AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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The Thing
Alternate Title: The Thing from Another World
Director: Christian Nyby (Dir)
Release Date:   Apr 1951
Premiere Information:   Los Angeles opening: 27 Apr 1951
Production Date:   25 Oct 1950--3 Mar 1951
Duration (in mins):   86-87 or 89
Duration (in feet):   7,796
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Cast:   Margaret Sheridan (Nikki [Nicholson])  
    Kenneth Tobey (Captain Patrick Hendry)  
    Robert Cornthwaite (Dr. [Arthur] Carrington)  
    Douglas Spencer ([Ned] Scotty [Scott])  
    James Young (Lt. Eddie Dykes)  
    Dewey Martin (Crew chief [Bob])  
    Robert Nichols (Lt. Ken Erickson [MacPherson])  
    William Self (Corporal Barnes)  
    Eduard Franz (Dr. Stern)  
    Sally Creighton (Mrs. Chapman)  
    James Arness ("The Thing")  
    Edmond Breon (Dr. Ambrose)  
    John Dierkes (Dr. Chapman)  
    Percy Hilton (Dr. Wilson)  
    William Neff (Olson)  
    Paul Frees (Dr. Voorhees)  
    Norbert Schiller (Dr. Laurentz)  
    George Fenneman (Redding)  
    David McMahon (General Fogarty)  
    Robert Stevenson (Capt. Smith)  
    Robert Gutknecht (Corp. Hauser)  
    Ted Cooper (Lieutenant)  
    Allan Ray (Lieutenant)  
    Nicholas Byron (Tex Richards)  
    Robert Bray (Captain)  
    King Kong (Eskimo)  
    Charles K. Opunui (Eskimo)  
    Riley Sunrise (Eskimo)  
    Tom Humphrey    
    Ben Frommer    
    Gabriel Cubos    

Summary: At a military base in Anchorage, Alaska, Air Force general Fogarty orders Captain Patrick Hendry and his crew to fly to a scientific research station at the North Pole to help Dr. Arthur Carrington investigate the landing of an unidentified object. During the flight, Pat receives a radio call from the station, alerting him to a recent "disturbance" in the area, which has been causing inaccurate instrument readings. Shortly after the military men arrive at the station, Carrington tells Pat about the landing of a large, mysterious object. He then shows Pat photographic images taken by a telescopic camera, which indicate that the object flew upwards before landing and therefore could not be a meteor. Pat, his men, reporter Ned "Scotty" Scott, who has accompanied them from Anchorage in search of a story, and a group of scientists led by Carrington fly to the object's estimated location. Protruding up from an area of thin, radioactive ice, they spot an air foil and determine that it is attached to a circular craft, which they presume to be extraterrestrial. To free the craft, a thermite bomb is planted, but the explosion triggers another, bigger blast that destroys the object. Just as Scotty starts to bemoan the loss of his story, the team's Geiger counter alerts them to the presence of a large manlike creature buried nearby. To preserve the creature, the men cut it out of the ice in a block and fly the block to the station. There, Pat defies Carrington and orders that the creature not be thawed and that the men take turns guarding it. Pat then tries to contact Fogarty for instructions, but learns that a blizzard has disrupted communications. Later, while guarding the extraterrestrial, Corp. Barnes becomes unnerved and places an electric blanket over the ice, unaware that the blanket is turned on. Soon, enough ice has melted to free the creature, who suddenly comes to life and threatens Barnes. Terrified, Barnes shoots at the creature, but it flees the storeroom and stumbles into the snow. Barnes and the others then watch in disbelief as the creature fights with several sled dogs, killing two before running off. Near one slain dog, the men find a severed arm and examine it in the laboratory. Carrington and the other scientists conclude that the extraterrestrial is made of vegetable matter but is highly intelligent. Then, when the severed hand begins to flex, the scientists realize that it is feeding off the dog's blood on its fingertips. Although Carrington demands that the creature be studied, not hurt, Pat and his ax-wielding men are determined to kill it. Once alone with his fellow scientists in the station's greenhouse, Carrington reveals that the creature broke the outside door lock, entered and then left after repairing the lock. Noticing some sap on a storage bin, the scientists open the bin, and a dead, bloodless dog falls out. Later, as the military men again attempt to reach Fogarty, Dr. Stern, one of the scientists, stumbles into the room and announces that the "thing" attacked him and two others in the greenhouse, leaving the other two hanging upside down with their throats slit. When Pat and his men go to investigate, the creature, its severed arm restored, surprises them at the greenhouse's inside door, but they manage to throw up a barricade before it can get out. In the nursery, Carrington then tells the other researchers that the alien planted a seed in the greenhouse and was feeding it with the dripping blood of his human victims. Carrington also reveals that he planted an alien seed found in the severed arm, and shows them how it multiplied at a spectacular rate after being fed blood plasma. Soon after, Pat questions Carrington's secretary, Nikki Nicholson, with whom he enjoys a serious flirtation, about the disappearance of the blood plasma supply. She reveals Carrington's activities, and Pat confronts the scientist. Although he dismisses Carrington's plea that the new life form must be researched, Pat is overruled by Fogarty, whose order to preserve the alien finally comes through on the radio. Later, however, as the temperature becomes dangerously cold for the outside guards, the military men realize they must kill the creature to save themselves. Taking Nikki's suggestion, they set a trap using kerosene, but the alien is only slowed by the fire. The military men then decide to electrocute the alien, but as they are devising the new trap, Nikki discovers that the creature is shutting off the heat in the complex. For protection, the group moves to the generator room and quickly begins building the trap. As the extraterrestrial lumbers toward the generator room, lured by the smell of flesh, Carrington tries to derail the men's efforts and even attempts to talk to the creature. The alien knocks Carrington to the floor, then unwittingly walks into the trap. Shocked with powerful electrical bolts, the creature slowly disintegrates. Later, as Nikki and Pat contemplate marriage, Scotty is able finally to file his story over the radio and warns his audience to "keep watching the skies!" 

Production Company: Winchester Pictures Corp.  
  RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.  
Production Text: Howard Hawks' Production
Distribution Company: RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.  
Director: Christian Nyby (Dir)
  Art Siteman (Asst dir)
  Max Henry (Asst dir)
  L. Virgil Hart (2d unit asst dir)
  Howard Hawks (Dir of fire seq)
Producer: Howard Hawks (Prod)
  Edward Lasker (Assoc prod)
Writer: Charles Lederer (Scr)
  Ben Hecht (Contr wrt)
Photography: Russell Harlan (Dir of photog)
  Archie Stout (2d unit photog)
Art Direction: Albert S. D'Agostino (Art dir)
  John J. Hughes (Art dir)
  Louis Croxton (Art dir)
Film Editor: Roland Gross (Film ed)
Set Decoration: Darrell Silvera (Set dec)
  William Stevens (Set dec)
  Walter Allen (Nurseryman)
Costumes: Michael Woulfe (Ladies' ward)
Music: Dimitri Tiomkin (Mus comp and dir)
Sound: Phil Brigandi (Sd)
  Clem Portman (Sd)
  Earl Mounce (Rec)
Special Effects: Donald Steward (Spec eff)
  Linwood Dunn (Spec photog eff)
Make Up: Lee Greenway (Makeup supv)
  Larry Germain (Hairstylist)
Production Misc: Eddie Donahue (Unit mgr)
Stand In: Jim Griffin (Stunt double)
  Tom Steel (Stunt double)
  Charles Regan (Stunt double)
  Billy Curtis (Stunt double)
  Ted Mangean (Stunt double)
Country: United States
Language: English

Music:
Songs:
Source Text: Based on the short story "Who Goes There?" by John W. Campbell, Jr. in Astounding Science Fiction (Aug 1938).
Authors: James W. Campbell Jr.

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc. 4/4/1951 dd/mm/yyyy LP1053

PCA NO: 14925
Physical Properties: Sd: RCA Sound System
  b&w:

 
Genre: Horror
  Science fiction
 
Subjects (Major): Aliens, Extraterrestrial
  Arctic regions
  Military posts
  Officers (Military)
  Scientists
 
Subjects (Minor): Airplanes
  Anchorage (AK)
  Blizzards
  Blood
  Dogs
  Electrocution
  Explosions
  Fires
  Geiger-Müller counters
  Radioactive substances
  Reporters
  Romance
  Secretaries
  Traps
  Unidentified flying objects

Note: The complete title of the viewed print was The Thing from Another World . In the opening credits, the words "The Thing" appear first in exaggerated, flaming type, followed by the words "from another world" in smaller, plain type. The picture was copyrighted in early Apr 1951 under the title The Thing . According to publicity materials contained in the file on the film at the AMPAS Library, producer Howard Hawks added the words "from another world" to avoid confusion with a novelty song entitled "The Thing," which was a hit single at the time of the picture's release. Contemporary reviews list the film by both titles. No cast members are listed in the opening credits. Although Robert Nichols' character is listed as "Lt. Ken Erickson" in the end credits, he is called "MacPherson" in the picture. Author John W. Campbell, Jr. wrote the short story on which the film is based under the pseudonym Don A. Stuart. The story was reprinted in a 1948 collection of Campbell's work, Seven Tales of Science Fiction .
       The Thing marked the first co-production between Winchester Pictures Corp., Hawks's company, and RKO. It also marked the directing debut of Christian Nyby, a former editor who had worked with Hawks on To Have and Have Not , The Big Sleep and Red River . Modern sources contend that, while Nyby was credited onscreen and in reviews as director, Hawks was actually responsible for most of the direction and contributed to the screenplay. In a 1982 interview, published in the San Jose Mercury News , Nyby acknowledged Hawks's directorial participation, stating that he "discussed every scene with him thoroughly." Nyby also noted that Hawks changed "things to keep the spontaneity of the actors." RKO production records, contained at the UCLA Arts-Special Collections Library, indicate that Hawks directed the sequence in which "The Thing" is set on fire. Production records also note that Ben Hecht contributed rewrites on the picture.
       Margaret Sheridan, a former fashion model, made her screen debut in the picture. The CBCS credits Lee Tung Foo and Walter Ng as "Cooks" in the picture, but they did not appear in the final film. Everett Glass is listed by the CBCS in the role of "Wilson," but production records list Percy Hilton. Though not his debut, The Thing was James Arness' best known early screen role. His actual face is never seen in the picture.
       HR news items and studio publicity material add the following information about the production: Zoro was cast as the lead dog in the husky team, but his appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. Scientific equipment worth $500,000 was borrowed from Cal Tech for the production, and Hawks conferred with the heads of three different electronics companies during pre-production. During principal photography, the press was barred from the set because Hawks wanted to keep the Thing's appearance a secret. Because of its abundance of snow, Alaska was first considered as a possible location, but more accessible northern Montana locations, Lewiston and Cut Bank, were finally selected. Two weeks of filming in Cut Bank, MT were planned for Dec 1950, but the shoot was cut short by a week due to a lack of snowfall. Some scenes were filmed at California Consumers, an ice house in downtown Los Angeles, and at the RKO Ranch in Encino, CA.
       According to modern sources, snowy conditions were artificially created at the RKO ranch using tempered masonite and salt. Weather problems in Montana caused the budget to increase from $980,000 to $1.1 million and added weeks to the production schedule, according to modern sources. Modern sources credit Larry Sherwood as dialogue coach. According to the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, despite protests from RKO, The Thing received an "X" certificate, identifying it as not suitable for children, when it was released in Britain.
       Many modern critics consider The Thing a seminal science fiction film and note that it was the first Hollywood picture to combine science fiction and monster genres. The picture was reissued in both 1954 and 1957. In 1982, John Carpenter directed a second version of Campbell's story, also entitled The Thing . The Universal picture, which modern sources note was more faithful to the short story than the 1951 film, starred Kurt Russell and A. Wilford Brimley.
       In spring, 2005, the Sci Fi Channel announced that a miniseries based on The Thing , would be produced by Frank Darabont and David Foster. According to news items in late 2006, the project had evolved into a feature that would be produced by Marc Abraham and Eric Newman, and executive produced by Foster for Strike Entertainment and Universal Pictures release. The script was to be written by Ronald D. Moore and would be based more on the original short story and the 1982 film than the 1951 production. As of 2008, the new project had not gone into production. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   14 Apr 1951.   
Daily Variety   4 Apr 51   p. 3.
Film Daily   4 Apr 51   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   22 Aug 50   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   24 Oct 50   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   25 Oct 50   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   27 Oct 50   p. 14.
Hollywood Reporter   30 Oct 50   p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter   9 Nov 50   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   10 Nov 50   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   27 Nov 50   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   5 Dec 50   p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter   19 Dec 50   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   23 Feb 51   p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter   4 Apr 51   p. 3.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   7 Apr 51   p. 793.
New York Times   3 May 51   p. 34.
San Jose Mercury News   27 Jun 1982.   
Variety   4 Apr 51   p. 6.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
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