Quatermass and the Pit (1967)

aka Five Million Years to Earth
Article 3214 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-6-2010
Posting Date: 6-2-2010
Directed by Roy Ward Baker
Featuring James Donald, Andrew Keir, Barbara Shelley
Country: UK
What it is: Ambitions science fiction epic

A subway tunnel dig unearths the skeletons of prehistoric men, followed by a strange object that is initially thought to be a bomb. However, upon examination, it turns out to be much more ominous…

This was Hammer’s adaptation of the third of Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass teleplays, possibly one of the most ambitious stories ever in terms of its scope, as it deals with life and culture on other planets, the rise of life on this one, and the root of our cultural nightmares of demons and devils. If there’s any problem with trying to adapt this into a movie, it may be that the story is a bit too complex to be encompassed in its running time; though you can follow the story, you do sense that much has been left unexplained that was given more time in the TV version of the story. Still, it’s a fascinating watch, and the performances from all are excellent, with Andrew Keir taking top honors as Professor Bernard Quatermass. I’ve not seen the fourth Quatermass story, but it’s highly doubtful that it could be any more ambitious than this one is. Despite a few minor flaws, this is certainly one of Hammer’s finest moments.

Quintet (1979)

QUINTET (1979)
Article 2804 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-10-2009
Posting Date: 4-17-2009
Directed by Robert Altman
Featuring Paul Newman, Vittorio Gassman, Fernando Rey
Country: USA

During an ice age after the apocalypse, a drifter arrives at a city to find the residents obsessed with a game called Quintet. When his pregnant female travelling companion is killed in a bombing, he tries to track down the killer, only to find a list of people involved in a Quintet tournament who are being killed off one by one.

I’ve not heard good things about this Robert Altman movie, but I found it to have its uses. Granted, most of the things I like best are on the periphery; I like the detail of what happens to dead bodies in the city, the recurrence of the number five in various details, the use of a multi-national cast (on the cast list on IMDB, I had to go down all the way to the tenth name to find someone who came from the same country as one of the other actors, and I couldn’t help but notice that the character played by that actor is impersonated by another character in the movie who happens to be from the same country. I also have a great admiration for director Robert Altman; he doesn’t pander, and he takes risks. Unfortunately, taking risks sometimes backfires, and when one of his movies fails to connect, it’s a big problem. This one is far too long, and it has a fair amount of dead space (particularly in the first half). Conversation is often so sparse that Altman’s actors don’t get much of an opportunity to engage in the energetic improvisation of some of his other movies. The mystery isn’t very mysterious, and the movie is totally dull whenever it tries to be vaguely “meaningful”. Nevertheless, I don’t feel I came away from this one empty-handed, and I would be curious to know what the rules are for the game Quintet; though it’s clearly a fictional game, I wouldn’t put it past Altman to have actually constructed a clear set of rules for it.

The Queen’s Swordsman (1961)

aka Los Espadachines de la reina
Article 2779 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-16-2008
Posting Date: 3-23-2009
Directed by Roberto Rodriguez
Featuring Ofelio Guilmain, Xavier Loya, Miguel Manzano
Country: Mexico

A wolf and a skunk find a human child lost in the woods, and raise her as their own. They soon decide that the woods are too dangerous for her, so they decide to take her to human civilization, and so they leave their cave and become swordsmen. They become involved with a princess who has become the target of an evil queen.

I went into this one blind, knowing only that it was a foreign movie. Just from the title, I suspected it was going to be an Italian swashbuckler with slight fantastic elements (and if I had known that the movie features a scene of a beautiful woman being tortured, my suspicion that it was an Italian movie would have only been stronger). But instead, I found out it was Mexican; furthermore, it came to us via K. Gordon Murray and features two characters I remember from LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD; namely, the Wolf and the Skunk (the closest I can come to a Mexican equivalent to Franco and Ciccio). I knew there was a series of sequels to LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD, but I didn’t know these two characters went on to anything else. So, given that it’s a Mexican children’s fantasy, I fully expected high weirdness, and the beginning of the movie (in which we discover that little girl has a pet alligator she likes to sleep with and has a fondness for amphibians and reptiles of all kinds) certainly delivers. Oddly enough, it settles down after that; it actually seems like a fairly straightforward swashbuckler, with the only the gimmick that the heroic swordsmen are animals to give it that weirdness. Oh, yes, the Wolf and the Skunk sing (and they’re no better at it than they were in LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD), and there’s plenty of slapstick silliness, but I have to admit to being slightly disappointed at this one; after all, most Mexican children’s fantasies I’ve seen go way off the deep end. The oddest touch is that the ending is even a little downbeat.

The Queen of Spades (1910)

aka Pikovaya dama
Article 2731 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-28-2008
Posting Date: 2-3-2009
Directed by Pyotr Chardynin
Featuring Paval Biryukov, Aleksandra Goncharova, Antonina Pozharskaya
Country: Russia

A soldier romances the daughter of a countess. However, he has an ulterior motive; he is hoping to wrest from the countess a winning three-card combination that he hopes will make his fortune. When he threatens her with a gun, she dies unexpectedly. However, her ghost appears and…

This is the third version I’ve seen of the Pushkin story, and, for a bare-bones 15 minute treatment of the story, it’s not bad. It manages to distill the story to its essence, though if you’re not familiar with the story, you may be a little confused by what actually happens in the last few minutes. However, having enjoyed the classic 1948 British treatment of the story, I didn’t have a problem. Apparently, quite a few silent treatments were made of the Pushkin story, though very few of them are extant.

The Queen of Spades (1960)

aka Pikovaya dama
Article 2503 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-10-2008
Posting Date: 6-19-2008
Directed by Roman Tikhomirov
Featuring Oleg Strizhenov, Zurab Andjaparidze, Laris Avdeyeva
Country: Soviet Union

An officer wishes to run off with the woman he loves, but in order to do that, he needs money. He hears that the elderly countess who takes care of his love knows the secret of three cards that will guarantee a win at gambling. He decides to force the secret out of her.

This isn’t a direct adaptation of the Pushkin short story, but rather an adaptation of the Tchaikovsky opera based on the story. So once again this non-opera-fan finds himself watching an opera for this series. You know, there are times here where I get a sense of the power of opera; hearing these singers belt out their music can be somewhat stirring. However, these are only momentary feelings, and pretty soon I find myself wishing they’d hurry the plot on a little instead of stretching everything out for the sake of the music, and I don’t really feel I have a legitimate complaint about it because it is, after all, an opera, and what did I expect? It all comes down to this; when I want to see this story, I’ll always opt for the 1949 non-opera cinematic version of the story, a fine movie in its own right. Still, I like the way this adaptation doesn’t feel stagebound, and I find it interesting that each character is played by two people – one whose physical presence appears in the movie, while another does the singing. The story itself is also quite good, but I knew that from the other version I saw. Certain eerie happenings give the movie some horror touches.


Quatermass and the Pit (1958)

Article 2181 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-6-2007
Posting Date: 8-2-2007
Directed by Rudolph Cartier
Featuring Andre Morell, Cec Linder, Anthony Bushell

Professor Quatermass becomes involved in an investigation of the remains of ancient mammals discovered in a digging in London. When further digging yields a large container, authorities believe it is a bomb, but Quatermass comes to believe it was a spacecraft from another planet that played a role in the evolution of humanity. However, there are more increasingly sinister discoveries to be made…

My version of this British TV serial was edited together into a single whole with only an intermission to mark a breaking point; nevertheless, I chose to watch it in thirty minute increments, partially because that was the way it was originally planned and partially because it spared me from watching the whole three hours in one sitting.

At least part of the reason I feel pretty lukewarm about serials that were made for the movies is that they lacked the ambition of TV serials like this. Granted, most cinematic serials were made with the full knowledge that they were only a secondary attraction. The TV serials of Nigel Kneale were not throwaways; this one takes advantage of its running time by coming up with an elaborate and sophisticated plot which covers a vast range of subjects, including the origin and psychology of man, the conflicts between science and superstition (and the similarities as well), and the uneasy partnership between science and the military. The acting is excellent throughout, with the three leads particularly memorable. I think the show “Doctor Who” shows a great deal of influence from these Quatermass serials, and I suspect that this is one of those stories that simply grows deeper on repeated viewings. Quite frankly, it may be one of the finest science fiction presentations ever.


The ? Motorist (1906)

Article 2092 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-7-2006
Posting Date: 5-5-2007
Directed by Walter R. Booth
Cast Unknown

A ! policeman is run down by a ? car. When he attempts to pursue, the ? car climbs the side of a @ building, goes into the * sky, and drives on the # clouds, eventually ending up riding around the !!?! rings of Saturn.

This is another Melies imitation, but it’s certainly one of the most amusing ones out there. The fact that it actually features some of its scenes outdoors (in contrast to the studio-bound Melies oeuvre) gives it a good sense of novelty, and many of the special effects are pointed and very funny, especially the one where the car turns into a horse and carriage to astound the pursuing policeman. This is one of the best of the early trick films.


Queen of the Amazons (1947)

Article #1588 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-20-2005
Posting Date: 12-17-2005
Directed by Edward Finney
Featuring Robert Lowery, Patricia Morison, J. Edward Bromberg

A woman hires a party to go into the wilds of Africa to find her lost husband. She hires a guide who considers women a nuisance who is also searching for ivory poachers.

I was going to dismiss this one as a Double-Stuffed Safari-O, but frankly, that classification is too good for it. Rather, this is an example of what I think of as Stock Footage Clearing House Cinema. Now, I can understand the use of stock footage to flesh out and add atmosphere to a movie in a cost-effective way. However, when a movie seems to only exist to make use of stock footage, you have the cart ahead of the horse. Yet, that seems to be the case here; the movie is filled with bits that seem designed to set up the use of stock footage. Certainly, the scenes of exposition and plot development are shot in such an uninvolving way (characters stand still and talk to each other) that I never felt that anyone cared about the story, and this is only enhanced by the fact that there’s very little in this hackneyed compendium of cliches to care about. As a result, the best part of the movie is, unsurprisingly, the stock footage. The fantastic aspect is little more than the mild fantasy value of having a tribe of Amazons on the loose.

The Queen of Spades (1949)

Article #1393 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-6-2005
Posting Date: 2-5-2005
Directed by Thorold Dickinson
Featuring Anton Walbrook, Edith Evans, Yvonne Mitchell

A captain in the army has become obsessed with a card game called Faro, but refuses to play unless he is sure of winning. He stumbles across the story of a woman who sold her soul to the devil for the three-card winning combination that guarantees success, and he resolves to find the secret for himself.

This opulent production of an Alexander Pushkin story takes some getting used to. It’s beautifully directed and stylistically rich, and has some of the most interesting-looking people this side of a Fellini film, but the editing is jarring at times, and it’s a little hard to warm up to the movie. However, this jarring sense also increases the eeriness and the sense of dread, and this pays off very well by the time the final scenes roll around. The first third of the story sets up the mood and the situation. The middle third becomes something of a soap opera, as we follow the captain’s attempted seduction of the beautiful ward of a countess, and for a while the movie feels as if it’s lost its way. However, once the captain confronts the countess in an attempt to wring the secret from her, the movie never lets up, and the ending is startling, powerful and memorable. It’s a beautiful movie to look at, and features fine performances from all, especially Anton Walbrook as the obsessed captain and Edith Evans as the ancient countess. The scene where the captain finally learns the secret is truly terrifying.

Quest for Love (1971)

Article #1043 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-22-2004
Posting Date: 6-20-2004
Directed by Ralph Thomas
Featuring Joan Collins, Tom Bell, Denholm Elliott

A physicist finds himself thrust in an alternate universe when an experiment goes haywire. There he meets and falls in love with the wife of his doppelganger.

The opening third of this movie is fairly intriguing, in that we find ourselves watching a man trying to come to terms with a world that is not only different in subtle ways from his own, but must also deal with wending his way through the life of his alter ego. Then it turns into a love story with all the trimmings; an initially hostile companion to be won over, a world of bliss, a mysterious disease, and a second chance to succeed against the odds are all here. It’s at this point that I realized that the science fiction angle is merely there to serve the purpose of the love story, and if any one moment in the movie convinces me of this, it’s when our hero locates the one person who he can convince of the truth of his story of being from a parallel world, and ends up getting advice on his love life from him. Though I could hardly say this turn in the story took me by surprise (the title of the movie leaves little doubt of what you’re getting into here), I still must admit that I’m not really into romantic movies of this ilk; they always seems so baldly manipulative and fake. Nonetheless, there is a lot of intelligence here, and you do get caught up in our hero’s attempts to deal with his situations. Incidentally, the movie is based on a story by John Wyndham, author of “The Day of the Triffids” and “The Midwich Cuckoos”.