When the family and I watched Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle in Miracle on 34th Street, we all agreed that no one could top him. We wanted him to come down our chimney--no matter that we had none--and to sit for a spell with something hot to sip on, and speak to us in that calm voice promising joy as an everyday occurrence.
But he brought nothing except cold comfort as the scientist in Them!, just as calmly certain that terror and eventual annihilation by giant ants is also just another day at the office. Yes, he frowns and hesitates; but he is so sure--just as he knew he was Santa Claus less than a decade ago--that I began to fear Them! would end as it began: in an inexorable nightmare, like that little girl wandering in the desert, her eyes glassy, refusing to be soothed by kindly James Whitmore’s policeman--his hands genuinely tender, the only father out where the wind whistles in radioactive high spirits, hungry. I will hear that keening warble for a long time--the giant puppet-ants never managing to be silly, out there where no one can help--or down below, in the dark--again bearing down on children. Shame on you, Edmund Gwenn, you entomologist, you.