Commentary Track

Them! (1954)

This week on The Spectator Film Podcast…

Them! (1954) 3.20.20
Featuring: Austin, Maxx

Commentary Track begins at 15:36

— Notes —

  • “Rip & Tear” by Mick Gordon
  • Rational Fears: American Horror in the 1950’s by Mark Jancovich — Insightful and engaging book discussing the various forms of monster/horror film produced in America during the 50’s. Jancovich is a talented writer on the horror film, and this book manages to jump from alien invasion narratives, to Roger Corman’s work, to the glut of teenage-themed horror pics, discussing each sub-genre with clarity. I’m unsure whether the book is currently in print, but it remains a valuable resource for anyone interested in studying this era of horror film production. We’ll include some relevant quotes below:
    • “If the 1950’s invasion narratives are considered within this context, it can be seen that rather than legitimating Fordism and its application of scientific-technical rationality to the management of American life, these texts often criticised this system by directly associating the alien with it. It has often been pointed out that the qualities which identify the aliens with the Soviet Union is their lack of feelings and the absence of individual characteristics. It was certainly the case that during the 1950’s, many American critics claimed that in the Soviet Union people were all the same; that they were forced to deny personal feeling and characteristics, and to become more functionaries of the social whole. It should also be noted, however, that, as has been illustrated, it was common in the 1950s for Americans to claim that the efforts of scientific-technical rationality upon their own society was producing the same features within America itself. If the alien was at times identified with Soviet communism, it was also implied that this was only the logical conclusion of certain developments within American society itself. The system of scientific-technical rationality was impersonal, and it oppressed human feelings and emotions. It did not value individual qualities, but attempted to convert people into undifferentiated functionaries of the social whole, functionaries who did not think or act for themselves but were ordered and controlled from without by experts. It is for this reason that even in the most pro-scientific of the 1950’s invasion narratives, the scientists often display a respect for, and a fascination with, the aliens which, it is stressed, represent their ‘ideal’ of a society ordered by scientific-technical rationality” (26).

    • “If the invaders are presented as natural, they are carefully distinguished from associations with ‘human nature’. They are vegetables, insects or reptiles. They are cold-blooded beings which lack what are generally understood to be human feelings or thought processes. They resist anthropomorphism, and are usually presented as little more than biological machines. As a result, the fact that many of the monsters are products of science is significant. These texts often display and anxiety about humanity’s role within the cosmos. The familiar world becomes unstable and potentially dangerous. Science may save us at times, but it also creates a world which we can no longer recognise, a world in which giant ants or man-eating plants threaten to overwhelm us” (27).

  • “The Imagination of Disaster” by Susan Sontag — We didn’t explicitly reference this essay during the show, but it’s one of the fundamental pieces of criticism examining this era of filmmaking and the ways audiences consume destruction on screen. Sontag was generally an excellent writer and critic, and this essay lives up to her reputation.
  • For more conversation relevant to the themes and subtext of Them!, listen to our episodes discussing Starship Troopers (1997), Pacific Rim (2013), Men in Black (1997), and Destroy All Monsters! (1968).

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