Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Them! (1954)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Them! (1954)

In director Gordon Douglas' paranoic mid-50s, sci-fi horror film creature feature - it reflected the time period of the Cold War mid-1950s, when a new era of testing dangerous atomic weapons in the mid-1940s was feared to have caused mutations. It was one of the most classic mutant monster B-flicks - "THEM!" was noted as the first "Big Bug" Monster feature with great special effects and a convincing story - setting off a science-fiction trend:

  • in the film's main plot, the main terror facing mankind was ants that had mutated into giant creatures - they were the only other species that engaged in war: ("Ants are the only creatures on Earth other than man who make war. They campaign. They are chronic aggressors"); the eerie film was filled with scary suspense for its first half hour
  • the sci-fi film opened in the New Mexico desert, where a small plane's pilot Johnny (John Close) was communicating with two state police troopers on the ground while responding to a reported incident; the two troopers in the car were Sgt. Ben Peterson (James Whitmore) and his partner Ed Blackburn (Chris Drake)
  • they found a traumatized, mute five or six year-old girl (Sandy Descher) (later identified with the last name of Ellinson) wandering in shock and trance-like, carrying her doll
  • the child was found near her trailer camp (where she was staying with her parents and brother); they were missing and there was evidence that they had been attacked and destroyed; a station wagon automobile was next to an almost-destroyed house trailer (with Illinois plates) with a metal hull that was unusually "caved out" instead of "caved in"; there were no footprints or tire marks (except one unidentifiable animal track), no evidence of burglary, and no bodies - but lots of cubelets of sugar scattered around
  • while the girl was lying in an ambulance and about to be taken to a hospital, a peculiar, vibrating sound prompted her to sit up - transfixed and staring blankly into space, but then the high-pitched, pulsating sound ended and she laid back down - without being noticed
  • twelve miles away was "Gramps" Johnson's General Store that had also been ransacked and destroyed but with no evidence of burglary; there was a bent-barrelled 30-30 shotgun behind the counter (with evidence of four shots fired) and the store owner (Mathew McCue) was found dead under a trap door that led to an underground storeroom ("Looks like he was dragged and thrown down there"). A gaping opening on one side of the store "wasn't pushed in, it was pulled out just like at the trailer." And a large wooden barrel of sugar was knocked down and open, and the sweet powder was being consumed by small ants

Dead "Gramps" Johnson

Ants Devouring Sugar

Just Before Officer Blackburn's Death
  • when police officer Blackburn was left alone at the general store's murder scene, the loud, high-pitched sound began again - and as he went to investigate, shots (and screams) were heard from off-screen when Blackburn was presumably attacked and killed
  • during a preliminary investigation, it was wrongly theorized that it was the result of a madman: "Everything seems to indicate a homicidal maniac. I mean, there's no money stolen, violent wreckage. Just sugar taken"; the officers learned that the mobile home was owned by an FBI agent named Alan Ellinson from Chicago vacationing with his family (wife and two children)
  • FBI agent Robert Graham (James Arness) from Alamagordo, NM was called in, and reported that the animal of the plaster cast foot print couldn't be identified; it was sent to the FBI's headquarters in Washington, DC for analysis; the County's Medical Officer Dr. Putnam (Joseph Forte) determined that Gramps' cause of death was from multiple causes: a broken neck and back, a crushed chest, a skull fracture, and "enough formic acid in him to kill 20 men"
  • two scientists (ant entomologists) from the Department of Agriculture in Washington DC arrived: Dr. Harold Medford (Edmund Gwenn) and his pretty daughter Dr. Pat Medford (Joan Weldon); Medford theorized that the case might have something to do with recent 1945 atomic testing in the White Sands area of the New Mexico desert near Alamogordo ("Yes, genetically, it's certainly possible")
  • at the hospital, the young girl was revived out of her shocked state by a sniff of formic acid (a chemical found in ants) provided by Dr. Medford, and she screamed: "THEM! THEM!!!! THEMM!!!!" - referring to the killer ants
Smelling Formic Acid and Intensely Screaming - "THEM! THEM! THEM!"
  • in the desert during a raging sandstorm at the site of the destroyed trailer, Dr. Medford discovered a second animal track over 12 centimeters - making the creature over 8 feet in length; Medford was reluctant to state his preliminary conclusions: "This is monstrous...something incredible has happened in this desert. ln which case, none of us will dare risk revealing it, because none of us can risk a nationwide panic"
  • while exploring on her own, Pat found more tracks and heard the strange pulsating sounds; she screamed when one giant killer ant attacked her from behind and was able to attract the attention of the others; Dr. Medford urged the officers to shoot at the ant's antennae to disable it: ("Get the antennae! Get the antennae! Get the other antenna!...He's helpless without them"), before it was pulverized with submachine gun fire

Dr. Medford: "...something incredible has happened in this desert"

The First Glimpse of a Giant Killer Ant Behind Pat (Joan Weldon)

Dr. Pat Medford Screaming at the Creature
  • Dr. Medford identified the creature as a mutation - a race of giant radioactive and carnivorous ants with large mandibles that had decended from a radiated ant: "Species appears to be Camponotus vicinus. Of the family of Formicidae. An ant...A fantastic mutation. Probably caused by lingering radiation from the first atomic bomb"; its odor of formic acid was what triggered the girl to violently react, and Gramps' corpse was filled with the substance after being injected through the ant's stinger: "Ants use their mandibles to rend, tear and hold their victims but they kill with that, by injecting formic acid"
  • the Medfords both suggested locating the colony of the foraging "scout" ant that was communicating with others: "We must find the colony, the nest"; Dr. Medford offered a Biblical prophecy: "We may be witnesses to a Biblical prophecy come true - 'And there shall be destruction and darkness come upon creation, and the beasts shall reign over the earth.'"; he also speculated there might be "several hundreds to several thousands" of ants in the colony's nest, but probably fewer since they just recently appeared or developed
  • the cone-shaped mound of the nest was located from the air - it was a deep hole in the desert ground; the remains of "missing persons" (the Ellison family, Officer Blackburn) were scattered around the opening - consisting of skulls, other bones and a gun holster belt
Giant Ant in Nest's Opening as Helicopter Flew Over and Investigated
  • during a hearing, Dr. Medford suggested that they wait to bomb the nest until the next day - the hottest part of the day when the ants would all be inside; at that time, the nest's opening was bombed and burned with bazookas and the tunnels were then gassed with cyanide; to determine the results, Pat, Graham, and Sgt. Peterson rappelled into the nest and its deep tunnels to explore; they found dead ant carcasses and used flamethrowers to kill one ant who had survived the gas before locating the Queen Ant's chamber with two empty, hatched eggs; Pat ordered everything incinerated: "Now destroy everything in here. Burn it!"

Exploring Tunnels Deep Inside the Nest

Flamethrowers to Kill One Surviving Ant

The Queen Ant's Chamber with Two Hatched Eggs
  • back on the surface, Dr. Medford was worried that two young Queen Ants had hatched and escaped, and would now mate and produce further nests elsewhere: "These two empty egg cases contained queen ants. Newborn queen ants have wings, so have their consorts, male ants....Two young queen ants hatched out, dried their wings and flew away, each with one or more winged males. They've gone on their wedding flight...We've only had a close view of the beginning of what may be the end of us"
  • during secret meetings and instructional sessions with Washington officials in DC, Dr. Medford was even more pessimistic with a prediction if the situation wasn't brought under control: "Man, as the dominant species of life on Earth, will probably be extinct within a year"

News Alerts

An Attack on Sailor Onboard the S.S. Viking

Theft of Sugar From an L.A. Railroad Car
  • further unusual sightings or disturbances included a report from Brownsville, Texas by ranch foreman Alan Crotty (Fess Parker) who crashed his plane after sighting three ant-shaped flying saucers - he was placed in a mental institution for observation and questioning; and another news item was reported about the S.S. Viking infested with giant killer ants traveling from Acapulco, Mexico to Singapore; the ship was sunk with naval gunfire to prevent further infestation
  • two troubling incidents were also reported in Los Angeles - probably the result of the hatched Queen Ants: (1) 40 tons of sugar had been stolen from a railroad car, and (2) a father named Thomas Lodge was killed and his two sons Jerry and Mike mysteriously disappeared while they were flying a model airplane in LA's concrete river basin near the opening to 700 miles of storm drain sewer tunnels below the city; trying to get away in his car, Lodge died of shock and blood loss after his arm was torn off at the shoulder, and he had a deep laceration across his chest
  • martial law and a curfew were issued for the city of Los Angeles, and an informative descriptive news bulletin was broadcast over TV about the emergency:

    "A couple of months ago in the deserts of New Mexico, gigantic ants were discovered. These ants are similar in appearance and characteristics to the household and garden pests you're familiar with. Except that they are mutations, ranging in size from 9 to 12 feet in length. The New Mexico colony was destroyed, but two queen ants escaped. One has been accounted for and destroyed. The other has not yet been found. It is now known to have established a nest somewhere in the storm drains beneath the streets of Los Angeles. lt's not known how long this nest has been established or how many of these lethal monsters have hatched. Maybe a few, maybe thousands. lf new queen ants have hatched and escaped this nest, other American cities even now may be in danger. These creatures are extremely dangerous. They have already killed a number of persons. Stay in your homes. l repeat, stay in your homesl Your personal safety, the safety of the entire city depends upon your full cooperation with the military authorities"

  • during a rescue attempt with the cooperation of the Army (Jeeps were driven into various sections of the LA tunnel system), Sgt. Peterson rescued the two threatened boys by aiming his flamethrower at the giant ants, but then was killed by one of them when grabbed around the waist with its giant mandibles

Sgt. Peterson's Death
Two Boys Rescued by Sgt. Peterson From Giant Ants
  • after many of the other giant ants were obliterated, Dr. Medford learned that new princess ants or Queens had not yet hatched underground and escaped from the nest's chamber; he ordered its destruction in Drain # 267 with bazookas and flame throwers: ("Fortunately, we're in time. l'm certain no new queens have escaped from this nest. The job will be done when these are destroyed")
  • the film concluded with Robert Graham's question to Dr. Pat Medford about further atomic tests after 1945 and their effects on other ants: "What about all the others that have been exploded since then?"; she honestly answered: "I don't know"; more ominous words (the film's final line of dialogue) were delivered by her father: "Nobody knows, Robert. When Man entered the Atomic Age, he opened a door into a new world. What we'll eventually find in that new world, nobody can predict."

Graham's Question to Dr. Pat Medford

Her Father's Answer

Two New Mexico State Troopers

The Young Traumatized Girl (Sandy Descher) Found in the N.M. Desert

Mysterious Evidence:

Ransacked Trailer

Cubes of Sugar

The Girl in an Ambulance - Sitting Up

The Vibrating Sound of the Ants Caused the Girl to Respond

FBI Agent Robert Graham (James Arness)

Dr. Harold Medford (Edmund Gwenn)

Dr. Pat Medford (Joan Weldon)

First Full Views of the Foraging Creature

Dr. Medford's Ominous Warning: "We may be witnesses to a Biblical prophecy come true..."

A Map of a Typical Ant Nest with Tunnels

Bombing the Nest and Gassing It with Cyanide

Dr. Medford's Dire Prediction of Man's Extinction Within a Year

Emergency TV Broadcast About the Threat of Ants Below Los Angeles in the Storm Sewer Tunnels

Jeeps Driven Into Storm Drain Tunnels

Two Boys in Danger of Giant Ant Attack

The Burning of the Nest's Egg Chamber Under LA


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