Friday, 5 April 2013

The Quatermass Xperiment (1955)

AKA The Creeping Unknown.

I first encountered the character of Professor Quatermass many years ago, when I first saw the superb Quatermass And The Pit. He was played in that movie by Andrew Keir and back when I was a young boy I didn't even realise the history of the character. I didn't know that he'd been introduced to people in radio dramas and then television and I wasn't even aware of this film, the first to feature the character on the big screen.

Anyway, this film sees Quatermass (played by Brian Donlevy) called into action when a rocket (launched by a team led by the Professor) crash lands in the English countryside and only has one survivor (Victor Carroon, played by Richard Wordsworth) inside. Three went up, only one came back. Quatermass wants to figure out what went wrong, and what has turned the lone survivor into a mute shell of his former self, while Inspector Lomax (Jack Ward) is also wanting answers. Quatermass calls it a scientific matter requiring a scientific approach while Lomax argues that he needs to do his job, regardless of the unusual setting and situation. The two men find themselves working together as Victor Carroon escapes from those watching him, becoming more and more dangerous with each hour he's on the loose.

Directed by Val Guest, who helped shape the screenplay with Richard H, Landau as they adapted the television play by Nigel Kneale, this is a very low-key affair that plays out, for the most part, exactly as you'd expect an adapted piece of television to play out. There are some nice exterior shots, but most of the action takes place in offices and medical facilities (and also, most memorably, Westminster Abbey). The film starts with a tone of mystery before revealing plenty in the second half, leading viewers by degrees from the sci-fi core through to the real horror of the premise.

Donlevy is far from the best actor to have been given the role of Quatermass. I have to agree with Nigel Kneale, who wanted UK actors anyway, and found Donlevy to be far too unsympathetic and implausible in the role. He's not terrible in the role. However, he's just not on a par with the likes of Andrew Keir or Andre Morell. Jack Ward is decent as Lomax, David King-Wood is fine as a puzzled doctor and Margia Dean does well as the distraught wife of the suffering Victor Carroon. Wordsworth may have his performance overshadowed by some special effects here and there, but he's also pretty good (especially in the scene with him meeting a young Jane Asher in a moment reminiscent of Frankenstein). Great support comes from the likes of Lionel Jeffries, Thora Hird and Gordon Jackson, although the latter actor is hardly in the film for more than a minute.

All of the Quatermass tales are enjoyable adventures, mixing some impressively tense moments with intelligence and a very British approach to potential impending doom. This is certainly worth your time, even if it's not the best one (that would be the mighty Quatermass And The Pit, in my opinion).



  1. I'm a huge fan of Nigel Kneale, but I sort of disagree with him on Donlevy. Kneale was right that he wasn't sympathetic in the part, but that's a big part of why I think he works. I like the more sinister Quatermass. His last line in this picture is chilling.

    Only a few fragments remain of the original television miniseries of this. The other three Kneale Quatermass minis are highly recommended. A few years ago, the BBC remade this one, staging it live on television, as the original had been. It was quite good, and well worth tracking down.

  2. I saw the DVD of the new BBC live show, have been very tempted to just blind buy it.

    There is something to be said for the colder nature of Quatermass, but I personally will always have a soft spot for Keir. And I am selfish sometimes with wanting our British icons to be British, hahaha.