Based on John W Campbell jr’s novella ‘Who Goes There?’ this Howard Hawks production is a science fiction tour De Force.
A group of soldiers led by Kenneth Toby are alerted when radar picks up a crashlanded ship from the skies. Treading snow the soldiers eventually find the ship and quickly deduce that it is not of this earth. Planting thermoid charges destroys all trace of the vessel, but the crew find that its sole occupant has been thrown clear of the crash. Taking no chances, they dig out the ice encasing the figure of what appears to be an eight foot humanoid. And his eyes are open.
Taking the ice package back to base, the commander sets constant watch times on the new member. As the glacial mound begins to melt, one watchmen decides to cover its staring eyes with an electric blanket, thereby speeding up the process. And all hell breaks loose. It takes around forty-five minutes before The Thing escapes to terrorize this well trained squadron. During the battle we learn that it holds the power of regeneration and that its primary source of nutrition is blood! A dog is found bled dry and two men are hung from the ceiling and bled white – mercifully off screen.
With some great set pieces and action-packed set-tos between the monster and the United States Army corps, The Thing From Another World has yet to be equalled! Unable to pull off the polymorphous creature of Campbell’s imagination in the novella, Hawks gives us a scientific representation of Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein monster. James Arness – Marshall Matt Dillon of the 50s Western series Gunsmoke – is never clearly seen, but has some impressive moments as he throws men and huskies around like tenpins. A nervous journalist is unable to get a decent photograph and the obligatory scientist wonders at the marvels that this ‘thing’ can teach us and is willing to sacrifice every man on the base to keep it alive.
But when the battle ensues, the pragmatic Captain over-rides orders to keep the Thing alive and places the scientist under armed guard after seeing his gardening handbook. The plucky prof, it seems, has been growing seeds from the disembodied hand, discovering that every molecule is alive and thriving. All action is then centred on destroying the creature described as an ‘intellectual carrot’ by the open-mouthed journalist. The Thing meets these nuisances head on. Swatting aside the professor and his proffered hand of friendship, he is eventually boiled down to nothing by some carefully laid copperwire and electric shocks!
Originally titled The Thing, this was changed to The Thing From Another World to distinguish it from the comedy song of the same name sung by Phil Harris. Crediting Christian Nyby as first time director is still a mystery as the film gives away Hawk’s unmistakeable approach in every frame. In 1982, effects maven Rob Bottin would bring credible life to The Thing as a shapeshifting polymorph for film-maker John Carpenter. This version is closer in theme to Campbell’s vision and filmgoers missed some extraordinary special effects as the movie originally failed at the box office. A decade earlier, the basic plot had been used for the Christopher Lee/Peter Cushing vehicle Horror Express. But no one has told the story with more verve than Howard Hawks, whos watchword is ‘Watch the Skies!’