A fellow writer on Biff Bam Pop suggested that for our yearly 31 Days of Horror we could write about a single scene from a film that scared the bejesus out of us. That film would be Them (1954), but as scary as that film was for little ten-year-old me, the news documentary that I had unfortunately watched later that year…changed my life forever
Them and the Truth about Atomic Bombs
When I was a child and attending Saint Monica’s School in the 1950’s, we had weekly bomb drills. It was the time of the Cold War between Russia and the free world. This war began in the late 1945 and because of this rift between Russia and the United States…we had weekly bomb drills. As soon as the alarms went off, we children had to hide under our desks and cover our heads with our arms. We were told that hiding under our desks would protect us from Russia’s atomic bombs. Now that I have the scene from my past set up for you, I will take you on a little journey with the ten-year-old me as I watched for the first time the 1954 film, Them.
Them is a 1954 Warner Brothers film that was directed by Gordon Douglas and starred James Whitmore, Edmund Gwenn, Joan Weldon, and James Arness. The film was bases on an original story treatment by George Worthing Yates. Them was one of the first of the 1950’s nuclear monster films that my siblings and I watched at our neighborhood theater. What can be scarier than atomic bombs? Giant insects! After a New Mexico State Police officer (James Whitmore) finds a little girl wandering alone in the desert, they try to find out what happened to her family. The little girl is in shock. She was with her parents and brother on vacation when their trailer was attacked by giant ants.
Since the girl’s father worked for the government, an FBI agent (James Arness) is sent out to help with the investigation. It isn’t long before more of the townsfolk are being attacked or missing. At each attack, formic acid is found at the scene. Two doctors from the Department of Agriculture join in the investigation. Dr. Harold Medford (Edmund Gwenn) and his daughter Dr. Pat Medford (Joan Weldon) suspect that they are dealing with a nuclear eco disaster.
The army is called in and General Obrien (Onslow Stevens) and Major Kibbee (Sean McClory) decide to bomb the ant’s nest…but two queens have escaped. The queens and their nests need to be destroyed before the radioactive ants begin to swarm. The scariest part of that film was when Police Officer Peterson (James Whitmore) risks his life to save two little boys trapped inside the water drainage tunnel in Los Angeles. When Peterson is cut in half by the Queen’s pinchers, I hid under my seat. That is how frightened I was. Needless to say…I made it my childhood mission to step on every single ant that I saw. I didn’t want any ants cutting me in half and eating me up like a cube of sugar.
Let’s jump ahead a few months and one day during school, we had another bomb drill where we dutifully hid under our desks. I was wondering how good my wooden desk would be at protecting me from giant radioactive ants. This is when I began to question authority. That night, after doing my homework and helping my parents in our family grocery store, I turned on the television. It was a news station, and I was ready to change channels when the announcer said that we would see what happened to people and houses after an Atomic Bomb was dropped on this makeshift town located in the desert.
I watched in horror as I saw what really happened when nuclear weapons are used. Nothing survived. NOTHING! I actually…to this day…remember standing there and thinking, “They all lied.” How could I trust my parents, or my teachers ever again? That day, a rebel was born. There was no way that my little wooden desk would protect me from a bomb. Hell, the stone school building wouldn’t even survive the bomb.
I began to change in my understanding of authority figures. They knew nothing, and if they did…they lied. I began then…at that young age…to do my own research. I was certain that the librarian at our local library thought that I was strange duck as I asked for books on radiation poisoning and the safest places to survive during an atomic war. So, for my fellow writer, Sachin Hingoo, who asked us to write about that one scene that scared us the most…I would have to say to Sachin that it was the film, Them, but it was the truth about the Atomic Bomb that made me a person who always questions authority figures. What scene from a film really scared you?