“Them! Them! Them!” screams Sandy Descher and we are off to the races…and…well, The Boy was watching this and thinking, “You know if I didn’t know these were giant ants, I’d really be wondering what the hell was going on.” And, I mean, I guess I could say that’s a spoiler but IT’S ON THE DAMN POSTER! You sorta wonder if director Gordon Douglas (a workaday fellow probably best known for The Skin Game and In Like Flint) wanted the giant ants to be a surprise and then they just screwed him over with the poster (and trailer, if memory serves).
“I’m 47 years old!”
“Look, kid, people won’t come to see a movie about a pronoun!”
“What about It? She? I, The Jury? You? Her? They Live?”
“Some of those haven’t even been made yet! We’re going with giant spiders on the poster!”
This film was probably the template for much of the low-budget sci-fi that flooded the ’50s. It itself is fairly low-budget, but so skillfully done that it encourages you to forgive its weaknesses. In the desert, a general store is ransacked by a mysterious force that pulled the walls down from the outside—pulled, not pushed—and left a trail of sugar scattered hither and yon.
Young Sandy Descher, who got her big break screaming in The Bad and the Beautiful‘s parody of Cat People, and who would go on to a modest TV career until she retired in her 20s, is orphaned and rescued by James Whitmore, a desert cop who doesn’t like the look of things. Tall and handsome G-man James Arness (the eponymous Thing From Another World, whom Walt Disney was scouting to be Davy Crockett but ended up picking Fess Parker, who has a small role as an excitable pilot) is called to the scene, as well as Dr. Grandpa and Dr. Sexy Daughter, who hits it off with Fess, I tell you what.
Dr. Grandpa is played by Edmund Gwenn, aka Santa, who’s still trying to provide cover for the fact that he actually is Santa Claus by taking a few summer roles in low budget flicks. Joan Weldon plays his daughter, the super competent scientist who…well, look, you know the trope. And it was probably semi-fresh here. A few archaic takes mixed with the kind of typical low-budget ham-fistedness, but otherwise holds up well. As does Weldon’s suit, which manages to be “all business” while being perfectly fit to her wonderful (yet tastefully modest) figure.
About 30 minutes in we get ants. (Do you want ants? ’cause that’s how you get ants.) The ants are eradicated with ease by the professional men (and women! but mostly men!) of the U.S. Army. Then Dr. Scientists warns us there are MORE ants, and the professional men and women of the U.S. government hunt for the missing queens. One of the queens turns up in the L.A. sewer system, because that’s a lot cheaper than using the N.Y. subway system. (And apparently the head of the NYC subway system was horrified at the notion of his tunnels being filled with giant ants.) And then our professional men track them down in the sewer.
Monster’s dead. Movies over. Except for a little postscript from Dr. Scientist about how these are the first of MANY giant monsters which will emerge from nuclear testing. Fortunately, those mostly turned up in Japan.
It’s nicely matter-of-fact, really. Not a great movie but a really solid one for a shoot that only had enough money for 3 giant ants, and which relied heavily on the WB “city” lot for probably 1/3rd of its exteriors. (I worked there for years so I know it by heart.)
The Boy and I liked it. (I didn’t encourage The Flower for this double-feature since her track record with old horror movies isn’t great, and she was tired.) Next up would be The Tingler.