Forgotten Film: Quatermass and the Pit (1958)

The 210-minute Quatermass and the Pit DVD offers a richer viewing experience than the cinematic version, chopped down to just 97 minutes.

The 210-minute Quatermass and the Pit DVD offers a richer viewing experience than the cinematic version, chopped down to just 97 minutes.

This is the 170th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

As I mentioned last week, Quatermass and the Pit was one of the new films I recently picked up. This is the six episode serial that ran on the BBC from December 1958 to January 1959. Each episode was 35 minutes, making the DVD roughly 210 minutes. The 1967 film version, released as Five Million Years to Earth in the United States, ran 97 minutes, less than half the running time of the original production.

As usual, I do have a story about this film. As a freshman at the University of Texas I was attracted to an interesting grad student who studied Anthropology and worked with the monkeys at UT. We hit it off well and were an item for a fairly long time. I kept in touch with her even after she transferred out to University of Georgia and worked with the monkeys there on her way to a doctorate in psychology.

One night we were talking and she was telling me about the worst film she had ever seen in her life. (You see where this is going.) It was Five Million Years to Earth. 

The film features a rocket buried in a Knightsbridge neighborhood. Digging for a new development unearths some unusual skulls and scientists are brought in, including Dr. Matthew Roney (Cec Linder). Roney is pressured to wrap up his investigation fast, but he is not having it. He appeals to his friend Prof. Bernard Quatermass (Andre Morell) who has been working with the British rocketry group. He has just gotten a military co-commander Colonel Breen (Anthony Bushell) who is a no-nonsense, military, anything-we-can-do-to-win sort of guy. Roney is assisted by a female scientist Barbara Judd (Christine Finn).

Breen and Quatermass go to the worksite to see if the object might be an unexploded bomb. Soon weird things happen and the investigators learn of odd reports from the neighborhood going back 30 years or so. The dig further and discover that the weird things go back centuries.

The rocket is made of an odd material that resists analysis. Roney suggests that the unearthed skulls represent an ape-like man with a developed brain who may be up to five million years old (hence the film title).

Insect-like creatures are found inside the ship and these are suspected of being perhaps Martian in origin. Colonel Breen is having none of this, even though he has been affected by something from the ship. He is convinced it is a leftover German propaganda stunt from WWII. Needless to say, he is proven very wrong.

The film has lots of ins and outs and conflicts between the scientists and the military, which result in multiple deaths of soldiers and civilians. One worker even has symptoms of demonic possession.

At two and a half hours, there is room to expound on a lot of these subjects. In the 97 minute film version, much gets glossed over, hence my former girlfriend’s distaste for the film. She hated the ending, which I enjoyed in both versions. The film is done in color while the BBC show is presented in a stirring black and white. And being 1958, the special effects are less than stellar. The BBC has never been noted for its effects budgets and certainly not in the period four-plus years before Dr. Who.

Now, prior to Dr. Who, screenwriter Nigel Kneale was Britain’s premier science fiction TV writer. Prior to Quatermass and the Pit he had done a version of 1984 and two earlier Quatermass teleplays – The Quatermass Experiment with Reginald Tate in the Quatermass role (also filmed under that title and The Creeping Unknown with Brian Donlevy) and Quatermass II with John Robinson in the title role, since Tate had unfortunately died. Quatermass II was later filmed as Enemy From Space with Brian Donlevy repeating the role. Five Million Years to Earth featured Andrew Keir in the role. Later John Mills would take the role in Quatermass.

The tale gets pretty wacky by the end but I loved it. My former girlfriend Jen hated it. Everyone’s got their own opinion. Go for the longer version. Things are a little clearer in their motivation and explanations. As usual, your mileage may vary.

Series organizer Todd Mason host Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs. 

Forgotten Films: The Giant Behemoth (1959)

The Giant Behemoth's animated monster feels flat in some instances, but it still delivers some fun for genre fans.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 161st in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

I am ashamed to say that I had never seen this film before pulling it up for this week’s Forgotten Film. I love stop motion animation and Willis O’Brien. King Kong is one of my favorite films off all time and anything with O’Brien’s animation in it is something I want to see. I’ve seen most of his science fiction related stuff but I had not seen this one.

According to Wikipedia, however, O’Brien did not do most of the animation. The director wanted him but the producers hired Jack Rabin, best known for his work on The Beast of Hollow Mountain and The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent. Rabin apparently sub-contracted the work to O’Brien for the flat fee of $5,000. O’Brien’s assistant, Pete Peterson, did most of the animation. This was the last film that O’Brien really worked on, other than a very short piece in It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

Giant Behemoth director Eugène Lourié previously did 1953’s The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, and this film has several similarities. Apparently the original premise for this film had an amorphous blob of radiation as the monster but the distributor wanted a pastiche of the former film, so the script was changed.

On to the film. The film begins with American scientist Steve Karnes (Gene Evans) speaking to a British nuclear commission about the possible effects of radiation on the ecology of the ocean. In an astounding coincidence, a small fishing village suffers the loss of an old fisherman who is found near death and says the word “Behemoth” before he dies. Suddenly, fish begin washing up on the beach. And thousands of dead fish mean something is wrong.

Karnes and his British counterpart Professor James Bickford (André Morell) decide to visit the village. They find the fishermen afraid to go out since something is causing the fish to die. Also, one fisherman has suffered unusual burns, similar to those caused by radiation exposure. Soon there are more deaths and a footprint is discovered. Karnes and Bickford take the footprint to a paleontologist who decides that the monster must be a type of Palaeosaurus, an aquatic dinosaur with electric qualities like an eel. The monster is also discovered to be highly radioactive.

Soon, the monster is traced to London where it destroys a ferry with lots of people on it. And begins a run through the city. The monster has the power to emit deadly radiation that kills quite effectively.

Karnes and Bickford have to work with other scientists and the military to destroy the monster without blowing it up and leaving thousands of little highly radioactive bits across town.

Overall, The Giant Behemoth is an enjoyable enough film. It is very obviously a low budget piece; one shot of the monster destroying a car is used three times in the film. The water scenes of the monster are not animated in much detail; the monster’s mouth barely moves. However, the land shots of the monster terrorizing the city are much better. While the movie is derivative of The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms and takes a while to get going, I still had fun.

The Giant Behemoth is a product of its time — nothing even remotely approaching computer assisted animation was used here — and being in black and white will probably discourage younger fans. If you have not seen it, give it a try. If you have seen it, you are better off going back to see King Kong, The Lost World or Mighty Joe Young to see O’Brien flex his animation powers.

Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.