Tuesday, September 20, 2011

DVD Review: The Thing from Another World (1951)

The Thing from Another World (1951)

(Released: 2003 by Warner Home Video)
Another looong DVD Review by Joe Torcivia

A few minutes from now, we may have the KEY to the STARS! A million years of history are waiting for us in that ice!”

Admit it! Don’t you just LOVE talk like that!

In a nutshell, scientists at the North Polar Region discover a flying saucer has just crashed and embedded itself under the polar ice. A handful of military men fly out to aid in the investigation. A dangerous creature emerges that feeds on blood, is ready to multiply… and is a cross between Marshall Matt Dillon of GUNSMOKE and “Tybo the Carrot-Man” from LOST IN SPACE!

…Yes, really!

Less than five years before becoming a television legend, as GUNSMOKE’S Marshall Dillon, actor James Arness played “The Thing from Another World”. Funny thing is, certainly from today’s perspective – if not from 1951’s as well – Arness (as the “Thing”) was the “biggest star” in the film. The DVD packaging certainly plays him up that way.

Though there are some interesting actors in some of the smaller parts, my decidedly unofficial observation is that ‘50s Sci-Fi films needed no stars – just a good premise, a good monster, or both. (…And, honestly, some of them had NEITHER!)

Consider “Destination Moon” (1951) as an example of “Good Premise”, and "Them!" (1954) as an example of “Good Monster(s)”. No real STARS in either one, save maybe James Whitmore. Indeed, I daresay Woody Woodpecker is probably the biggest name in “Destination Moon”!

Famed animation voice actor Paul Frees (in a rare, on-camera role) and “Voice of DRAGNET and YOU BET YOUR LIFE” George Fenniman can be found as minor members of the scientific team.

And, even as the “Carrot Monster”, Arness gets scant screen time. His first action is committed at 40:06. He is initially seen at a distance at 42:09. It is not until 57:33, of the 1:26:37 film, that we get our first real look at him.

Nevertheless, “The Thing from Another World” is just chock-full of ‘50s Sci-Fi goodness! Consider some of these lines:

It sounds like…well, just as though you’re describing some form of super carrot!”

This ‘carrot’, as you call it, has constructed an aircraft capable of flying some millions of miles through space – propelled by a force as yet unknown to us!”

An intellectual CARROT! The mind boggles!”

On the planet from which our visitor came, vegetable life underwent an evolution similar to that of our own animal life, which would account for the superiority of its brain!”

‘50s Sci-Fi! How do you not love it!

As is our custom in these reviews, we’ll break it into CONS and PROS.


An Absolute Lack of Extra Features: “The Thing”, itself, was not the ONLY shocker to be found herein. As a DVD package, “The Thing from Another World” might as well be from “The Warner Archive Collection”. (See THIS REVIEW of a film released as part of TWAC for more details on what those releases lack.)

My standard for a movie DVD’s Extra Features is the inclusion of a theatrical trailer for the film, a commentary track, and “making-of” or background featurette. Neither a commentary track nor a featurette is included with “The Thing from Another World” giving it a major CON, in this area.

Given the future stardom of James Arness, not to mention the later achievements of Paul Frees and George Fenniman, and the INFLUENCES this film will have on Sci-Fi productions more than a decade hence, the lack of such features to discuss these aspects of “The Thing from Another World” is regrettable indeed.

I’d like to make the standard excuse that its 2003 release was a bit “early in the game” for the generally-held standards for a DVD production but, actually, 2003 was NOT all that early in the history of the DVD package. By that time, more should have been offered.


It’s ‘50s Sci-Fi: That means you’re in for a wild ride (often – but not always – in Black and White), with stalwart heroes facing down monsters, aliens, bizarre mutations, and any other strange phenomena the screenwriters could come up with. The general feeling is not unlike that freewheeling Sci-Fi / Adventure period for television during the early to mid-sixties. The rules, such as they were, were being made up before your eyes – and what a glorious sight it was.

Though 1939’s “King Kong” was a notable exception, films of this nature were very few and far between – if they existed at all – in the years prior. But, they came fast and furious in the fifties. And, the beauty of it was that sometimes you got Michael Rennie, delivering a crucial warning in “The Day the Earth Stood Still”, and sometimes you got James Arness as a bloodthirsty carrot in “The Thing from Another World”! It was all fine by me!

Influences on Future Productions: Just sit back and count them! Some quite direct, some less so.

The most direct example of the influence of “The Thing from Another World” on a future television production was the VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA episode “The Heat Monster” (Airdate: 01/15/1967).

The nature of the respective "creatures" differed (An alien "vegetable" vs. a sentient "flame-creature"), but EVERYTHING else was the same. A deadly creature frozen in polar ice, and the conflict of pragmatic military vs. obsessed scientists / stalwart Seaview crew vs. Alfred Ryder’s insanely single-minded guest-scientist Dr. Bergstrom  (WARNING:  This link is to a YouTube video with SOUND!  You should know this, if you are reading this Blog at work!) on how to handle the situation – to the point of reckless endangerment and total destruction.

This is summed up by a quote from Dr. Carrington (the lead scientist of the film):

I’m sure we can COMMUNICATE with it! We must! It’s WISER than we are! It’s our only chance to talk to it! To learn so many things!”

And, equally summed up by VOYAGE’S “Dr. Bergstrom” as follows:

I still say that whatever is on board this ship is not belligerent, and came to me of its own free will! Give it a chance! We have the opportunity to LEARN THINGS man has NEVER KNOWN before! The TRUE MEANING of the stars! Contact with intelligence from deepest space! Who knows what else we may learn! I WILL NOT LET YOU KILL IT! I’ve given ten years of my life…

Well, you can see where BOTH of these are going…

Each creature rampages against its respective cast, with fatal results, until it is finally destroyed. The Thing with electrocution, the Flame with liquid oxygen.

The one key element of "The Thing from Another World" that didn't appear in the Voyage episode was the creature being defrosted from a block of ice by an unfortunately placed electric blanket. Not one to waste a good swipe, producer Irwin Allen found a place for THAT ONE in the LOST IN SPACE episode "Castles in Space" (also 1967).

The LITERAL translation of The Thing as a living “carrot creature” also manifested in LOST IN SPACE as the infamous episode "The Great Vegetable Rebellion" (1968). I must confess that, even in a 1950s style monster suit, James Arness was quite a bit scarier than Stanley Adams, with his human head poking out of a man-sized carrot costume.

The unnerving sight of a literal garden horde of lethal plants (that, in this case, would ALL grow to become clones of James Arness) would become a relatively common sight in future TV productions.

• THE OUTER LIMITS: “Specimen: Unknown”. (1964)

• LOST IN SPACE: “Welcome Stranger”. (1965)

• LOST IN SPACE: “Attack of the Monster Plants”. (1965)

• LOST IN SPACE: “The Space Croppers”. (1966)

• VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA: “The Plant Man” (1966)

• STAR TREK: “This Side of Paradise” (1966)


And, doubtless, more than presently come to mind.

In another form of “influence”, the film’s director, Christian Nyby, became quite prolific in television as well, with credits on Perry Mason, The Twilight Zone, The Fugitive, The F.B.I., Bonanza, I Spy, Daniel Boone, Mayberry R.F.D. Emergency, The Six Million Dollar Man, Kojak, Adam-12, and too many more to list!

And, in one of those great “cosmic workings” Christian Nyby even directed 4 episodes of Gunsmoke!

The Film: A textbook example of the ‘50s Sci-Fi genre, up to and including a relatively no-name cast…

The Cast:

• James Arness as “The Thing”.

• Kenneth Tobey as “Captain Patrick Hendry”.

• Douglas Spencer as “Ned ‘Scotty’ Scott (Reporter)”.

• Robert Cornthwaite as “Dr. Arthur Carrington”.

• Paul Frees as “Dr. Voorhees” (Uncredited)

• George Fenniman as “Dr. Redding”. (Uncredited)

The Extra Feature (Singular): Theatrical Trailer for “The Thing from Another World”: (01:34)


Baffling questions… Astounding questions… that not even the world’s greatest scientific minds can answer!”

HUGE ON-SCREEN TEXT: “FLAMES cannot destroy THE THING… Nor BULLETS kill it!”

A story of modern science that challenges imagination! Produced by HOWARD HAWKES – who gave you ‘I was a Male War Bride’, ‘Red River’, ‘Sergeant York’!”

GOSH! That’s enough to make me want to see it AGAIN!


The Thing from Another World” stands as a prime specimen of its time and its genre.

Today’s audiences, raised on flicks overloaded with CGI effects and laced with much blood and gore, will not be impressed. Indeed, one might regard the most horrifying aspect of “The Thing from Another World” to be the appalling lack of extra features!

But, just try to deny the existence of any emotional stirrings when listening to Reporter Scotty filing his story. A passage that nicely doubles as a film-ending narration:

One of the world’s greatest battles was fought and won today by the human race. Here, at the top of the world, a handful of soldiers and civilians, met the first invasion from another planet.

A man named Noah once saved our world with an ark of wood. Here, at the North Pole, a few men performed a similar service with an arc of electricity. A flying saucer, which landed here, and its pilot have been destroyed. But not without casualties among our own meager forces.

And now, before giving you the details of the battle, I bring you a warning… Every one of you listening to my voice, tell the world. Tell this to everybody, wherever they are. Watch the skies… EVERYWHERE! Keep looking! Keep watching… the skies!”

As noted, the film is far more influential then it would appear. Oh, if only this one came with a Commentary Track to discuss those influences!

The Thing from Another World” is recommended for fans of fifties Sci-Fi and the products of the sixties that were clearly influenced by it. Fans of James Arness and Gunsmoke will enjoy it as perhaps the “ultimate curiosity”. Fitting all these categories, I enjoyed it immensely!


Chris Barat said...


In a biography of Howard Hawks (who, BTW, apparently had a LOT more direct control over this movie than the credits suggest), I read that the "mini-things" were actually CONDOMS adapted for the purpose! Also, the winter scene in which the heroes find the Thing was actually shot in intense heat with the help of snow machines! Here is where commentary could certainly help.


Joe Torcivia said...


The moment I read your comment, I jumped on to the Blog because I HAVE an illustration in the post of the “Mini- Things” – with Paul Frees and Robert Cornthwaite, among others, looking at this “Garden of Condoms”!

Yes, looking closely, it IS! Or, sure looks like it! I wonder if these were the first condoms ever to appear on the silver screen! At least Irwin Allen and Gene Roddenberry used more “traditional” fake plants!

…And aren’t we glad they did!

Oh, just one more reason there should have been a commentary track! Wonderful tidbit of info!