Posts tagged: Brian Donlevy

Nov 20 2011

‘The Quatermas Xperiment’ on TCM

The 1955 British science fiction thriller The Quatermas Xperiment is a landmark film for a number of reasons. It was adapted from a live TV serial The Quatermas Experiment (1953) by Nigel Kneale, which is still considered one of the most important and influential British TV productions of all time. It was the most ambitious British science fiction film since Things to Come and the most intelligent and adventurous to date. And it became the biggest hit that Hammer Films ever had to that point, setting them on a new course of science fiction and, eventually, horror films that would define the studio.

For the big screen version, Hammer brought in Val Guest to direct and co-script the adaptation and imported American actor Brian Donlevy to play Professor Bernard Quatermas. The film opens with the crash landing of the first manned spaceflight out of Earth’s atmosphere, a mission that went awry. The ship (which sticks out of the ground of a rural British farm like an arrow, looking like a Flash Gordon rocket excavated in an archeological dig) has returned without explanation, still burning up from the reentry heat, too hot to open with killing the men inside. As the military cordons off the area, Professor Quatermas arrives, takes charge and finally orders the ship open, where he finds two astronauts inexplicably missing and the third (Richard Wordsworth) in shock, with a look of fear frozen on his face and an unidentified fungus-like growth on his arm. The scene takes place at night, with military spotlights cutting through the mist and casting hard shadows across the ground, and the sense of mystery and the unknown builds from there.

Continue reading at Turner Classic Movies

Jul 17 2010

Canyon Passage on TCM

Jacques Tourneur’s Canyon Passage is one of the most interesting and underappreciated westerns about the frontier, the settling of the west and the communal spirit embodied in the western genre. It plays on TCM as part of the Cult Movies line-up for July and you’ll why it fits the bill: the tension between personal loyalty and the communal good and the contrast between the peaceful beauty and the savage violence of the wilderness defines the film. I write about it for the Turner Classic Movies website here.

Dana Andrews and Ward Bond: detente is about to end

On its surface, Jacques Tourneur’s first western, Canyon Passage (1946), is a solid but conventional frontier drama of ambitious entrepreneurs, determined settlers, gamblers, gold miners and Indian tribes. But under the familiar trappings of cabin raisings, poker games, saloon brawls and frontier combat is a remarkably dense drama where the tensions between individual enterprise and communal good are often strained and the line between hero and villain is not a matter of black and white, but shades of gray.

Canyon Passage isn’t one of those simple little towns laid out on the prairie around a main street with a grid, building out as the town grows, but a rough-hewn collection of businesses and saloons in a community that looks literally hacked out of the wilderness. Surrounded by emerald green forests and dramatic mountains, this is different from the more conventional communities seen in frontier westerns up to now. Jacksonville is a beautiful little town striving for maturity but caught up in the growing pains of free enterprise and new settlements in a place without a marshal or a judge. Roughneck outliers (notably a brutal bully played by Ward Bond), mob justice, and the threat of an Indian uprising are the flip side of the frontier idealism of the new settlers and established families pulling together in the face of adversity.

Read the entire feature here. Plays on Tuesday, July 20 on TCM. Also available on DVD as part of the four-film set Classic Western Round-up Vol. 1 (which also includes The Lawless Breed, The Texas Rangers and Kansas Raiders).

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