Professor Bernard Quatermass (Brian Donlevy) is a man who gets things done. He’s very serious, very driven, and doesn’t need any sleep. That’s not an exaggeration. I kept track during the first part of this film, and Quatermass goes approximately 72 hours without getting any shuteye. It’s an impressive feat of endurance on his part, or just something that the filmmakers didn’t pay close attention to.
Quatermass 2 (released in the United States as Enemy From Space), the 1957 film from director Val Guest and written by Guest and Nigel Kneale, is a remake of Quatermass II, a BBC television serial from 1955 written by Kneale. It’s also a sequel to The Quatermass Xperiment, which was a remake of The Quatermass Experiment, which was also a BBC television serial written by Kneale. Got it?
In this film, Quatermass 2 for those who are lost, Quatermass’s boffins at his lab track small objects on radar as they fall from space to a location in the English countryside. Quatermass and one of his assistants, Marsh (Maurice Kaufmann), head off to investigate. They discover that the objects are metal pods, about the size of a football. When disturbed, something shoots out of them and burns its target. Marsh is affected, and seized by guards from a mysterious facility nearby that looks an awful lot like an oil refinery.
The guards have made a terrible mistake. The facility they are guarding is shrouded in secrecy, but Quatermass is not the kind of person who takes kindly to secrets being kept from him. He raises a huge ruckus. At times it’s hard to tell whether he’s doing so because he can or because it’s the right thing to do, but damn the consequences. This is Quatermass we’re talking about, here. Like I wrote above, he GETS THINGS DONE.
All flippancy aside, there is a very good story happening in this film. Quatermass and his team discover that the metal pods are alien in origin. Also, the secret facility around which the pods are landing has more than a passing resemblance to Quatermass’s design for an off-planet habitat and food manufacturing facility. Whoever, or whatever, built the facility appears to be keeping something alive that cannot survive in the atmosphere of earth. The air of mystery is impressive for a film that resembles 1950s b-movie fare. But don’t be fooled. This film may have had an embarrassingly low budget, but it is not a b-movie. It is actually quite the taut thriller.
This is not the type of film that is full of fight scenes and creeping monstrosities emerging from caves. It is driven solely by the relentlessness of its main character. Quatermass is a middle-aged man in a ridiculously long coat, but his energy is infectious. When he sets his sights on a problem, one knows it is only a matter of time before he finds a solution. If that means risking his life to get to the bottom of a mystery, then so be it.
Donlevy is no Oscar contender, but he does a much better job with the role in this film than in The Quatermass Xperiment. He’s grown into the character’s brashness and made it his own. Besides Donlevy, the rest of the cast is full of professionals from British film and television. These are workaday actors and actresses, and do their part to raise the quality of the film.
The Quatermass Xperiment was a bit of a slog to get through. Much of that was due to a shameful lack of resources. The budget for this sequel was about double, and it seems to have made all the difference. Besides that, Guest showed a firm grasp of pace and storytelling. So many scenes involve little more than exposition, yet, as a viewer, I was rapt. How well this film is holding up over time is a testament to the skill of the people who made it. To be clear, Quatermass 2 is not a great film from the era. But it is damn good.