How well do you remember Them! - the terrifying 1954 film?

ENTERTAINMENT

Torrance Grey

6 Min Quiz

Image: tmdb

About This Quiz

The thrillers of the '80s and '90s had serial killers, and today's have radical terrorists, but the 1950s might have had the biggest scare of all -- giant postnuclear bugs! Relive the terror of "Them!" with our quiz!

"Them!" was part of the 1950s "big bug" genre. What kind of bugs, exactly, are involved?

The ants have mutated to about nine feet long, because of exposure to atomic radiation from a nuclear test in the desert. The film does a good job of making them look scary, with big, sharp mandibles.

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"Them!" starts in the desert of which state?

In filming, the desert outside Palmdale, California, stood in for the area outside Alamogordo. Look out for telltale Joshua trees.

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What are State Troopers Peterson and Blackburn looking for?

One squad car and a plane search for the girl, who was sighted wandering in the desert. It's important they find her -- exposure in hot desert conditions can be fatal.

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When they find the little girl, what does she say to Peterson and Blackburn?

The little girl, whose age is estimated to be about six, is in shock and remains silent. For the child actress, Sandy Descher, this was probably an easy introduction to the job!

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What is Sgt. Peterson's first name?

His underling, the trooper Blackburn, is named Ed. (But he gets killed pretty quickly, so don't get attached).

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After picking up the girl, where are Peterson and Blackburn sent by dispatch?

The vehicles seem to belong to a vacationing family, but no one is on the scene. The troopers later find out the little girl was part of the family, headed by FBI agent Alan Ellinson.

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What is odd about the way the Ellinson trailer was damaged?

Peterson points this out. If the trailer was hit by another vehicle, you'd expect the damage to be inward, not outward.

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What do the men hear while outside the car and trailer?

If you hate the noise, you might as well turn off the movie at this point. You'll hear it over and over again, whenever the ants are near.

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The general store the men go to next is owned by ________ Johnson.

Gramps's store is a mess, and deserted, like the car and trailer. Peterson and Blackburn find poor Gramps in the store's cellar, dead.

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At both the Ellinson trailer and Gramps's store, a mess has been made with what?

In the trailer, a box of sugar cubes is ripped open and spilled. In Gramps's store, larger bags of sugar have been interfered with. Unfortunately, as we're about to find out, sugar isn't enough -- these ants have turned carnivorous.

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What is Gramps Johnson's cause of death?

The coroner gives all of these as a possible cause of death. He ends by saying that Johnson "had enough formic acid in him to kill 20 men." Formic acid is from the Latin "formica," meaning -- wait for it! -- "ant"!

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Who played Robert Graham, the FBI agent?

Arness was better known for playing Marshal Matt Dillon on "Gunsmoke." His height was an astonishing six feet, seven inches. Co-star James Whitmore wore lifts in his shoes to compensate.

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Why do the police send for help from the Department of Agriculture?

Technically, Bob Graham sends the print "to Washington." Only after the FBI is unable to identify the mark does the USDA get involved.

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When Dr. Medford arrives, what does the USDA scientist look like?

There are two Dr. Medfords: an old man with a quasi-British accent and his competent, well-dressed daughter. Women come off well in the film: there's an accomplished doctor and a female Army intelligence officer so cool that her underling is Leonard Nimoy!

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The Medfords share what unique scientific specialty?

"Myrmecology" is the study of ants.

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What revives the Ellinson girl from her shock?

Formic acid is said to have a pungent odor. It certainly works on the girl, who jumps from her chair and yells "Them! Them! Them!"

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How wide is the strange animal print found in the desert?

From the 12-centimeter width, the older Dr. Medford estimates the ants must be eight feet long, at least. However, he won't yet share his theory that these are giant ants.

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When do we first see a giant ant?

This is at about the 28-minute mark, or nearly a third of the movie's running time. It's a classic rule of scary movies: Don't bring your Big Bad out too early.

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When Peterson is firing at the ant, where does the older Dr. Medford say to aim?

Dr. Medford says the ant is "helpless without them!" Peterson soon cuts the ant down with a spray of sub-machine-gun fire.

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Why will bombing the nest at night only worsen the problem?

Dr. Medford explains that in hot weather, like that of the desert, the ants will go out at night to look for food. Bombing their nest will just leave them on the surface with nowhere to retreat to.

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How do they destroy the ant nest?

The older Dr. Medford suggests either flooding the tunnels, or using gas. After the men use the latter method, they have to go down into the tunnels with Patricia Medford and do some hands-on mop-up with the flamethrowers.

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Why, according to Patricia Medford, is the threat not over with the destruction of the nest?

The younger Medford has insisted on checking out the ruined nest, and it's a good thing. She recognizes from the broken eggshells that "princess ants" have taken to their wings and left the nest already.

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According to Patricia Medford, how long can queen ants lay eggs from one mating?

One-night stands have serious repercussions when you're an ant.

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What structure do the ants infest next?

The SS Viking sends a distress signal after the ants emerge from its hold. The ship eventually has to be sunk by a Navy ship, the USS Milwaukee.

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Who played the Texan ranchhand-pilot who spotted flying ants?

Reportedly, Walt Disney (the man, not the company) screened the film to assess whether James Arness would make a good Davy Crockett. Instead, Disney was impressed with Parker's work as Alan Crotty, the ranchhand locked up a mental ward, and cast him.

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After telling Crotty that he'll talk to the doctor about getting him released, what does Graham do?

Graham wants Crotty confined so he can't tell his story about flying ants. The law-enforcement characters in the movie are very concerned with preventing a mass panic.

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What is stolen from a rail car in Los Angeles?

The outside of the rail car is caved out, like the Ellinson trailer was, and forty tons of sugar are missing. Peterson and Graham question the rail yard's watchman, who is suspected of complicity in the theft -- but this time, unlike with Crotty, Graham allows the man to be released.

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What does the mental ward inmate Jensen say he's seen outside his window?

The ants look too big to fit in the airplane, Jensen says. This will make sense later, when the men find a crushed model airplane at the site of the suspected infestation.

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What part of Los Angeles have the ants infested?

Jensen saw the storm drain opening from his window, and the ants going in and out. Pat Medford has explained that this kind of opening is attractive to ants -- the hold of the SS Viking would have looked much the same.

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Why can't the military and police just gas the storm drains?

This requires troops to go into the tunnels with guns and flamethrowers. Fun fact: Several members of the cast were military veterans who'd handled flamethrowers in real life.

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Which character dies in the storm drains?

Ben dies nobly. He saves the Lodge boys, who were hiding from the ants in a narrow crevice. Then he's caught by an ant himself, and dies of his wounds.

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Who delivers the film's moral about the dangers of the atomic age?

Medford warns that humanity has "opened a door to a new world. What we'll find in that new world, no one can predict." The ironic thing is that several of the characters smoke like chimneys throughout the film. Perhaps a better moral would have been Smoking Is Not Cool. After all, sixty years later, mutant monsters have failed to appear, while cancer has cut a swath through the "Greatest Generation." (Not that we're preaching or anything!)

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Was it true? Bonus round: Can ants really lift 20 times their own weight?

An ant really can do this, and it's not just queens. That wouldn't make much sense, as the queen's job is mainly to lay eggs. The average worker ant can perform this feat.

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Was it true? Bonus round: Do ants really go to war?

Dr. Medford says that only ants and man go to war. And, in fact, ants will attack other colonies, defeat them, and take away their eggs. The ants that hatch from those eggs become "slaves" for their new colony. It's an incredibly complex social structure!

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Was it true? Bonus round: Which body part do ants NOT have?

Dr. Medford says that ants "breathe through their sides," which is basically true: they have holes throughout their bodies that take in oxygen and release carbon dioxide. They also have no ears, relying strongly on their sense of smell and on feeling vibrations.

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