Thursday, June 4, 2015

Quatermass And The Pit!

The movie I'd most like to own which I don't currently is Five Million Years to Earth, the 1967 big-screen adaptation of Nigel Kneale's BBC serial Quatermass and the Pit.

Which was its title in Britain, but I assume was just to oddball for American release. This movie was my first experience with the complex rocket scientist, Professor Bernard Quatermass, a character played irascibly and memorably by Andrew Keir, who finds common cause with the more refined paleontologist Dr. Mathew Roney (James Donald).  They are confronted with a mystery which challenges many a cherished sacred cow and which threatens to destroy London and possibly all of human society. Barbara Shelley is along as a beautiful lab assistant and obligatory minor love interest, strangely enough for Quatermass. Julian Glove does a remarkable job as the unsympathetic military martinet Colonel Breen.

This is delightful yarn that starts slow and builds beautifully to a crescendo, with many a neat jump along the way. There's a decided creepiness to the story which blends science fiction with the supernatural in such a smooth way that the difference is negligible. The movie made a huge impact on me when I first saw it, though the years and experience with more BBC material of this type has dulled its impact a bit.

Which is why I likely now prefer the original BBC six-part serial version of the story since I've been able to glom a copy and enjoy it. The measured pace of the six-part serial better serves the story which has some very memorable highlights at the end of each chapter.

Andre Morrell plays Quatermass in this one and he does a magnificent job as a somewhat less irritable figure who is upset that his beloved "Rocket Group" designed for research and exploration is being turned to military use by the government and that Colonel Breen (Anthony Bushell). The story of the London dig which uncovers some peculiar hominid remains brings in Roney (Cec Linder) and his assistant (Christine Finn) to seek out the answers which ultimately challenge everything.

Christine Finn is too young to be matche with Quatermass in this version and the love interest is instead supplied by the young military officer Potter (John Stratton). This frees up Quatermass to have a more thorough teaming with Roney as the story rolls foward. In particular this version makes more of the troubling religious aspects of the story.

The black and white also helps obscure the "aliens" who cause all the panic, since the less vivid imagery helps obscure the limited special effects results which to a small degree undermines the effectiveness of the color big-screen version.

The finale of the serial is somewhat less focused than the film version, but the ending is perhaps a bit more thematically resonant as Quatermass is given a final speech which ties it up where the film merely seems to stop in a moment of confusing shame.

Either one is a hoot to watch and I can only look forward to the time in the future when I can relish them again.

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  1. Want to see how Quatermass and the Pit (and the entire Quatermass series) "influenced" The X-Files?
    Check this out...

    1. Interesting, but not surprising. The X-Files was thrilling for several seasons but there's no doubt it did not emerge from nothing and has many influences, not the least of which is The Night Stalker series.

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