The BBC’s great television production broadcast live in December, 1954, is said to have brought great consternation to Britain, Tories in the Commons promoted a censure of unseemly material for a Sunday evening, the royal household spoke of its pleasure notwithstanding, a second live performance that same month went on as scheduled, and was recorded.
The reason for so much upset is plain to see but harder to define. Neither the electrical violence of the torture scene nor the synthetic smut offered to the proles is rare in its dramatic usage, rather the style is an application generally of a device that can be observed directly in Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent as Herbert Marshall’s pirouette from mainstay to menace. Nigel Kneale and Cartier prepare this so slowly and with such a patient Englishness that the effect is particularly excoriating. There is a certain relationship to Welles’ American broadcast of Wells.
Cartier’s live television production with ample film sequences depicts an invasion of Earth by aliens from a gaseous planet, possibly “a moon of Saturn”.
It’s built from the failure of Prof. Quatermass to achieve his moon base, owing to a catastrophic explosion of the nuclear motor during a ground test of Quatermass II in Australia.
A rival project now has Ministry support for the manufacture of synthetic food at a secret installation rapidly built on the site of a small town, Winnerton Flats, and oddly it resembles his own plans for the moon.
The ammonids land in meteor showers and occupy human bodies. They assemble a work force, the plant is built, “it looks like a refinery”.
Orders from very high up forbid the launch of Quatermass II against a false asteroid that is the launch base of the invasion. Quatermass proceeds, a sort of unitary bond among the “zombies” all over the world is broken (top secret files reveal the existence of earth bases everywhere).
Kneale’s teleplay obtains the maximum of force by dint of total mobilization à la Henry V, and a general sense of weirdness leading by very small degrees of cogent understanding to a stark, clear view ably expressed.
Quatermass and the Pit
It can’t happen here, but it happened in Germany, Nigel Kneale wrote it all out, Cartier directed it for the BBC.
The pit or excavation directly prefigures the Tycho Magnetic Anomaly in 2001: A Space Odyssey, and of course Professor Quatermass is here for the space angle.
The rest is all Kneale and Mein Kampf on a construction site in Hobbs Lane, London.
An excellent joke on “Knightsbridge apemen” is one of the many small details in one of the most magnificent productions ever realized with live cameras.
Almost nothing discursive in the direction, the train station in Moscow, a slow tilt-and-pan from the lovers sequestered in a gypsy restaurant (where the music is like singing birds) to the long brass curtain rod and a bouquet of flowers and back to the lovers, otherwise an extraordinary straightforward reading that takes into account Duvivier from the start and slowly builds up details in the course of its feature length to give an exact, fulsome rendering.
An English adaptation of a French play by one of the screenwriters who labored on De Mayerling à Sarajevo (dir. Max Ophuls). Claire Bloom, Albert Lieven, Sean Connery (cutting a dash like Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. at first, then shaping the role effectively as a Clark Gable study), et al.
CWNS, the Classified World News Service, runs the world since 1945 with phony news stories.
A sometime BBC director is required to work for them or die.
Donald Pleasence, Nigel Davenport.