stick neck out

The Thing from Another World

The Thing from Another World, often referred to as The Thing before 1982, is a 1951 science fiction film which tells the story of an Air Force crew and scientists at a remote Arctic research outpost who fight a malevolent plant-based alien being. It stars Kenneth Tobey, Margaret Sheridan, Robert Cornthwaite and Douglas Spencer. James Arness appeared as The Thing, difficult to recognize in costume and makeup. No players are named during the opening credits; the only cast credit is at the movie's end.

The movie was loosely adapted by Charles Lederer (with uncredited rewrites from Howard Hawks and Ben Hecht) from the 1938 novella "Who Goes There?" by John W. Campbell, Jr. (originally published under the pseudonym Don A. Stuart). It was directed by Hawks (uncredited) and Christian Nyby for Hawks' Winchester Pictures, which released it through RKO Radio Pictures Inc.

The film took advantage of the national feelings of the time to help enhance the horror elements of the story. The film's release in 1951 coincided with the Korean War and the upswing in anti-communist feelings brought on by McCarthyism and by the territorial ambitions of Stalinist Russia. The idea of Americans being stalked by a force which was single-minded and "devoid of morality" fit in well with the parallel feelings of the day on communism. Equally the film reflected a post-Hiroshima scepticism about science and negative views of scientists who meddle with things better left alone. In the end, it is American servicemen and sensible scientists who win the day over the monster.

Plot summary

A U.S. Air Force re-supply crew is officially dispatched from Anchorage, Alaska at the unusual request of Dr. Carrington (Robert Cornthwaite), the chief researcher of a group of scientists working at a remote base in the Arctic - Polar Expedition Six. They have evidence that an aircraft of some kind has crashed nearby. The crew takes along Scotty (Douglas Spencer), a reporter and former war correspondent, who is hanging around the base in search of a story. A minor sub-plot involves a spirited romance between the commanding officer, Captain Patrick Hendry (Kenneth Tobey) and Carrington's secretary, Nikki Nicholson (Margaret Sheridan).

After being briefed by Dr Carrington, Hendry's crew & the scientists land at the crash site. They are shocked to discover that the shape of the craft is round - a flying saucer - with an airfoil of somesort protruding from the surface. They all agree to free it from the ice with thermite heat explosives, but in doing so, accidentally destroy the craft. However, the crew chief (Dewey Martin) has a geiger counter & locates a body nearby frozen in the ice.

They excavate the tall body, preserving it in a large ice block and return to the research outpost as a major storm moves in, making communication with Anchorage very difficult. Some of the scientists want to thaw out the creature immediately, but Hendry orders everyone to wait until he receives orders from Air Force authorities. Feeling uneasy guarding the body, Cpl Barnes (William Self) covers the ice block with a blanket, not realizing it is an electric blanket, and the creature thaws out, revives and escapes to the outside cold.

The creature is attacked by sled dogs, and the scientists recover an arm, bitten off by the dogs. They examine the arm and as it warms and ingests the blood from one of the dogs, it begins to come back to life. They learn that, while appearing humanoid, the creature is in fact an advanced form of plant life. Dr. Carrington is convinced that the creature can be reasoned with, while the Air Force men are just as sure it cannot and may be dangerous. But Carrington soon realizes that the creature requires human blood to reproduce.

Carrington later discovers the hidden body of a sled dog, drained of blood in the greenhouse. He has volunteers from his own team, Dr Stern (Eduard Franz) & Dr Vorhees (Paul Frees) to stand guard overnight, waiting for the creatures return.

Later, Carrington secretly uses plasma from the infirmary to incubate and nourish seedlings he has taken from the arm, failing to advise his colleagues or Capt Hendry of what he has done, or of the now-dead bodies of Stern & Vorhees, drained of blood. Nikki reluctantly updates Hendry when he asks about missing plasma. Hendry confronts Carrington, but the creature returns & the USAF crew, after failing to affect it with firearms, trap it in the greenhouse. The scientists soon realize that the wounded creature will need more blood, and that it will not be confined for long.

Nikki notes that the temperature is fast dropping, & Hendry relates that it's probably due to a cut fuel line. The creature soon escapes and breaks back into the camp. But Captain Hendry and his men set it alight with kerosene (following a suggestion from Nikki about how to deal with vegetables - "boil them, fry them?") and it flees into the snowy night.

The cold forces the scientists and the airmen to make a final stand in the generator room. The crew chief suggests that electricity is hotter than flaming kerosene, and they immediately create a walkway trap for the creature using high voltage electricity on overhead leads as a weapon. As the creature advances on them, Carrington twice tries to stop the creature's demise; once by shutting off the power, and the second by running out onto the trap and trying to reason with the creature. He fails and the creature throws him aside.

The creature is electrocuted, shrinking to a husk as it is killed. Its seedlings are also destroyed. As the film closes, Hendry and Nikki are set to become engaged as Scotty files his "story of a lifetime" by radio, imploring his listeners to "Watch the skies!"

Production notes

The screenplay changes the fundamental nature of the alien as presented in Campbell's short story: Lederer's "Thing" is a humanoid monster whose cellular structure is closer to vegetation although it must feed on blood to survive. One character describes it as an "intellectual carrot". In the original story, the "Thing" is a lifeform capable of assuming the physical and mental characteristics of anyone it chooses. This aspect was realized in the John Carpenter remake of the film in 1982. Ronald D. Moore is working on the script for another remake of the film expected between 2009 and 2011.

When American Movie Classics showed the movie in the 1990s, the introduction related a story about the creation of the creature's makeup. The makeup artist supposedly went through several revisions of the creature's face. He would test each one by putting the full makeup on Arness and taking him for a drive through Los Angeles. At one point, a woman in the next car screamed and fainted upon seeing the creature. The makeup artist "knew he had a winner" and used that face in the movie.

As is common in many of Howard Hawks' films, the dialogue is notable for its snappy, fast pace and overlapping style, with characters (major and supporting) often speaking over each others lines in a realistic way. And that Hawks likes to have a smart, capable woman as a character in his films.

One of the film's actors, William Self, later became President of 20th Century-Fox Television.

In 2001, the United States Library of Congress deemed the original film "culturally significant" and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.

The film was released on DVD in 2003. In the UK a 2-disc special edition was released, containing commentary by John Carpenter.

An 81-minute version of the film also exists. This shorter print, which deletes some sequences of character development, was prepared for a theatrical re-release and has also been shown on television.


In 1982, John Carpenter made a more faithful version of the story "Who Goes There?" under the remake-suggestive title The Thing. It was already well-known that Carpenter was a fan of the original film, as he included considerable footage from it in his own Halloween.

Certain elements of Carpenter's film were heavily suggested (including the "burning letters" opening titles) by this film. Also during The Thing, the characters make reference to a 'Norwegian' team that used thermite charges to clear the ice around the UFO, this is a direct reference to the team in the original film.

Other media

  • The last line of the film, "Watch the skies," was the working title of the film that would become Close Encounters of the Third Kind. In an interesting twist, a sequel to that film was then considered that would have been titled Watch the Skies - except this time with malevolent aliens terrorizing a farm family. That film project eventually became the movie E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. See more at Night Skies for the full project history.
  • The famous last line was also parodied in The Simpsons episode "The Springfield Files". The pimple faced boy takes over the narration at the end of the episode, and, reading from a cue card says Keep watching the skis!, only then to correct himself. In another episode, Martin Prince uses the line to end his nomination speech for class president, in which he promises a science fiction library for the class.
  • The Doctor Who episode "The Seeds of Doom" borrows heavily from the major elements from the plot of this film.
  • The quote "Watch the sky, keep looking, keep watching the sky" Is used in the industrial band Midnigh Configuration's song Interfearence. The band has also quoted from other alien based sci-fi movies.

Film quotes

Captain Hendry: Twenty thousand tons of steel is an awful lot of metal for an airplane.
Carrington: It is for the sort of airplane we KNOW, Captain.

Scotty: I'm not, therefore, going to stick my neck out and say that you're stuffed absolutely clean full of wild blueberry muffins, but I promise you my readers are going to think so.

Scotty: An intellectual carrot: the mind boggles!

Scotty: Watch the skies, everywhere! Keep looking. Keep watching the skies! (last line)


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