The original film was based on the short story Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell, Jr. The story follows an Air Force crew who fly out to the North Pole at the request of a Dr. Carrington (Robert Cornthwaite). It seems that a UFO has crashed near by and they want to investigate it. They find the ship buried in the ice but when they try to dig it out using explosives, it’s destroyed. Fortunately a life form is found near the ship in the ice. It’s taken back to base where it can be studied but it thaws out and escapes. The scientists quickly discover that the creature is a plant-like alien and it needs blood. Thus the chilling fight for survive begins.
This horror film was the highest grossing science fiction film of 1951. It even beat The Day the Earth Stood Still at the box office. It has also influenced the vast majority of science fiction horror films that have followed in it’s wake.
There has been a debate over who really directed the movie. It was produced by Howard Hawks and most people think that he really directed the film instead of first time director Christian Nyby. Nyby went on to direct a ton of television shows and co-star James Arness (who played the thing) claims that while Hawks was on set a lot, Nyby directed it. Either way this was the only film of note in Nyby’s long career while Hawks made plenty of classic pieces of cinema.