X the Unknown (1956)

Director: Leslie Norman (& Joseph Losey?)

So, Hammer had a hit with their big-screen version of Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass Experiment, and decided a follow-up was in order. Trouble hit, however, when Kneale refused to let Hammer use his character, so the chastened studio had to buy the rights to his second Quatermass serial and refit their own script as something else. As such, Brian Donlevy’s Bernard Quatermass, rocket man, became Dean Jagger’s Adam Royston, atomic man. Unfortunately, the film’s troubles didn’t stop there: original director Joseph Losey left the film, reportedly because of “illness” but in reality (apparently) because Jagger refused to work with a blacklisted communist sympathiser. Or maybe he just walked off the film because he hated it, as did his replacement Leslie Norman, who seems to have been such an arse towards everyone that Hammer didn’t hire him again until 1968, whereupon Michael Carreras quickly replaced him on The Lost Continent. Perhaps amazingly, none of this really seems to come through in the finished film, which is a solid bit of ruthlessly efficient second-feature craftsmanship on the order of Hammer’s first two Quatermass films (wonder why they didn’t just assign Val Guest to this one as well? Might’ve saved some of that trouble). As ever, Hammer were operating on minimal resources, but for once we can see how minimal; the film’s Wiki entry notes that American producer Sol Lesser stumped up $30,000, or half the film’s budget, and that basically went to Dean Jagger, so a bit of quick maths tells you how cheap the thing REALLY was. And admittedly there are times when it kind of shows, some of the effects are a bit wobbly, but for the most part the film works within those limited means (and it didn’t have to cope with period setting trappings like Hammer’s later colour gothics), the net result being a terrific bit of Saturday afternoon viewing, spoiled only by someone’s incomprehensible decision to have the music drown out the dialogue in certain scenes… Parenthetically, interesting to see not only future Monty Python director Ian MacNaughton in a small role, but also young Frazer Hines, whose Doctor Who co-star Patrick Troughton I also recently saw in the course of this month’s horror viewing (in Phantom). I will note young Frazer’s put-on Scottish accent improved a fair bit in the ten years between this film and the start of his tenure on Who

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