Although the realities of the nuclear age where far from pleasant, for Hollywood it was a source of box office gold. Never mind radiation poisoning, cancer and birth defects; the atomic age was good for business. It meant super powers, mutations and giant big monsters. Such terrors offered a clumsy metaphor for the dangers of atomic energy and a source of terror, thrills and drama on the big screen. Them! was one of the first movies in this idiom and became a blueprint for the genre that followed in its wake. Featuring a colony of out sized ants, that initially terrorise New Mexico but eventually migrate to Los Angeles, Them! leaves a trail of destruction and dead B actors in its wake.
Originally planned to be a 3D release, Them! was shot in 4:3 ratio and not Cinemascope to accommodate the process as well as the special effects. However due to technical and budgetary reasons the 3D process was dropped. The black and white film stock lends a faux documentary quality to the proceedings. The story is fast paced and not excessively complex. Lead performances by the great James Whitmore and James Arness are sincere and engaging. As you would expect the full size animatronic ants are somewhat dated by contemporary standards, yet they have their own unique charm and are shot in a way that gives them character. Their sound effects also add to the ambience.
On watching Them! It’s clear to see the influence the film had on James Cameron when he made Aliens. There are several thematic parallels, such as a traumatised child who has lost their parents and a secret lair where the Queen is laying her eggs. There are also Marines with flamethrowers clearing out the infestation. The more you watch old Hollywood B movies from the fifties, the more you'll find the source material that recent blockbusters have plundered. Sadly they usually only take the simplest of ideas and jettison any associated wit, style and drama.
Them! is still a very entertaining ninety four minutes, as long as you accept it for what it is and are aware of the context of the times. The entire genre of fifties monster movies is very interesting from a sociological point of view. They reflect the public concern over the atom bomb and the lack of understanding about the consequences of its use. They also provide a useful insight insight into how the major film studios where always willing to cater to emerging trends. Science Fiction and Horror where always considered to be second rate genres, yet over the next two decades where to prove two of the most lucrative forms of revenue. They also provided a springboard for a great deal of emerging talent.