Greatest Golden Age Sci-Fi Movies - 1956: The Quatermass Experiment

 This is most emphatically not your typical B-movie, featuring a monstrous alien who is only interested in killing innocent people, although you might think so at first sight. But the Quatermass Experiment transcends the limitations of Fifties science fiction in many different ways. It is a British production, and thus freed from the Hollywood studio system.

It is a far more complex movie with a storyline which has several subplots and proceeds in a suspenseful manner which would have made Alfred Hitchcock proud. Is the protagonist a charismatic hero? Is the monster particularly frightful? Maybe yes and maybe no, thanks to an extremely well crafted plot that resembles the workings of a Swiss watch in the precise and inexorable manner that it continues to enthrall the audience as it proceeds towards its surprising ending.

The first part of the movie is already charged with a sinister and quite electric sense of foreboding, as in the midst of a dark night a rocketship launched a few days earlier by professor Bernard Quatermass (Brian Donlevy), re-enters the Earth's atmosphere and touches down near a British factory building. Of the three astronauts on board, only one (Richard Wordsworth) is still alive, but he is in deep shock. His fellow space travelers have vanished and he remains in a deep coma until he is able to awaken and escapes from the hospital to transform a bit at a time into the alien monster.

The tragic ending is inevitable, as after having duly murdered a significant number of people the monster is finally caught inside Westminster Abbey where Professor Quatermass manages to kill the creature by applying an electrical current so powerful that it darkens all of London.

Many of the aspects of this film are quite interesting, as the alien takes over the astronaut slowly, turning him into a monster without showing itself from the beginning. This motion picture definitely lays the groundwork for countless science fiction films of its future where this plot device becomes effectively a staple and a crutch of scifi screenwriters. The transformation of the astronaut into monster is also shown darkly and in a mysterious manner just as much to build suspense, letting the audience fill in the blanks with their own imagination, as it was due to the fact that the film lacked the budget to portray the metamorphosis in a convincing manner.

The character of Professor Quatermass is extremely fascinating, as it is a very rare example of a science fiction hero who is not just cynical, but outright brutal. Quatermass never lets his emotions get in the way of the cold, calculating manner he has to proceed with his scientific duties, even when they are difficult and inhuman. By the standards of Fifties science fiction, he represents a character who is completely outside the box of the conventional standards of the era, and it is a major factor as to why The Quatermass Experiment remains memorable after more than half a century from its release.

1956: The Quatermass Experiment

Directed by
Val Guest
 
Screenwriting by
Richard H. Landau (for the screenplay) (as Richard Landau) &
Val Guest (for the screenplay)
Nigel Kneale (television play)

Cast 
 Prof. Bernard Quatermass - Brian Donlevy
 Insp. Lomax - Jack Warner
 Mrs. Judith Carroon - Margia Dean
 Rosemary 'Rosie' Elizabeth Rigly - Thora Hird
 BBC TV producer - Gordon Jackson
 Dr. Gordon Briscoe (Quatermass' associate) - David King-Wood
 Christie (man who helps Victor escape) - Harold Lang
 Blake - Lionel Jeffries
 Police sergeant questioning Rosie - Sam Kydd
 Victor Carroon (spaceship crew member) - Richard Wordsworth

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Comments 2 comments

maggs224 profile image

maggs224 7 years ago from Sunny Spain

I love the old Sci-fi movies the most scary of the three Quatermass movies was Quatermass and the Pit I remember watching this on the BBC it was done as a serial over a number of weeks in the 1950's I was only a young girl at the time and it scared me witless. I had been told not to watch it but I didn't listen.


Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 7 years ago from Toronto Author

I never saw the second and third Q movies, but I heard from others as well that they're fabulous! Thanks!

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