It was April 27, 1951 when a cyclone hit American cinemas titled The Thing from Another World, directed by Howard Hawks. In a very short time that science fiction film became the most popular and successful of the year, also passing in front of other milestones such as Ultimatum to Earth O When the Worlds Collided.
And to say that the Hawks movie did not have a cast of appeal, nor an impressive budget, but still managed to attract the public in a massive way, above all thanks to him, to this director who at the time was a guarantee, as evidenced by the success of masterpieces of the caliber of Sergeant York, Lightning Strike, The Red River O The Big Sky.
The authorship of the film is still debated today, as part of the cast said the real director was the credited Christian Nyby, while the other half and the producers called it a one hundred percent Hawks opera. What matters most is that The Thing from Another World was one of the most important science fiction films of all time, and that after 70 years it is necessary to pay him due tribute.
The terrible creature from outer space
The plot of the film is known, especially thanks to the remake that made John Carpenter enter the history of the genre 31 years later.
In the Arctic in the grip of the ice, Captain Pat Hendry (Kenneth Tobey) is in command of a team charged with investigating the nature of a UFO which was found in Dr. Carrington’s (Robert Cornthwaite) guided base. After recklessly destroying what was actually a spaceship in an attempt to free it from the ice, however, they discover the hibernating body of a giant alien.
Taking it to the base, they make the mistake of letting the ice it is wrapped in to melt, thus releasing the colossal creature. The Thing (James Arness) reveals itself in a very short time to be a very ferocious being, ruthless, cunning and completely disinterested in any kind of contact or dialogue with humans.
Only Dr. Carrington has any hope of being able to talk to the monstrous alien, who soon turns out to have a physical structure halfway between the animal and the vegetable, which could allow him to contaminate the planet. Several members of the squad are killed by it, but it will eventually be killed by electrocution from a trap set by the last survivors.
The world is finally being warned of what has happened, warned of the fact that we are not alone and that it is necessary to scan the sky, monitor every possible angle of the stars, to avoid future encounters.
The Communist danger lurks
The film is certainly less connected to horror and more to sci-fi than the legendary Carpenter’s remake, yet no less important for this, but rather to be interpreted as a mirror of the fears and fears of America of those years, prey to collective psychosis and concrete nuclear nightmares.
However, this interpretation was never the only one. In that period in fact America was shaken by that phenomenon better known as McCarthyism. Republican Senator Joseph Raymond McCarthy had recently created psychosis about the presence of waves of traitors and agents on American soil, many of them citizens bewitched by the Communist ideal.
Not only were members of the then existing American Communist Party targeted, but also those who, among the employees of the State Department, had been suspected without any evidence of being left-wing sympathizers. It was a short step from this to becoming possible traitors. McCarthy actually had no proof, and in a few years he would be put on the back burner. But first, it would have destroyed the lives and careers of hundreds of people, including countless artists.
The Thing from Another World was seen by many as a metaphor for what McCarthy was preaching, with the risk that a merciless and godless monster could infect unsuspecting and naive Americans, facilitated in this by the idealistic will for dialogue of a supposed “wise man” of the group. We are not in praise of the most vulgar populism but we are close to it.
But in the end, even in the decades to follow, the myth of communism infiltrating the United States it would also have found fertile ground in the imagination of those who conceived other films, novels, TV series and even video games such as Call of Duty: Black Ops.
Fear of the unknown and of science
The Thing from Another World was immediately hailed as a masterpiece of tension and direction. But, even more, it was seen as a far from superficial warning to the danger that lurked behind science. Just as Carrington and his colleagues had failed to investigate and insist on understanding the mysteries hidden in that spacecraft, so in those last few years physicists and mathematics had, according to many, tainted themselves with the horrific crime of revealing the secrets of the atom, opening the doors to the nuclear age.
Oppenheimer had left his famous exclamation to posterity: “Today physicists have known sin”, when Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed and with them the infinite cruelty of the human being was shown to the world.
Science and technology were tools to be wielded carefully, man was neither so wise, nor so perfect or infallible, nature was still something infinitely complex and mysterious.
That gigantic alien, which in our eyes today certainly appears funny, almost a Frankenstein’s Creature a bit sui generis, instead terrified the public of the time for its ability to connect to that nuclear nightmare, to that threat that seemed incredibly concrete, closer every day.
Carpenter’s remake would have been connected to psychoanalysis, sociology, this Hawks movie released 70 years ago instead it was something much more centered than contemporary history, to an America that was torn between the red terror and the feeling of having lost the right values.
Be that as it may, many years later it cannot be denied that this film was a point of reference, from the terrible xenomorph protagonist of Scott’s Alien to that mythical Predator who gave us another ruthless and apparently invincible giant.