The Quatermass Xperiment, 1955. 5/10

Professor Quatermass (Brian Donleavy) is up to his ’50s high-tech wizardry. That is, his unfortunate rocket ship returns with two of the three-man crew dead, and the survivor (Richard Wordsworth as Victor Carroon) is not quite right. As it happens, an alien takeover is afoot. Jack Warner plays Inspector Lomax, There’s Rosie Wrigley (Thora Hird), Victor’s wife is Judith (Margia Dean), Dr. Gordon Briscoe (David King-Wood).

Pretty much a classic sci-fi opening, as a couple in a haystack sees something crash: a finned spacecraft. “You can’t expect such an experiment to be perfect” says Quatermass. I can’t understand what sort of standing this guy has that he can in effect have his own private space program. Plus he’s ordering everyone around at the crash site, when in fact he’s ultimately responsible for causing the mayhem. Anyway, Carroon emerges.

The astronaut’s more or less in shock. Quatermass goes on to harangue Inspector Lomax. Poor old Carroon is messed up physically; “unlock his mind” Quatermass tells Briscoe, as Carroon’s wife looks on. Back at the spacecraft, they find a mysterious substance “something happened in here” comments Quatermass, more than a little obviously.

There’s speculation that the gooey stuff could be the remains of the two other astronauts. There’s film of the crew during the mission–the spacecraft interior looks about as futuristic as a WWI submarine (hammocks for bunks, slats for the floor)–and just about as spacious. The film shows nothing substantial–only that something happened as the camera fuzzes up.

Judith arranges to have her husband spirited from the hospital. No easy thing, as Victor goes ape on a cactus, then on the accomplice. That poor guy is left a shriveled corpse. She doesn’t get far with Victor before he stomps off on his own. Anyway, there’s a city-wide search for the wandering astronaut. “What if there is a life form in space…just drifting?” Quatermass asks Briscoe. “It’s using Carroon” “he’s a carrier” they deduce. How do they know all this?

Meanwhile, Carroon breaks into a pharmacy, apparently wanting to poison himself, but instead wipes out the proprietor with the same instant-corpse affliction. Then, down by the Thames, we get the good old Frankenstein-esque little-girl-with-baby-carriage-stumbling-on-something-horrible scene. Carroon is skulking in a nearby rotting hulk. “Oh!” the kid says to the lumbering Quatermass “We thought you were rats; won’t you stay and have tea with us?”

Since his reaction is to whack her doll, I guess he endeavors to express non-acceptance. Now he’s visiting the zoo, after hours. He looks more creature than human. But the gory stuff is left off–the next day we just see dead animals. I’m wondering how he killed the lion and managed not to disturb its cage. Also, what’s the point of killing the critters if he doesn’t eat them?–they’re all intact, except for some gooey droppings. “No living thing on earth stands a chance against it” announces Quatermass.

Now we get the loony-down-n-out-who-saw-something scene. The police believe her “It’s not a gin goblin?” she asks, fairly surprised. Anyway, the creature’s slime trail leads up an old building; back in the lab, the bitty blob quickly grows. By now troops are patrolling likely slime hangouts. It’s even in Westminster Abbey; up on restoration scaffolding, looking like a cross between an octopus and a cactus. That sounds goofy, but it’s actually not so bad as big bad things go. Quatermass figures they can electrocute it. No problem. Now all that’s left to do is for Quatermass to double-down on his investment; the very last thing we see is his next rocket launch.

The best part of the movie is Carroon’s desperate Frankenstein-monster escape and subsequent travails. There’s some good moody atmosphere with these scenes, along with the tragic, even pitiful state that he’s succumbed to. There’s really no resolution to the mutant astronaut plot, though, as he ceases to be human when he morphs into the blob.

Think about the blob; it’s first a guy, then a tiny chewing-gum sized thing, then it grows into the cactus/octopus thing. Why does it get smaller and then bigger? It would be better if the blob had killed all three of the crew, and emerged from the crashed ship. (Remember, it actually was found in the craft). Or, if it’s going to glue itself onto Carroon, it should morph into something that looks ghastly, but is still basically human. That’s the path the plot takes as Carroon is on the run from the little girl, and is subsequently spotted by the old woman.

The result is sort of a mash-up of both ideas. First Carroon is a wacked-out mutant, suddenly he’s an ‘it’, merely the blob. That’s two entirely different things, neither of which has enough screen time to do all that much. The blob, actually, does almost nothing (one guy dies). So, oddly, with so much plot, there’s only fragments of stories. The production values are much less than in 1967’s Quatermass and the Pit. There’s just not much to look at except some on-location scenes. The field where the initial landing takes place seems to pop up in other British sci-fi movies of the era. That’s ok, but it seems that we linger there forever.

This wasn’t as good as expected. In fact, not quite as entertaining as Quatermass and the Pit. What’s similar is that both of these Quatermass movies have interesting premises, but both bog down in the telling, while leaving their potential underdeveloped. In Xperiment, there’s the nagging problem that Quatermass would seem irrelevant if not for the ludicrous assumption, as mentioned, that he can do anything, and make his own rules as well.

Given that huge conceit, there’s still the obvious problem that very little happens until near the very end. That ruins suspension of disbelief for me. Admittedly, I’m out of the loop on British super-scientist characters, but I don’t think any of the ‘good guys’ in Dr. Who, for example, can ignore the government and its agents if they don’t toe the Who line. It would be better to have Quatermass as a quasi-government ally, or, on the other hand, let him be a rogue who’s only out for himself.

Farmermouse was ready for the pretend tea party, so he gives this five cakes and biscuits. 5/10.

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