The Quatermass Xperiment (1957) Rated 12
Starring Brian Donlevy, William Franklyn, Sidney James, Vera Day
Directed by Val Guest.
This is the big screen adaption of the 1955 BBC science fiction serial of the same name and was the second time Quatermass had been adapted for me the big screen, and in honesty is probably the best of the Hammer films. It is well documented that Nigel Kneale was less than happy with Quatermass’ first foray onto the big screen, he had no input on the screenplay and did not approve of director Val Guest’s choice of actor to play the professor nor his interpretation. However, for the second outing Kneale was involved in the scripting and the characterisation of Quatermass is softened some what.
The film is a compressed version of the TV serial with a number of differences, including but not limited to the ending.
The film opens in dramatic fashion with a distressed young woman with an injured boyfriend nearly running our titular professor off the road. It is a short and effective scene which sets up the mysterious meteorites, what effect they have on people and reacquaintes us with Quatermass. From now on the film is pretty much told in the presence of Quatermass. From a snappy briefing with his colleagues and an immediate apology it is clear that Donlvey’s Quatermass has mellowed since his last big screen outing and is driven more by curiosity rather than a necessity to solve a problem of his own creation. In many ways the story benefits from resources the TV serial could not obtain, the mysterious mark is much more clearly visible her and the ability for tight close ups help.
Where the film perhaps loses out is on some of the more nuanced dialogue sequences and the perpetuating mystery of the vanished village of Winnterton is glossed over quite quickly in order to keep the pace up.
However the action sequences could only be achieved on a film set up meaning Quatermass’ visit to the refinery where synthetic food is being is far more dramatic and tense. Machine gun blazing chases just weren’t an option for the TV serial and thus her we have the sense of a real dangerous threat to Quatermass.
The supporting cast is pretty strong with a straight performance by Sidney James as a tipsy but curious journalist being a highlight, it is quite a dramatic moment when he is mowed down in the Irish Club. Equally William Franklyn gives a reliable performance as Quatermass’ number two.
While the film recreates and improves on some of the serial’s iconic moments (Quatermass peering into the tank and discovering the alien creatures, and the pipes being filled with pulped up human bodies to reduce the flow of lethal oxygen) it films apart in the final reel a bit. The alien creatures are not able to breath oxygen which is why they are in artificial environments or inhabiting humans so by all accounts when the dome is destroyed they should die as they did in the TV serial. However here they become a stomping threat.
Now I mentioned the ending is different, principally the resolution is the same but we lose Quatermass’s trip into space (and aren’t we thankful for that) and we have another blood soaked shooting.
On the whole I would favour watching the film version before watching the TV serial as the basic production cannot match the ambition of the script, the picture isn’t great and John Robson gives a static performance as Quatermass and in early episodes is clearly reading off cue cards (not really his fault as he was a last minute replacement as Reginald Tate died very close to the live broadcast).
Quatermass 2 is an interesting piece of British cold war paranoia with alien possession being a metaphor for communists in the community, the factory gate is even reminiscent of Check-point-Charlie. The direction and performances are strong and the roots of many modern sci-fi films are on show