Sunday, December 03, 2017

The Martians Below

Now this is Quatermass at his best. Andre Morell as the spectacularly sidetracked rocket physicist in the 1958 serial Quatermass and the Pit, creator Nigel Kneale this time coming up with a beautifully eerie Sci-Fi account on the origins of human racism. The 1967 Hammer film version surpasses the serial really only in having Barbara Shelley and Julian Glover. It's a good film and a lot of dialogue is directly ported over but the serial benefits so much from being able to take its time and explore ideas and, while Andrew Keir is fine as Quatermass, he doesn't match Morell's fascinatingly weird, perfect choices.

Like putting his thumbs in his waistcoat pockets while addressing an assemblage of military and government brass. It somehow looks both awkward and magnificent--believably awkward, not like the actor made an odd choice but like this is what an eccentric but very sharp professor might do when lecturing on the serious reality of our ancient Martian overlords.

Of all the Quatermass stories up to this point it has the best supporting characters, too. The first episode of the serial almost makes it seem as though the anthropologist, Dr. Roney, and his assistant, Barbara Judd, are going to be the stars. Roney is played by Canadian actor Cec Linder with wonderful energy and he has brilliant chemistry with Christine Finn as Barbara. Kneale makes points about the state of human civilisation with the anthropologists' discovery of ape-man fossils, human forebears, accidentally unearthed in a work site.

This leads later on to the inevitable but nicely portrayed revulsion from conservative government men which only gets worse when Martians get involved in our ancestry. The reluctance to accept the weirdness of our common ancestry is put in context to references to the racial tensions in England at the time due to an increase in immigration. Both the serial and the film version have one unnamed black worker at the construction site and later on Roney specifically mentions race riots. He also has a darkly funny, prescient line when Quatermass asks him what he thinks human civilisations would do if they knew the world was ending and Roney says we'd probably just go on with the same squabbles as before.

There's nothing wrong with James Donald's performance as Roney in the film version but Linder is just so much more lively. And I liked the way he seemed to respect Judd's opinion more in the serial--he looks to her to come up with a theory as to what the strange hard object is they've unearthed among the fossils. Though Barbara Shelley comes off as much more intelligent than Christine Finn.

I liked in the film this even prompted the filmmakers to give some of Roney's lines to her and having her be the one to accompany Quatermass on the excursion to the library instead of Roney. Otherwise, the special effects in the film aren't even much better than the serial and the black and white in the serial contributes to the atmosphere much better.

Twitter Sonnet #1060

Confetti grown grotesque is clatt'ring out.
A sagging party horn emits a blat.
The stuffing clouds'll cushion suns about.
The whist'ling air escorts the cooking vat.
Unhandled reins permit a heavy steed.
In clashing lamps the light oppressed the field.
Exposing rocks to split the hoof at speed.
Percussive leaves produced unseasoned yield.
A changing tie but briefly choked the beard.
In climbing mud the mantis sinks to worms.
The suction fell from steel to iron weird.
The pegs'll hold the tent on careful terms.
The ruling carapace arrived from Mars.
They put an instrument inside the bars.

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