By Beau Smith
As a professional writer (yeah, they really pay me) I’m asked quite often what are some of the things that have influenced me the most. The list is really long. Too long to list here and ‘sides, today I’m gonna focus on an influence that has been a major one for me for as long as I can remember.
It’s the 1951 film by Howard Hawks called The Thing From Another World.
Now some of you out there may be squintin’ with a puzzled look on your face about now. You’re thinkin’ that this is just some old goofy ass, black and white movie from a time your dad talks about too much. As I have always mentioned here in Busted Knuckles?ALWAYS LISTEN TO YOUR DAD!
Some of you that were born after 1975 are thinkin’ that “The Real Thing” movie was the one that John Carpenter did in 1982. Granted, that’s a great movie and a manly movie as well, but I’m not here to debate which one is better and start a whole thread on that. Ya can’t compare the two. They’re both great for different reasons. That would be like trying to debate who was the greatest running back of all time in the NFL, Jim Brown or Walter Payton. Ya can’t. It was different times with different rules. While it’s true that John Carpenter’s movie was based on the original science fiction short story “Who Goes There” by John W. Campbell in 1938, the Howard Hawks film uses only the basic premise to cast a wonderful manly story that few have been able to capture since.
Kenneth Tobey and Margaret Sheridan
The Man–Kenneth Tobey!
Howard Hawks’ The Thing From Another World is one of the most manly movies ever made, if not the best. I know that’s a strong statement, but it could very well be true. At least to me it is. This film is one of the few that shows the audience what a real manly hero is supposed to act like. Actor Kenneth Tobey’s role as Captain Patrick Hendry shows us all what blue-collar heroics are all about. I remember watchin’ this as a kid and being delighted that for the first time that I could remember that when danger showed up the hero calmly rolled up his sleeves, grabbed his lunch bucket, punched the clock and went to work. There was no fear, panic, screamin’, yellin’ and lectures. Kenneth Tobey as Captain Hendry just went to work to get rid of this blood drinkin’ alien in a very manly fashion.
Be A Hero. Be a man. Be Kenneth Tobey!
The character development and interplay of characters is unlike any other film. The love story slant in it could have been clunky and corny, but is played so real, and with so much witty banter, that it easily competes with the scenes of fright when they appear. Captain Pat Hendry (Kenneth Tobey) and Nikki Nicholson (Margaret Sheridan) are the romantic leads of the film, and our first scene with the two of them together concerns a “joke” Nikki played on Pat from the last time they had seen each other, after drinking him under the table, and then leaving him in bed alone the next morning. A little racy for 1951 maybe, but the two pull the scene off with such an enjoyable style that nobody could possibly find anything to be offended about. Sheridan shows in just a few small scenes why her character “Nikki” could be one of the best examples of a strong female character ever shown on film. The playful “bondage” scene raised eyebrows back then, but now is seen as a perfect guidepost to the personalities of these very witty characters.
Take His Picture…Fast!
Not only is our romantic lead a brilliant piece of character, but so are the parts played by the rest of the cast, especially Captain Hendry’s partners and soldiers who give him nonstop shit the whole film, and Scotty, the reporter who just can’t seem to get the shots he really needs on account of his being in too much shock each time something happens. There’s a brilliant scene when Captain Hendry opens a door with the alien on the other side. We see the huge, clawed hand of the alien reach out and try and grab em’, the Captain quickly slams the door and Scotty misses his chance for a good photo. He complains about it and Captain Hendry smirks and asks him if he wants to try again, he’ll gladly reopen the door. Scotty reconsiders and thanks the Captain just the same.
This movie has something that you don’t see very often in modern films. It shows the military in a good light without any clichés that favor or disrespect them either way. You can see that these are men that work well together and that Captain Hendry is truly a real man and leader by the way he takes charge, but still listens and accepts the suggestions of his men that are skilled in their area. The movie shows male bonding at it’s best. Something modern movies fail to do time and time again. They make weak attempts, but you can tell they don’t know what they’re doin’.
The reporter, Scotty, is a wonderful wise-ass. His remarks and comments through the film are always worth a rewind. The head scientist and semi-villain in the movie is professor Carrington played by Robert Cornwaithe. Perfect casting. He even wears his Ivy League blazer! Although misguided and blinded by his love of science, you still enjoy it when Captain Hendry puts him down and the object of his own science intoxicated obsession–the alien. If I were to cast his part today I’d pick Richard Dreyfuss.
Professor Carrington-Blinded By Science
I’m sure if you’ve ever heard of this movie you are well aware of the trivia that James Arness, star of the long running TV western Gunsmoke, played the lumbering alien in this manly movie. I think he did a great job and should be very proud to be a part of this classic.
Everyone in this movie is perfectly cast. The rapid- fire dialogue that Howard Hawks films are known for is at it’s best here. You will be amazed and entertained as you listen to the quick witty lines that fit together like a perfect puzzle. This is not a B-Movie. It gets that bad rap because it is a monster movie, it’s black and white and it came out in the 1950s. Embrace those things when you watch this.
Of all the characters that I’ve written and created Wynonna Earp is the one that I can say that is my version of Captain Patrick Hendry. When you watch this movie notice how he reacts when there’s danger. You’ll see he doesn’t lose his cool. He knows what has to be done. Notice that when dealing with Professor Carrington that he doesn’t yell, scream and push like a hero would in a newer movie. Nope. He acts like a man that knows he’s a man. This is a guy you wanna hang out with, that ya want to lead you when you’re in a bad situation, this is a guy all the ladies wanna be with?and ya know what I mean.
When ya watch this movie really watch it and pay attention to the dialogue and what’s goin’ on. You’ll also appreciate the time in which it was done. The Red Scare was goin’ on and there are lots of feelings of 1951 America thrown in here. I think it only adds to the power of the movie and makes it stand out from the other monster movies that were made during this time.
You’ll recognize Kenneth Tobey as soon as ya see him. He ended up bein’ a great character actor through the rest of his career. You saw him all over the TV episodic landscape through the 60s, 70s and 80s. He always played a tough cop, sheriff or soldier. He was a really nice guy that always had time for his fans right up until his death. (1917-2002) This was his shining hour. I challenge any real man to not see Tobey in this role and not wanna be him. If I were to cast Captain Hendry today I’d go with Tom (Thomas) Jane of recent fame in The Punisher and Stander. Tom even looks a little like a young Kenneth Tobey and I know he could pull off the role.
There is an excellent summary of Howard Hawks’ The Thing From Another World at Bad Movie Planet. I highly suggest you go there and read it. It’s the best summary of the film that I’ve read so far. Far better than my ramblings.
The DVD of Howard Hawks’ The Thing From Another World is easy to find at most any place that sells DVDs. Of course you can always get it at Amazon. It usually runs any where from $14.95 to $18.95 and worth every manly penny. I cannot stress watching this movie enough. If ya do I think you’ll find yourself better for it. Anyone that enjoys pop culture, comic books and movies will have nothing to complain about. In fact, you’ll probably write me and thank me, maybe even offer to name your next kid after me. (Or try and fix me up with your pretty sister.)
One thing is for sure, after watchin’ The Thing From Another World, if you’re a guy, you’ll wanna be Kenneth Tobey. If you’re a gal, you’ll wanna find a man like him. For those of you that wanna read the original script/screenplay to Howard Hawks’ The Thing From Another World, just click on this link and you will be there!
Watch the skies–and your back.
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