The Thing From Another World (Howard Hawks et al., 1951)

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Mr Sausage
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The Thing From Another World (Howard Hawks et al., 1951)

#1 Post by Mr Sausage » Mon Jun 22, 2020 6:33 am


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Re: The Thing from Another World (Howard Hawks et al., 1951)

#2 Post by Rayon Vert » Wed Jun 24, 2020 10:30 pm

So I just watched the film again. I agree with twbb (in the list project thread) that the first half hour or so is the best part. Even though I know where it’s going, having seen it before and of course the Carpenter film umpteenth times, there’s still a thrill involved in the initial discovery and gradual unveiling of its mystery in a harsh and human-unfriendly environment. I’m more forgiving about the characterizations being underdeveloped, or about the not always impressive acting (Tobey as Captain Hendry especially). It’s more on the level of a B-film in its execution and as such a fun ride, and I still sense a communal spirit at play in this group that’s fun to be a part of.

Made at the peak of the anti-Communist hysteria (1950, year of the start of the Korean War, Alger Hiss, the beginning of the McCarthy witch hunt), it’s always tempting to read the unfeeling plant consciousness invasion as a metaphor for hyper-rational Marxists infiltrating China, Korea and the U.S. at home. It definitely belongs to the Hawksian universe, though: the male bonding, with of course the unfazed “manly” woman well integrated, the aviation, the fast and overlapping dialogue – the latter not so present in all Hawks films even though it’s often described as one of his calling cards, but it definitely is very present here.

The groups at work in Hawks are civilizing forces, but at some point here there’s a split between the air force personnel using their practical knowledge and technology to contain and eventually destroy the threat, and Dr. Carrington who in the name of science and gaining more knowledge is willing to ultimately sacrifice the humans. Kind of similar to the way that in Hawks' comedies the “primitive”, anarchic life force comes into play to counter the intellectual or rational principle, here also the director's sympathies lie with the quest and mastery of knowledge that stays grounded in human needs.

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Re: The Thing from Another World (Howard Hawks et al., 1951)

#3 Post by therewillbeblus » Sun Jun 28, 2020 1:06 am

Rayon Vert wrote:
Wed Jun 24, 2020 10:30 pm
I still sense a communal spirit at play in this group that’s fun to be a part of.
Todd McCarthy talks about how passionate Hawks was of this one, and cites the use of a larger group to show their collaborative mechanics as a key reason- with quotes that he reworked the script on set and took total control, which seems to have been necessary with all the overlapping dialogue and many actors in the frame. McCarthy also talks about the historical politics and communism being related to Hawks' interest so I think you're probably not far off in that contextual analysis either!

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Re: The Thing From Another World (Howard Hawks et al., 1951)

#4 Post by ando » Mon Jun 29, 2020 4:38 pm

Love how Carpenter duplicated the opening credits for his Thing in '82.

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Re: The Thing From Another World (Howard Hawks et al., 1951)

#5 Post by hearthesilence » Mon Jun 29, 2020 7:51 pm

Re: the authorship, I posted these links last year, but here's Lang Thompson and Jeff Stafford's entry on TCM (which is actually a terrific resource for reading up on Hollywood films, a thousand times more reliable and informative than Wikipedia):
TCM wrote:Undoubtedly the most famous controversy over The Thing is whether Howard Hawks - listed here as a producer - actually directed most of the film instead of the credited director, Christian Nyby. In an interview with Peter Bogdanovich for his book, Who the Devil Made It? (Ballantine Books), Hawks commented on the mystery: "Chris Nyby had done an awfully good job as the cutter on Red River and he'd been a big help to us too, so I let him do it. He wanted to be a director and I had a deal with RKO that allowed me to do that. I was at rehearsals and helped them with the overlapping dialogue - but I thought Chris did a good job." Nevertheless, a few people on the set later claimed that Hawks did much of the daily directing and there are even photos that tend to support this. It's also clear that The Thing shares strong similarities with other Hawks films that deal with group dynamics, particularly in situations where everyone, women included, are working under pressure and are being judged by their performance. Take a look at any Howard Hawks movie, from Only Angels Have Wings (1939) to Air Force (1943) to Hatari! (1962), and it's remarkable how many of his films fit this pattern, including The Thing. As for credited director Christian Nyby, who had previously won an Oscar for his editing of Red River (1948), it would be another six years before he would helm another picture - Hell on Devil's Island (1957).
And I also found this L.A. Times article from 1997. (He discloses that Nyby is the younger brother of his father's mother.) Most of the details are on the second page:
Henry Fuhrmann in the Los Angeles Times wrote:George Fenneman, now 77, was making his movie debut with "The Thing." He can still laugh at the 26 takes it took to film his one big speech as a member of the scientific team. The overlapping dialogue threw the radio veteran ("Dragnet") and TV mainstay ("You Bet Your Life") and ensured, he jokes, that Hawks never hired him again.

Less funny, he says, is the way history has treated his friend and onetime neighbor Nyby: "Chris got a bad deal. . . . I was there every morning, so was Chris. Sometimes Hawks was late," he recalls, noting the producer's penchant for living the high life, "and Chris in the meantime was making the show go. Hawks would once in a while direct, if he had an idea, but it was Chris' show."

"It sickens me, some of the things that have been said," says Robert Cornthwaite, who played Dr. Carrington, the research team leader who tried (quite unsuccessfully) to befriend the Thing.

"Chris always deferred to Hawks, as well he should," says the veteran actor, writer and translator, now 80. "Hawks was giving him the break, after all, though he had done much fine work for Hawks and had his confidence. . . . Maybe because he did defer to him, people misinterpreted it.

"When people ask me, I say, 'Chris was the director, Hawks was the producer,' " says Cornthwaite, who credits Nyby with being an approachable, human counterpart to the more autocratic Hawks.

William Self, 75, played the hapless corporal who placed an electric blanket over the frozen body of the Thing and set forth the ensuing action.

Says Self, a longtime TV producer and executive: "Chris was the director in our eyes, but Howard was the boss in our eyes. Did Chris direct every scene? Yes and no. Chris would stage each scene, how to play it. But then he would go over to Howard and ask him for advice, which the actors did not hear. . . .

"I would say that Chris has not gotten enough credit, but he didn't deserve all the credit. . . . Even when it first came out, there was debate about who did what and how much Chris contributed. Even though I was there every day, I don't think any of us can answer the question. Only Chris and Howard can answer the question."

And how did they answer?

Nyby was asked the question at a reunion of "Thing" cast and crew members in 1982 pegged to the release of the John Carpenter remake.

As reported by Cinefantastique magazine, Nyby replied: "Did Hawks direct it? That's one of the most inane and ridiculous questions I've ever heard, and people keep asking. That it was Hawks' style. Of course it was. This is a man I studied and wanted to be like. You would certainly emulate and copy the master you're sitting under, which I did. Anyway, if you're taking painting lessons from Rembrandt, you don't take the brush out of the master's hands."

When asked the same question, Hawks was similarly direct.

Richard Jewell, a USC professor of critical studies and author of "The RKO Story" (1982), recalls approaching the filmmaker at a 1973 appreciation organized by the university. "Did you direct 'The Thing'?" Jewell asked. The answer: "I did not."

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