good (Plan 9 From Outer Space and Attack of the 50 Foot Woman), most were just plain bad, and then there were the undisputed classics (The Day the Earth Stood Still and The Incredible Shrinking Man). While Them! is not quite in the league of the last two mentioned films, it is a very effective movie.

There is nothing accidental about its achievements; for the director Gordon Douglas, it wasn't simply a case of zipping up some men into rubber suits and pushing them in front of the camera. It's evident that the cast and crew care about the story and the very real impending peril that drives it.

Okay, so don't expect too much from the ants; they lumber and loom when they should be running around at breakneck speed. The mandibles don't move, and the antennae flop about like they've been injected with a local anaesthetic. However, the creatures are intelligently filmed in long shots or extreme close-ups, so as to conceal their failings.

The concept of giant ants is perceived as a major threat by the viewer through expert information imparted by the professor. Formic acid is pumped into the victims via a stinger. An ant can lift several times its own weight (perhaps throwing a few cars around was beyond the budget!). After a single mating, a queen can lay thousands of eggs; this can produce several more queens who fly the nest to other areas. Proof of this arrives when, after destroying the original nest, it's discovered two queens have escaped. One wreaks havoc on a naval warship, whereas James Arness, Joan Weldon and company trace the second to the storm drains beneath Los Angeles. The professor points out that within days ants could take over as the dominant species on earth.

I love films like this, because every so often the producers just let go and have fun. Enter the overly dramatic music, lines of jeeps (the same ones) speeding up and down roads, a major character saving two boys before accidentally-on-purpose flinging himself into the clutches of an ant for an heroic demise, and the professor quoting The Bible: "... and the Beast shall rule over the earth."

With a film as old as this you'd be excused for expecting no extra features. Here we get a lengthy trailer, a photo gallery and some test footage of the ants. Great stuff!

Ty Power


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