X: The Unknown | Hammer 1956 | Dean Jagger, Leo McKern

X: The Unknown | Hammer 1956 | Dean Jagger, Leo McKern

When troops practice locating fallout in a remote Scottish quarry, an apparently bottomless fissure opens in the Earth, critically injuring a soldier with radioactive burns. As radioactive goo oozes forth, destroying everyone in its path, scientist Adam Roysten (Jagger) formulates a theory that the living mass, dormant for millennia, now seeks fresh radioactive energy ("energy can only be fed with more energy") and, to this end, is heading straight for the military’s own nuclear reactor.

A film of what-ifs and could-have-beens, X The Unknown was originally devised as a Quatermass sequel – until Nigel Kneale, miffed over what he felt was a lousy adaptation of his BBC serial, refused to co-operate (he would, however, go on to co-write Quatermass 2 after leaving the BBC). More intriguingly, X The Unknown was also to have been directed by the legendary Joseph Losey (The Servant), then on the run from Senator McCathy’s Un-American Activities Committee. Obliged to carry the pseudonym ‘Joe Walton’, he was forced to bow out after leading man and rabid anti-Commie Jagger rumbled Hammer’s ruse. (The studio’s US distributors considered Jagger’s involvement crucial to the movie’s commercial appeal overseas, so he had considerably more sway than the director.)

Replacement director Leslie Norman does his best within the budget’s limitations, aided by a faintly literate premise "cobbled together in an hour" by 27-year-old Jimmy Sangster (in his major screenwriting debut), along with a shipload of tapioca pudding. But, sandwiched between the two classic Quatermass films, this can’t hope to replicate Val Guest’s achievements. Faintly ludicrous scenes of soldier boy Newley firing blindly at a tsunami of pud sit uncomfortably with some genuinely shocking moments – faces melting, exposing skulls. There’s a sense of treading water here – Bernard’s score lazily re-working familiar themes, although some naturalistic performances (particularly from Newley, as Private ‘Spider’ Webb) go a little way to absolving the film.

cast
Dean Jagger as Dr. Adam Royston
Leo McKern as Inspector McGill
William Lucas as Peter Elliott
Edward Chapman as John Elliott
John Harvey as Maj. Cartwright
Anthony Newley as LCpl. ‘Spider’ Webb
Ian MacNaughton as Pvt. Haggis
Peter Hammond as Lt. Bannerman
Michael Ripper as Sgt. Harry Grimsdyke
Kenneth Cope as Pvt. Lansing
Michael Brooke as Willie Harding
Frazer Hines as Ian Osborn
Neil Wilson as Russell
Jameson Clark as Jack Harding
Jane Aird as Vi Harding
Robert Bruce as Dr. Kelly
John Stone as Gerry the Intern
Marianne Brauns as Zena, the Nurse
Brown Derby as The Vicar
Norman Macowan as Old Tom
Edwin Richfield as Soldier Burned on Back
Neil Hallett

crew
art direction: Edward Marshall
Director Of Photography: Gerald Gibbs
Camera Operator: Len Harris
Clapper Loader: Mike Rutter
Makeup Artist: Philip Leakey
Wardrobe Supervisor: Molly Arbuthnot
Makeup Effects: Philip Leakey
Special Effects: Jack Curtis
Directors: Leslie Norman, Joseph Losey
Assistant Director: Christopher Sutton
Continuity: June Randall
Editor: James Needs
Producer: Anthony Hinds
Executive Producer: Michael Carreras
Production Manager: Jimmy Sangster
Original Music Composer: James Bernard
Music Director: John Hollingsworth
Sound Mixer: Jock May
Sound Editor: Alfred Cox
Screenplay and Story: Jimmy Sangster

UK | Hammer | 81 minutes | 1956

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