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Saturday May 18th 2024

The Thing From Another World | 1951

Notionally directed by former editor Christian Nyby and produced by Howard Hawks, it’s long be suspected that Hawks was the actual director – though he always denied this. It does bear Hawks’ style and Nyby didn’t go on to direct anything else of note.

Budget constraints and technology of the day meant most of the shape-shifting plot of John W Campbell’s 1938 novella Who Goes There? was junked in favour of a more routine master-on-the-loose scenario (John Carpenter's 1982 The Thing goes back to the original story).

Campbell’s four-foot tall shapeshifters became 6’7” James Arness with a distinctly Frankenstein monster appearance. It remains, though, a classic chiller – quite literally.

The ‘Arctic’ location, where the creature’s ship is discovered (a scene being shown on TV in John Carpenter’s Halloween) was filmed in Montana. The first choice, either Fairbanks or Nome in Alaska, was nixed by the Pentagon due to the nearby presence of sensitive USAF bases – but mainly to avoid the association with UFOs.

The final choice for the 'Arctic' was near Cut Bank in Glacier National Park, about 100 miles northwest of Great Falls on I-2, northern Montana near the Alberta border. Its Army Air Force training facility and airport from WWII stood in for the polar research station. This has since been redeveloped to become Cut Bank Municipal Airport.

Mission Lake, a few miles southwest, was used as the alien craft crash site, though the white-out appearance doesn't do justice to the glorious mountain scenery.

You can't tell, but there was a disappointing lack of snow (they even resorted to transporting some in). The production moved about 170 miles southeast, to then-snowier Lewistown, which is where the plane landing and sled scenes were filmed.

Closer to Los Angeles, and the film's base at the old RKO Pathé Studios (now incorporated into Paramount Pictures) in Hollywood, the explosion and fire that destroys the alien craft were filmed by a second-unit at the Iverson Ranch, northwest Chatsworth. This famous lot has since been developed as housing, but part of the old ranch remains as parkland, just north of Santa Susana Pass Road west of Topanga Canyon Boulevard (where you can see such sites as 'Lone Ranger Rock', familiar from the Fifties TV series).

To make the characters’ breath visible as the temperature in the research facility plunges, a set was built inside a Downtown LA ice-house. Conflicting reports have this as either Rancho Cold Storage, 670 Mesquit Street, between 6th and 7th Street bridges, or the Ice & Cold Storage Company, 715 East 4th Street at South Central Avenue, both of which rented their facilities to movie studios.