Oct 081955
 
2.5 reels

Professor Bernard Quatermass’s (Brian Donlevy) experimental rocket crashes in a field in the English countryside.¬†Quatermass, along with a representative of the Ministry of Defense (Lionel Jeffries) rushes to the site to find two of the astronauts have vanished and the third, Victor Carroon (Richard Wordsworth), is hurt in an inexplicable way and unable to speak.¬†Dismissing all other concerns, Quatermass searches for answers to uncover scientific truths, while Inspector Lomax (Jack Warner) attempts to solve the mystery of the missing men, and Carroon’s wife (Margia Dean) tries to help her mutating husband.

When a film is this influential, I want it to be great.¬† And at times, The Quatermass Xperiment is, but only at times.¬†The atmosphere is there, and the basic concept is filled with potential (it better be considering how many later films “borrowed” the idea).¬†The supporting cast is made up of skilled British character actors (Was Lionel Jeffries ever anything less than impeccable?¬† And if you can’t answer that, go rent some ’60s British comedies.).¬†Then there is Wordsworth’s heart-wrenching performance as the man who is becoming a monster.¬†He succeeds where so many who followed him failed, invoking sympathy and horror simultaneously.¬† It is reminiscent of Karloff”s work as The Monster in Frankenstein.¬†But a casting error and several script blunders leave this a remarkable work that should have been better.

What makes this an important film?¬†The young Hammer film company picked up the rights to make a big screen adaptation of a phenomenally popular, six-part TV series entitled The Quatermass Experiment.¬†The substantial box office of their version persuaded the studio’s officers that money could be made with horror, and set in motion the next fifteen years of genre movie-making, with Hammer recreating the classic Universal monster films.¬†They changed the title due to England’s new X-rating (adults only).¬†For reasons that are hard to fathom, Hammer’s sci-fi horror flick was slapped with an X (I’d give it something between a G and a PG in the U.S. system).¬†Instead of running from the rating, Hammer embraced it and advertised for audiences to come see the “horror” that was too extreme for mainstream society.

The film stood as Britain’s entrance into alien sci-fi and was early enough in the invasion film cycle that almost everything in it was new, and would be copied more times than I can easily recall.

The character of Quatermass appeared in additional live TV broadcasts, feature films, books, and radio broadcasts. He became the symbol of wisdom, nobility, and a bit of overly aggressive wide-eyed wonder in science (not that those traits were obvious in this film).

But the most important films aren’t always the best, and this one has some huge problems.¬†The special effects are less than special.¬† However, as the full “monster” is seen only briefly, this is a minor difficulty.¬†The quick ending is not so easy to forgive.¬†After a huge buildup, there is little payoff with the creature being dispatched without causing anyone to sweat.¬†The real mistake was the alteration of the main character and the casting of Brian Donlevy, who excelled playing villainous thugs but was out of his depth as a rocket scientist.¬†Changed from a Brit to an American to make the film more marketable in the States, Quatermass is made into a bullying, overblown sociopath.¬†He’s rude, cruel, reckless, and unconcerned with the suffering of anyone.¬†Considering the lack of safeties built into the experiment, it makes sense that he be self-absorbed, but the picture gives us no one else to follow.¬†If more time had been spent with Carroon, it could have worked, but this is Quatermass’s picture and he’s the one we spend ninety minutes with.¬†I can’t imagine anyone wanting to spend ninety minutes with him.¬† Or ninety seconds.¬†I’d rather the monster eat everyone just to shut him up.¬†As this film relies on the viewer wanting the professor to beat the creature, his unpleasantness kneecaps the production.

The film was re-titled The Creeping Unknown for release in the U.S.

It was followed by¬†1957’s Quatermass 2 (Enemy from Space in the U.S.), 1967’s Quatermass and the Pit (Five Million Years to Earth in the U.S.), and 1979’s The Quatermass Conclusion.