Title: Quatermass and the Pit (Five Million Years to Earth – U.S.)
Distributor: Hammer Studios, ABPC, (20th Century Fox (U.S.))
Writer: Nigel Kneale
Director: Roy Ward Baker
Producer: Anthony Nelson Keys
Starring: James Donald, Andrew Keir, Barbara Shelley, Julian Glover
Released: November 1967
I feel like its been a while since I did a Sci-fi film, so why not take a peek at a Hammer film from that genre! This is the third installment (big screen) of this franchise, and for reasons I’ll get into later, they switched actors for the main character, Professor Quatermass. The replacement was a fine actor, and with a regular Hammer leading lady, the film carried on the tradition well. The series was initially on British television, and the adaptation is well worth the watch. Alright, let us journey into the past, and see some cool science fiction, Hammer studio style!
The film begins with a Bobby walking down a dark street. He enters a subway outlet called “Hobbs End” and sees a sign telling the viewers that it’s under construction. The scene switches to the construction workers below, as they continue their mind-numbing work. As they dig deeper, they discover a skull, but keep going anyway. Within seconds, one of the other workers finds a complete human skeleton! They realize they must stop at this point, and call in reinforcements.
A few days later, a team of researchers is seeking answers, and one man, Doctor Roney (James Donald). tells the press that he needs their help in seeking public approval to influence the government to let the work continue. As this conversation is continuing, Barbara Judd (Barbara Shelley – The Gorgon, Rasputin the Mad Monk), and another assistant make another discovery. They find something metallic, but can’t figure out what it might be. Suddenly, a man believes it could be an undetonated bomb from WWII. The police, and then the bomb squad arrive to take action, but they’ll soon find out that this “bomb” will be much more deadly than any other!
As they dig out around the supposed bomb, they come to realize that they are more than likely wrong about the device. Doctor Roney then questions the young officer about his experience, so he calls his superior for a second opinion. The phone calls goes to a man named Colonel Breen (Julian Glover), and he’s actually in a meeting with a certain renegade scientist, Professor Quatermass (Andrew Keir)! They are discussing a government operation that he started, but that they are taking over. The government wants to get into space and have missiles to get the upper-hand. Breen and some pencil-pusher tell Quatermass that he’ll be on board or out on his own. Breen then gets the note about the “bomb,” and the two head over to check it out.
Once they arrive, Breen and Quatermass have differing opinions on what’s going on below. A local policeman tells Quatermass that the area was abandoned years before the war, so those remains can’t be of the British populace. Some kind of superstition was keeping people away. He investigates some of the houses in the area, and they see some claw marks on the walls. The policeman can’t explain them, and he gets very nervous while they look around. So much so that he leaves abruptly. Miss Judd joins them, and gets spooked too, and then tells Quatermass that the name of the area, “Hobbs,” was an old nickname for the devil.
Later, over at the Doctor’s lab, Quatermass questions Roney about the authenticity of these skulls, and seems to be suspicious of the “ape-man” theories. Miss Judd shows up and has some newspaper clippings about some of the supernatural goings-on in Hobbs Lane years before the war. Back at the dig site, the military has just about unearthed the entire “bomb” and now must finally come to the fact that it isn’t of this Earth. The Sargent and Quatermass seem to be on the same page and that page is not the one that Breen is on. Just as they are theorizing about it, a scream comes from inside the shell, and they find one of the soldiers raving. He states that he’s seen something terrible, and that it reached out for him.
Quatermass and Judd then head to the archives to investigate further into the matters from decades before. A historian tells them about the things that were seen, and then Quatermass gets an idea, then heads back to the dig site. The military has procured a special drill to try to get inside the structure, but not even that works. In the process, they seem to have activated a defense mechanism, and it nearly drives them mad. They leave the pod for a minute to gather themselves, and another soldier looks inside. He sees a hole where they were drilling, but one that is bigger than the drill, so it couldn’t have been them. Suddenly, the hole gets bigger, and the entire wall disintegrates. Behind that very wall is a honeycomb like area that is housing dead (but gigantic) locusts!
Were these giant creatures the aliens or their food? And what do the ape men have to do with all of this? Your questions will be answered by the enigmatic Professor Quatermass!
OK, here are my thoughts:
Let me start out by saying that I love Andrew Keir as an actor. He does a fine job as Quatermass, he was outstanding in Dracula Prince of Darkness, and in the Pirates of Blood River. That being said, I prefer Brian Donlevy to him as Quatermass. His demeanor was perfect for the role, and although Keir did act mildly abrasive sometimes, he just wasn’t quite as good. Barbara Shelley (image below) added her usual electricity to the film, and was very lovely as well. James Donald (Roney) was another fine addition to the cast. He commanded the scenes he was in, and really played well opposite of Julian Glover (Breen). Also look for a small role by Hammer films stalwart, Duncan Lamont!
I’ve got to say that with a limited budget, the special effects were pretty good. There was a group of five gentlemen that worked on this film, uncredited. Musically, the film doesn’t offer much, but does hit some good peaks during/leading up to the action. The film was a little dark in some scenes, but nothing too terrible. Overall, I’d rate the film a “B” for the action, acting, and cool story and effects. I’ll definitely be reviewing the first two Quatermass films eventually, and probably in sequence as well. Look for them in the near future!
This is going to be on TCM next week. I already set my DVR.
Synergy. Or something.
If you enjoyed the Hammer movie version of Quatermass and the Pit, you should definitely watch the original six episode BBC serial. Andre Morell was great in it as Professor Quatermass.
I’ve seen some of it, but not all. Morell is fantastic in Plague of the Zombies and Hound of the Baskervilles, as well. 😀
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