What’s your favorite older movie? (For the purposes of this question, we’ll define “older” as “more than 30 years since it was made.) How many times have you seen it, and why do you like it so much? How does the quality of current movies compare to movies of the past?
Ah now for this question you don’t really need to put the word “older” in the mix as the majority of my favourite films are “older” films.
Since my teens I have had a metaphorical love affair with Hitchcock, film noir, Ealing Comedies and more.
So where to begin?
My favourite film is such a film school textbook answer I will forgo it on this occasion and equally I will avoid a couple of obvious examples from Hitchcock. So what film am I going to talk about?
Well I am going to look at the first Hammer Horror film, the Quatermass Xperiment. Yes the title shamelessly exploits the then newly created X certificate but aside from that it is not in the slightest schlock. In fairness it is a bit of a misnomer to call it a horror movie as it is more science fiction. Based on the TV serial of the same name it involves the return of the first manned rocket and two of the astronauts have vanished. The surviving astronaut is in a deep state of shock and when in hospital slowly begins to mutate into something nasty.
The plot is somewhat familiar nowadays but in 1953 when the serial was made it was still a new idea and became an obvious choice for making into a feature film.
How well does it stand up? Well it would be unfair to compare the effects with modern day blockbusters but on the whole it stands up well. I think most of it is down to the characterisation of its players and that it is very unreliant on effects. The mutating astronaut is superbly played by Richard Wordsworth and he barely utters a single word of dialogue, he portrays the nervous man very well especially in a scene where a small child comes across him. Caroon doesn’t want to hurt the child and yet the alien inside him is trying to make him and it’s a wonderfully tortured performance. Tension is kept well as we slowly follow the trail of Caroon with a lengthy POV sequence in the London Zoo.
Where the film fails for me is where it failed for creator Niger Kneale, Brian Donlevy’s performance as Quatermass. Not that he is a bad actor, he just plays it wrong. His Quatermass is a shouty, arrogant bully and doesn’t really strike me as the humble professor. He is curt to other characters and strikes me as a Science teacher from a prep school rather than a creative Scientist. Luckily when they did Quatermass 2 he lightens up a bit.
Where the film succeeds is in the scripting, these days scripting on Sci-Fi films tends to be average at best and more reliant on special effects and dramatic battles. The Quatermass Xperiment didn’t have these luxuries so the success of the film is all in the story.