Thursday, 18 April 2013

X: The Unknown (1956)

A Quatermass movie in all but name (due to Nigel Kneale not wanting to put his character in the hands of any other writers), X: The Unknown is a sci-fi/horror movie that fans of those Quatermass movies will most definitely want to seek out.

Dean Jagger stars as Professor. Quaterma, I mean Dr. Adam Royston, a man who is called upon to help in any way he can when a group of soldiers discover a source of radiation while running through some exercises in the Scottish countryside. It's not long until people start suffering from burns, trauma and even incurable cases of death. Dr. Royston eventually comes up with a theory, while helping Inspector McGill (Leo McKern), but it may just be too outlandish for anyone to believe. His boss, John Elliott (Edward Chapman), certainly doesn't believe it. Well . . . . . . not at first.

Written by Jimmy Sangster, and directed by Leslie Norman, X: The Unknown is a low-key film that holds your attention from almost the very beginning while developing into something that rewards viewer patience with some decent set-pieces and an enjoyable finale. Everything about the film is unfussy, the script delivers the information and briefly sketches out a few of the main characters while the choice of camera shots help keep things more mysterious until the second half of the movie, and it serves as a reminder of what can be done without piling on cheap scares and/or practical gags. Over half a century later, this film makes for a great "how to . . ." for anyone wanting to make the most of limited resources.

The cast, overall, do a pretty good job. Jagger is a likable lead, McKern is even better as the main investigating officer willing to go out on a limb while some wild theories are developed. Chapman has to be the uptight voice of reason, but he's not entirely unsympathetic as the events unfold, and William Lucas is fine as Peter Elliott, John's son. Emmerdale fans should keep their eyes peeled to see a very young Frazer (billed here as Fraser) Hines as a local boy caught up in the drama.

All in all, this is a top class sci-fi horror movie, smart and entertaining with an enjoyably British flavour. It's funny how those stereotypes and twee British traits can be so annoying in certain movies and situations while so appealing in others, but this is one of those others. It may have a few elements in the mix that will have you thinking of other films, better-known films, but this one came first and, for me, remains one of the very best.


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