Quatermass and the Pit (1967)

Director: Roy Ward Baker

Hammer’s finest hour and a half? I reckon it might just be that. And yet it was awfully long in coming; Hammer’s previous two authorised film versions of Nigel Kneale’s serials had both appeared within two years of the serials’ TV broadcasts, and apparently this should’ve done something similar, but Columbia—with whom Hammer had a distribution deal—were for some reason disinclined to take on a third Quatermass film, so it wound up not being made until after the Columbia deal finally collapsed. It was worth waiting for, of course; Kneale finally got his way about casting someone who wasn’t Brian Donlevy in the title role, though Andrew Keir seems to have found the whole experience a drag, and probably wasn’t impressed about only getting second billing in the credits for playing the lead. Still, that displeasure seems to have happily channeled its way into Keir’s performance; his Quatermass is sorely beset by Julian Glover’s Colonel Breen, imposed on him from higher up in the government, and frankly in his way when it comes to dealing with something found in an Underground station that shouldn’t be there… Breen thinks it’s a WW2 Nazi missile, but Quatermass knows it’s actually something far worse, i.e. some sort of spacecraft from Mars that’s been there for about five million years. I’m amazed that one reviewer at the time accused it of lacking imagination, when the central premise—i.e. that humanity is (mostly) descended from hominids who were “altered” by the Martians—isn’t exactly one that films had dealt with much before this, surely… Pit follows Hammer’s first two Quatermass films in condensing a story that ran nearly three and a half hours on TV very neatly down to just 96 minutes without ever feeling cramped or rushed; it gives off the feeling that the studio knew they had something really good on their hands and so they gave it pretty much everything they had, and the end result is pretty tremendous. If The Devil Rides Out from the following year was kind of the peak of their old-school gothic mode, this film is still probably the best I’ve seen from Hammer in whatever mode.

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