Quatermass and the Pit
Hammer’s mini-franchises included Frankenstein and Dracula but for my money its most overlooked and undervalued hero was the scientist Professor Quatermass.
What the BBC began as live television serials, Hammer Films continued as wonderfully atmospheric and creepy movies. After two initial films in the 1950s with Brian Donlevy in the lead the role lay dormant until the late Sixties when it was assumed by the Scots actor Andrew Keir. It was inspired casting and the resultant film, Quatermass and the Pit, provided a terrific coda to the good professor’s inquiries.
In this, Hammer’s third outing, Professor Quatermass uncovers evidence of an eons-old Martian civilisation when a spacecraft is unearthed in a London suburb. Naturally the plot veers off towards the supernatural as dark deeds are suspected. Neither Quatermass nor the army can provide answers as to the craft’s background. Meanwhile there are mutterings that it is the devil’s work.
Hammer didn’t do sci-fi very often, preferring the comfort of its own self-made Mittel European settings, vampires, legend and folklore. But Quatermass and the Pit, from the teleplay by Nigel Kneale, offers more than its standard (sometimes hokey) horrors, building to a level of intelligent – and challenging – science-fiction that demands more than just a cursory look.
By far the most expensive, and most enjoyable, of Hammer’s Quatermass movies, it boasts high production values and a majestic central performance from Keir, who dispenses with the aggressive demeanour and machine-gun dialogue of predecessor Brian Donlevy to make the professor an articulate, humane and above all authentically scientific hero.
Hammer stalwart Roy Ward Baker’s direction is tight and disciplined, and his reported conflicts with Keir during shooting do not appear to have damaged the final film.