Quatermass II


Rating 2¾

Directed by Val Guest

Written by Nigel Kneale and val Guest, based on the original BBC serial written by Nigel Kneale

Starring Brian Donlevy (Professor Bernard Quatermass), John Longden (Inspector Lomax), Sid James (Jimmy Hall), William Franklyn (Brand), Bryan Forbes (Marsh), Vera Day (Sheila), Charles Lloyd Pack (Dawson), Percy Herbert (Gorman), Michael Ripper (Ernie) and Jogn Rae (McLeod)

Professor Bernard Quatermass is angry after his request for more funds for his planned exploration of the Moon is rejected, but he is intrigued by the meteorite shower his team has been tracking and by the sample they have analysed. He travels to Winnerden Flats, the area where the meteorites were concentrated and discovers what appears to be a fully-functioning replica of his planned Moon base. His colleague Marsh is badly burned by ammonia gas from one of the fallen rocks that leaves a strange V shape mark on his skin. Quatermass is warned away by armed guards and when he is given a hostile reception in the nearby town he goes to Inspector Lomax at Scotland Yard for help investigating the true purpose of the secret base.


‘The Quatermass Xperiment’ in 1955 was a Hammer Films production based on the 1953 BBC television serial. The commercial success of that film resulted in ‘Quatermass II’ in 1957, also based on a BBC serial. Nigel Kneale, who wrote the BBC serials, was involved in writing the screenplay this time around, with input by producer Anthony Hinds and subsequent re-writes by the director Val Guest. The American actor Brian Donlevy returned as Bernard Quatermass, much to Kneale’s annoyance, who considered him, quite rightly, to be miscast in the role. Kneale also claimed that Donlevy was an alcoholic who was paralytic on the set and could barely read his lines off the idiot boards that were being used because he was incapable of memorising them. Guest claimed that these allegations were not true, saying Donlevy was very professional, although he did concede that the actor laced his coffee with whisky and was “not stone cold sober either”.

Donlevy was cast as a deliberate ploy to make the ‘Quatermass’ films more appealing to American distributors. He is not a perfect match for the role, but not a bad one, and his performance is fine. If he really was “crippled with drink” as Nigel Kneale claimed it doesn’t show. Reginald Tate had played the lead role in the first BBC serial, but following his sudden death in 1955 he was replaced at short notice by John Robinson for the second serial. The role was played by André Morell in the third BBC serial and subsequently by Andrew Keir, John Mills and Jason Flemyng.

The film rattles along at a brisk pace and doesn’t suffer for the general absence of special effects. A Shell oil-refinery doubled as the secret complex where the aliens are plotting their colonisation of Earth. We do not see the alien creatures until the final moments of the film and then only through the gloom of night cover. They are typical of the period, not at all convincing and yet somehow more effective than many of today’s state-of-the-art CGI effects. Fans of the ‘Carry On’ films would perhaps be interested to see Sid James in one of his earlier non-comic roles.

‘Quatermass II’ has been widely interpreted as an attack on the Conservative government at the time.

Review posted 7 April 2010


1 comment:

Brett Gerry said...

Nice review - but the work of Nigel Kneale is in need of a drastic reappraisal: http://bit.ly/akw11W