On the thing that came from another world

This strange little film came out at a time when the world was wondering if it would have to duck and cover, and the world’s leaders were all caught up in dreams nuclear war, atom bombs, and anti-communist rhetoric. The whole world was Cold War obsessed, and the crazy senator from Wisconsin was carrying around lists of all the communists that worked in the State Department. Unsure of either the science or the ethics surrounding the nuclear age, people lived in fear that today might be their last day on earth if someone got crazy and punched the wrong button, sending nuclear weapons flying, helter-skelter, across the world and obliterating every living thing. So this archetypal ghost story comes with an interesting twist: one of our Cold War outposts in Alaska find a flying saucer in the ice near the North Pole, and they bring back, frozen in ice as if he were some wooly mammoth or something, an alien. This alien, played by Gun Smoke’s James Arness, is a rather blood-thirsty and violent creature who wants to wipe out the men and woman who are temporarily stranded in the Arctic wasteland. In the true spirit of American bootstrap initiatives, they fight back and (spoiler alert!) and defeat said creature. When I first saw this film back in the sixties, I was just a kid and it scared the heebie-jeebies out of me. Now I can listen to characters talk, understand their fear of the unknown, and experience their total blind panic in a very direct fashion. This film gives a strange vicarious thrill, but it is not cathartic, and the ending leaves one feeling both incomplete and nervous. This movie predates Alien by almost thirty years, but the story is there. There is a direct threat to the security and well-being of the people at the outpost, and those in command must do something to resolve the situation. What I found incredibly creepy about this film is this: the difference between life and death is very fine, and it doesn’t take much to move from one to the other. The intensity of the film, the nervous tension among the characters, the fear, and the violent nature of the human response drain the viewer of energy because the emotional response to this film is extreme. The fear of the unknown is strong, overwhelming, intimidating, reckless, chaotic, unpredictable, and powerful. People do crazy things when they must confront their fears, and unsurprisingly, most of the time they turn tale and run. This movie is a Cold War product because it reflected both the Cold War fears of the unknown and American bravery and ingenuity for dealing with an unknown and dangerous power. The movie shows these good intentioned, but violent, soldiers working for their country. They and their reaction to the situation is heroic and exemplary, even in the face of certain death in an isolated and inhospitable location thousands of miles from civilization. There’s even an embedded newspaper man with the troops to shout about the first amendment, free speech, and freedom of the press. Though the film is shot in glorious black and white, it’s really rather red, white, and blue.