Quatermass II AKA Enemy From Space
Who the devil is Professor Quatermass exactly? I mean to say, what sort of American scientist sets up shop in a tucked away bit of English countryside? So tucked away in fact, that when he needs a bit of financial assistance for his bonkers projects he has a lot of trouble finding anyone to listen. I can only assume that he was a once promising figure in his homeland, but has since been shunted aside and left behind in the race for U.S. government grants by recently arrived scientists from a defeated wartime enemy whose moral… shall we say flexibility?.. makes them ideal employees for a brand new superpower hungry for an edge in an apocalyptic race. I can’t see any other reason Quatermass ends up in dear old blighty. It would certainly explain why the old bugger seems to be perpetually grumpy.
He’s a very unusual leading man, that’s for sure. He never listens to anything anyone says to him, he’s always bursting into rooms uninvited, and he’s always riding roughshod over anyone and everyone to get what he wants. In his first movie, it was strange watching him be more interested in how the catastrophe - that he caused! - unfolded than in necessarily focusing on how to make it stop. He also seemed to learn nothing from nearly destroying the world except, essentially, you can’t make an omelette without sometimes turning your eggs into killer aliens bent on the Earth’s destruction.
However, what Hammer rather brilliantly realised is that this is exactly the sort of man you need to bring down a global conspiracy. Because there’s nothing worse for an evil plot to take over the world than an angry and persistent American; a man who won’t believe your carefully crafted excuses that are just believable enough for an Englishman to say ‘Oh right, sorry to have bothered you!’ but won’t come anywhere close to convincing Quatermass, who’s probably not even listening anyway. How are you supposed to control a man like Quatermass if you’re quietly trying to take over the Earth? The man just barges into whatever office he needs to and quite plainly tells them exactly what’s going on, without a shred of self-doubt. It really is marvellous watching the grumpy old sod save the world just by not listening to anyone and shouting at people until they do what he says.
However, he can’t smash the evil plot alone and the movie ends with the rather marvellous spectacle of the heavily armed security force of the conspiracy being swept aside by, essentially, a bunch of blokes from the pub armed with big sticks. There’s probably even a cricket bat in there, I shouldn’t be surprised. It’s all very socialist really, a bunch of working men who’ve been taken advantage of rising up to smash their oppressive masters. They’ve listened to what Quatermass has told them and now they’re going to bloomin' well do something about it, just see if they don’t. And even though the professor and his policeman mate are telling them to stay out of harm’s way, they’re clearly so inspired by Quatermass not listening to them, that they don’t listen to him. There’s a brilliant turn-on-a-sixpence nature to the mood of the mob too, which goes from attacking a copper and throwing him out of their pub because they don’t like what he says, to storming the compound because a minute later they decide they believe him. And again in the final showdown they go from ‘never surrender!’ to ‘alright, we will pop outside!’ It’s an excellent counterpoint to the steady-as-she-goes Quatermass who doesn’t so much ever stop and think, as run full pelt to the edge of his knowledge and then pound his fists on the dark unknown until it’s too exhausted to stay hidden.
Now, even though he’s an American, and everything that makes him such an effective hero comes from his bloody-minded individualism and revolution-honed bullshit detector, it’s a uniquely British movie because of the way it shines a light on the anxieties of the country at the time. The conspiracy’s home, for example, is a shiny new outdoor chemical plant full of sleek silver pipes and enormous structures undertaking mysterious tasks, just the sort of technology that was springing up all over the country at the time I imagine. They’d lost so much in the war, and here it was being replaced by strange machines and forbidding structures. In other words, a country ripe for having the shit scared out of it by a canny film producer.
It’s a country that would know it needed help to avoid being turned into the mindless drones of an evil alien empire, and there’d be only one place to turn to avoid that fate - the good old U.S. of A. Maybe that’s who Quatermass is after all, the American that Britain needs to stop itself from pottering politely into oblivion. Everyone needs someone to look after them, wouldn’t you say? Speaking of which…