Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT/THE CREEPING UNKNOWN

THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT British TV 1953.
THE CREEPING UNKNOWN (aka The Quatermass Xperiment/1955. Director: Val Guest.

The Quatermass Xperiment first saw life as a six-part TV serial in 1953. Professor Quatermass (Reginald Tate) has helped send a trio of men into outer space for the first time. However, when the rocket returns, only one astronaut, Victor Carroon (Duncan Lamont), is inside. Quatermass and associates try to find out what happened to the missing men as well as what's happening to Carroon's own physiology as he undergoes frightening changes. Carroon's wife, Judith (Isabel Dean of Man Bait) has started a relationship with colleague Gordon Briscoe (John Glen), but she remains with her husband during his illness. Victor eventually metamorphoses into a horrible creature that contains the minds of the missing men and terrorizes London. The Quatermass Xperiment is taut, suspenseful and well-acted. Only two parts of the serial remain and are available on youtube, but the other four parts have been cobbled together expertly using production stills, music and background sounds, and written synopses -- these, too, are available on youtube.

Reginald Tate as Quatermass with Isabel Dean
The Quatermass Xperiment was turned into a theatrical film as well. Tate was replaced by American Brian Donlevy as Quatermass for limited marquee value, and the film was retitled the edgier The Creeping Unknown for distribution in the U.S. Donlevy is good but he plays Quatermass quite differently from Tate, making the professor colder and more callous that he needs to be, almost the stereotype of a "mad scientist." The triangle business with Mrs. Carroon (Margia Dean) torn between the doctor and her husband has been dropped, as is the notion of the missing men's minds being somehow active inside Carroon's brain. The creature Carroon turns into is even more repulsive in the TV serial than it is in the movie, although it's quite respectable in appearance. Also dropped from the movie are scenes in which Carroon is briefly kidnapped by hoodlums. Although he has not a word of dialogue, Richard Wordsworth is superb as Carroon, horrified by what is happening but unable to speak or explain. Jack Warner scores as Inspector Lomax, who investigates the mystery of the missing spacemen along with Quatermass, and also helps him hunt Carroon down when he escapes. Thora Hird certainly makes her mark as Rosie, the drunken street woman who tells a police sergeant (Sam Kydd, who's also notable) that she's seen the monster. Lionel Jeffries [First Men in the Moon] is also good as reporter Blake, as is Maurice Kaufmann [The Giant Behemoth] as Quatermass' assistant, Marsh. The Creeping Unknown has atmosphere, particularly in the spooky scene when Carroon invades a zoo at night, as well as the eerie footage taken from the spaceship of the men being buffeted by an alien force. The Creeping Unknown was quite influential, engendering such movies as Caltiki, the Immortal Monster; The Blob; and The Crawling Eye, among others.

Verdict: Creepy imaginative stuff for its day. Quatermass Experiment: ***. Creeping Unknown: ***.

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