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Humphrey Reader (Weston-super-Mare, NORTH SOMERSET United Kingdom)

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The Quatermass Xperiment [DVD] [1955]
The Quatermass Xperiment [DVD] [1955]
Dvd ~ Brian Donlevy

38 of 39 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Quatermass Experiment - a touch of real tragedy, 21 April 2004
The plot of 'The Quatermass Experiment' is straightforward enough: Britain sends 3 men into space: 2 mysteriously disappear, and no. 3 (Victor Carroon) returns, very seriously ill. During the course of the film we watch helplessly as Carroon slowly transmutes into an alien monster.
Unlike so many sci-fi B movies including recent ones, this story generates an extraordinary amount of sympathy for the 'alien' predator. So often it's cardboard courageous humans against cardboard evil aliens (or, occasionally, over-sentimentalised ones). This film is on a different planet! The reason I say 'tragedy' is that we see at every stage how Carroon's humanity is struggling with the alien infestation and yet is ultimately doomed to fail. It is a tour-de-force performance by Richard Wordsworth (direct line descendent of the poet by the way). He is given just 2 or 3 words in the whole film with all the rest being achieved by body movements, gestures and, above all, an extraordinarily expressive face. Sometimes he's the pitiless alien, but sometimes also he's tragically human. Even where he kills there is evidence of some compunction or reluctance (especially a chemist whose shop the Carroon/Alien raids for drugs). He actually resists the urge to kill (and absorb on the alien's behalf) his wife and a little girl who chances on him whilst playing amongst the London docks.
Other nice touches are Mrs Carroon who shows up Quatermass's egoism very effectively, the solid senior policeman Lomax (Jack Warner), some amusing eccentrics like the bag lady played by Thora Hird, and the general air of English understatement and lack of panic. Little touches (Lomax the solid 'Bible man', Mrs Lomax with her teapot, the chemist's shop...) create a familiar, everyday English ambience which so effectively offsets the alien horror. I like too the contrast of rather trite remarks like 'He knows we're trying to help him...' with the true nature of Carroon's 'illness'. Finally let us not forget the special effects which show what can be achieved using real materials rather than fancy computer graphics.
The reason I give it 4 stars not 5 is, I'm afraid, Mr Donlevy as Quatermass himself whom I find rather irritating. In particular I find his very brash manner rather forced and artificial: it jars with the rest of the film. One of the best moments is watching Mrs Carroon put the bumptious Prof so firmly in his place, and feel more could have been made of the contrast between Quatermass's shallow 'science is wonderful gee-whiz' rhetoric and the horrifying reality. A looking-forward to the Alien series in this respect, perhaps. Also some of it is a little implausible - would it really have been possible to connect up and concentrate all that electrical output in so short a time? However these quibbles don't stop me from returning to the film again and again.
Those of a certain age (I'm pushing 50) will appreciate the portrayal of the working London docks before they turned into chi-chi riverside apartments, of the NCO type (we're only 10 years after the end of WW2) who dons other uniforms (zoo-keeper, reception clerk) in Civvy Street, and even the Rootes garage glimpsed near the end.
Buy it before it goes out of print again!

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