Director Gordon Douglas’s shocker is laden with clever visual and verbal puns as giant mutant ants spawned by radiation from atomic testing in 1945 arrive in Los Angeles from the New Mexico desert and infest the sewer system.
In the New Mexico desert, near the small town of Alamogordo, a five-year-old girl (Sandy Descher) is found wandering alone and traumatised by Police Sergeant Ben Peterson (James Whitmore), her family caravan having been destroyed by a great force and a local store in similar ruins.
The puzzling thing about the wrecked store is that no cash was taken, only all the sugar, and the owner was found dead with massive injuries and vast quantities of formic acid injected into his body.
Some very strange (and very large) footprints lead FBI agent Robert Graham (James Arness), now working with Sergeant Peterson, to signal Washington who send Doctors Harold (Edmund Gwenn) and Pat Medford (Joan Weldon), a father/daughter team of entomologists from the Department of Agriculture.
The elder Medford is tight-lipped about their theories on events but places a flask of formic acid under the nose of the still catatonic little girl who wakes immediately screaming “Them! Them!”
The ants (which are full-scale-mock-up models) are great fun with weird sounds and big lumbering antennae signalling their imminent arrival.
There are never many of them onscreen and they appear rather mechanical – but they are pretty scary all the same and have an old-fashioned charm that takes us back into another era of filmmaking.
Their desert nest is eventually located and the US Army is brought in with poisonous gas to dispatch them. But two queens manage to escape putting our heroes back to square one.
Terrific special effects, noble humanitarian sentiments, involving performances and a first-class script make for monster thrills and fantastic suspense.
This taut, atmospheric and totally convincing science-fiction classic is the best giant bug movie of the 1950s.
The film won an Oscar for its special effects and is regarded to be one of the more successful examples of the atomic age paranoia genre.
Sgt Ben Peterson
Dr Harold Medford
Dr Patricia Medford
Agent Robert Graham
Brigadier General O’Brien