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: They Came From Beyond Space (1967)


They Came From Beyond Space: Cool ray guns, cool goggles and a not-so-cool ending.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 133rd in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

This week we have an odd film. I thought I was recording It Came From Outer Space, the 1953 3D film based on a Ray Bradbury script. Instead I got a British film based on Joseph Millard’s novel The Gods Hate Kansas. So, I watched this one instead.

The story begins with a meteorite landing in Cornwall. Nine meteorites land in a field in a perfect V. The British Ministry of Science wants Dr. Curtis Temple (Robert Hutton) and his crew to join a group of various scientists in reviewing the landing. Temple is an expert in extraterrestrial life and is interested but he is suffering from a recent car crash which resulted in a silver plate being placed in his head. His doctor refuses to let him go. Instead, his assistant/girlfriend Lee Mason (Jennifer Jayne) goes. When they attempt to take a sample of the meteorite, Mason finds herself possessed by an alien intelligence. The other scientists are also possessed. Being the first possessee, Mason is in charge and sets up a giant operation, which includes taking and possessing locals.

The DVD art for They Came From Beyond Space

Temple is in love with Mason and worries when he does not get the reports and daily phone calls he has been promised. Mr. Arden, the Ministry official who first visited him, comes by and tells him the doctor has cleared it so Temple and his other assistant, Allan Mullane (Geoffrey Wallace) can go to the site. Instead, Arden tries to possess the two men. Temple sees that Mullane is affected but is not affected himself, which results in him being summarily thrown from the car and told to go away.

Temple attempts to visit the site and is turned away by armed guards. He insists on speaking with Mason and when he does he is not pleased with her treatment of him. She orders him shot if her returns. He manages to sneak in, and he finds a spaceship being built.

What we have here is a British mashup of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters, but without a lot of the good payoff. The paranoia does not run deep. Temple just barrels into things and eventually figures out that his silver plate may be what is saving him from possession. He enlists another scientist Farge (Zia Mohyeddin) to help him build a silver hat to keep the intelligences from taking over others and they develop a ray that can force them out of bodies. And there is a plague that kills within minutes of contact. Maybe. And a four hour roundtrip to the moon. And Michael Gough (Konga, Batman, millions of other films) is the Master of the Moon and leader of the alien intelligences who are looking for bodies to inhabit to do work. They have progressed beyond that eons ago but they still need manual labor.

IMDB shows this with 4.5 rating out of 10. Sounds about right. Some of the sets are pretty good. Story is a little weak. The ending is really weak. And definitely this is a product of the mid 1960’s. Some of the costume color choices are pretty laughable. When you realize that Nigel Kneale was producing Quatermass and the Pit (Five Million Years to Earth) at the same time, this becomes a little sorrier. Not a bad film, just not a good or great one.

And, as always, my taste is totally in my mouth and your mileage might vary.

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