As detailed in George Turner's excellent production chronicle in the January 1991 issue of American Cinematographer, “1951's Prize Fight” began as an astute move to cash in on the science-fiction genre that was enjoying increasing success in literature and bug-eyed monster movies. Hawks bought “Who Goes There?” – a 1938 short story by Don A. Stuart (a.k.a. John W. Campbell, Jr.) – and produced the film through his Winchester Productions as part of a large budget, 2-picture deal with RKO, with “The Big Sky” completing the deal.
Hiring a cast of largely unknown actors – James Arness had appeared in a few small roles, and a handful of independent features before he stepped into the immortal TV show “Gunsmoke,” in 1955 – Hawks basically established a small ensemble cast that wouldn't dominate the tightly written screenplay; the end result, more than 50 years after its original release, it's a classic sci-fi thriller with an engaging story and creepy ambience. The ‘ring-around-the-saucer, duplicated in John Carpenter's 1982 remake, still elicits the perfect nervous giggle in audiences, while snappy, yet naturalistic dialogue, with nervous characters interrupting each other, keeps the audience on edge while a hulking alien looms outside.
Warner Bros' DVD includes the well-used re-release trailer – interesting for the final graphic that obscures the creature's face under a metallic helmet typical, styled like a 1940s comic book – and yes, this version of “The Thing” has that ‘bondage' scene; no spoilers here, but it's a playful, odd little head-scratcher that certainly establishes the dogged determination of Kenneth Tobey (the de facto hero of the film) with sexy ex-model Margaret Sheridan. (And if her cocky jabs at Tobey ring familiar, it's due to Hawks' regular scribe, Charles Lederer, who penned the immortal character Hildy, in Hawks' viciously hysterical “His Girl Friday,” back in 1940.)
George Turner's article also mentions the deliberate darkening of scenes with the creature to mask its face – something that wasn't followed in subsequent video issues and those old, grainy TV prints; the DVD's transfer is rather faithful to the original approach, though with Arness prominently on the DVD cover – no stills of the creature were used in the original publicity campaigns – and in light of his immortal “Gunsmoke” legacy, it's hard separating the actor's western persona from his rare participation in a sci-fi thriller.
© 2003 Mark R. Hasan
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