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Keep watching the skies

I re-watched Christian Nyby’s/Howerd Hawks’ 1951 The Thing from Another World last night – because it was half a lifetime since the last time I had watched it, and because it’s coming up in a future episode of our podcast. And while I’m saving a lot of intelligent (…) observations for the podcast, there’s two things that struck me, and I feel like sharing here on the blog.

But first, a bit of history…

As I mentioned in a number of occasions, my parents were the sort of reckless scatterbrains that would let me watch whatever movie I wanted, as long as they were watching it too. And so I watched The Thing from Another World when I was seven or eight, and it was passed on the telly.
It scared me witless, but it also fascinated me – I was developing a passion for scary stories (courtesy of Scooby Doo and other kid’s shows) and for science fiction (courtesy of Thunderbirds and UFO and other Gerry Anderson shows).
Anyway, I was allowed to watch the movie, and it left a mark.

But last night, as I was watching it again, I was suddenly struck by the thought that there had been a time – say in 1975 or ’76, when this black and white science fiction flick was shown on prime time TV, on the first channel of our state television – back in a time when there were only two channels.
And it was weird, thinking about two thirds of the population sitting in their homes watching The Thing from Another World. Something like… what? Twenty million people?
Today it would be impossible to make the same numbers.
And I found myself wonder what all those people made of that old movie – I know my parents and my uncle and aunt were impressed, and they discussed the film when they met the next day.
And it feels weird.

(full disclosure – I later watched the movie again, probably around ’78 or ’79, in the parish’s children cinema – because as we have already discussed, the programming in our parish cinema was rather… unusual)

The second thing I came up with last night has to do with Margaret Sheridan, a beautiful actress playing Nikki Nicholson, that infamously is taking part in the polar expedition only to take and read aloud notes for her boss, and type them up. And make coffee.
Oh, and be wooed by the hero.

Well, the first thing that struck me was how Nikki Nicholson is once again a model of Hawksian Woman – despite her “minor” role and her unflattering duties she’s strong, self-reliant and ironic, can keep the hero at bay when he tries to seduce her, and she’s very much in charge of the courtship.
She’s a wisecracking, cigarette-smoking, slacks-wearing post WW2 woman – and yes, she wears slacks at the North Pole.
This is quite good – and even her routine with the coffee maker can’t rob her of her tough, smart attitude.

And second, of course, she’s the one that has the right idea to kill the monster, and offers it as a throwaway line.
Also, she’s the one that defuses the subplot about the attempt at breeding more Things – by revealing her boss’ plans to the hero.
And she does not need to be saved by the hero, not even once, which is good.

So yes, I like Nikki Nicholson – and Margaret Sheridan – a lot, and I like the movie too – sure, Carpenter remade it in a much more spectacular and complicated way, but I still have a soft spot for this old black and white piece of my childhood.

Keep watching the skies.

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