Friday, January 28, 2011


In late 2009 an eminent film expert wrote the following article about the rumored, suppressed COLOR version of the black-and-white sci-fi classic Quatermass 2 (known here in the U.S. as Enemy From Space.) The author sent it (and the accompanying photos with it) to me first, along with a request for my editing comments. He wanted it to be shared here at TDSH. However, he then went ahead and posted it elsewhere without heeding the editing suggestions of myself and a noted script writer that I had shared it with.

Originally a highly detailed but rambling, almost novella-length history of the film production, I adapted it for use here, shortening it with the written and verbal permission of the author, who subsequently wanted me to credit him as "Joe Btslftyk."
(Now working as a prominent parodist, Joe is currently living in the far, steamy regions of Hollywoodland, USA.) If you saw the longer version elsewhere, I'd like to know what you think of this post; I think of it as the "feature" versus "serial" version. (BTW, "Joe" has seen this intro and laughed.)

I'm running it now because I've been on a Hammer dvd bender lately, and ran into a young Hammer fan at a dvd store today, so I thought I'd offer a Hammer-related post for a change.

Warning: There are some NSFW photos found in this post. Don't scroll down if bare breasts offend you.

* * * *

Hammer Films' top-secret color version of Quatermass 2.

* * * *
Quatermass 2, a/k/a Enemy from Space, is a fine example of 1950s science fiction, with intelligent dialogue, brisk action, atmospheric music and eerie photography. It's especially admired for its moody, low-key, black and white photography.

Weirdly, no one ever comments that Enemy from Space was originally shot in color!

“Nobody ever asked,” chuckled director Val Guest in retirement in Palm Springs, when questioned in 2006.

The highly-praised look of Quatermass 2 was entirely accidental. The “moody” imagery of the film was predominantly the result of the film being printed colorless. As color release prints were three times more expensive as black and white then, producers often saw their color productions tossed away as black and white second-features, as happened to films like The Vulture, Dr. Blood's Coffin, and Hammer's remake of The Old Dark House, directed by William Castle. But the strange Q 2 saga involved more than simple distributor cheapness.

Even today, most fans do not realize what they are seeing is only a gray shadow of the original brilliant visual feast. Now, with the sole color negative of Enemy From Space digitally transferred to tape for the first time and frame captures available, the entire unbelievable story can be told.
* * * *

Quatermass 2/Enemy from Space was shot in the AnscoColor process, developed by the German company Agfa. In 1957, the AnscoColor palate was limited compared to the more lush Technicolor or Eastmancolor processes, but was less expensive. Hammer was pleased with the color dailies of their sequel to their hit The Quatermass Xperiment, but not writer Nigel Kneale. "Hammer always degraded great works, adding unnecessary nonsense, like their remaking Nosferatu with dialogue and music", said Kneale. "It was perfectly fine without it, in my opinion. And Frankenstein? Well, Christopher Lee is certainly no Charles Ogle!”

“The key is, I wasn't writing science fiction,” explained Kneale. “I can scarcely bear to watch that cheapjack nonsense about body-snatching vegetable things from forbidden planets. My work is serious. When we did special effects at the BBC, we did them the proper way, where you could bloody well tell they were miniatures the moment you looked at them. The viewer knows they're just little toy rockets and things, and forgets about them. That way, those shots don't get in the way of the drama.”

Kneale's vitriol not withstanding, preliminary promotional materials pushed the color aspect, although the Agfa advertising catchphrase was perhaps ill-advised: “AnscoColor-- It's Just As Good.” (Which replaced an even more ill-advised motto: "AnscoColor by Agfa--They had hardly anything to do with the Nazi war effort.") Plus, Donlevy's name was continuously misspelled on the early posters.

As was commonplace in the 1950s, Hammer filmed a racier “Continental" version. Nigel Kneale objected that it was entirely out of place-- not to mention far too colorful-- to have a topless waitress in a village pub. Hammer studios head James Carreras treated Kneale's objection seriously, sending the writer an explanatory telegram: “Rest assured there will be no trace of colour whatsoever in the nude scenes, which will be handled with the utmost taste.” Carreras then told Val Guest to carry on exactly as planned.

Focal point in the publicity was 22-year-old pin-up Vera Day, Day's topless scene was reportedly a highpoint in the sole public screening in Berlin, on April 1, 1957. “One might not think twice about a topless barmaid today,” mused Guest. “Maybe we started a trend. I never understood his problems with that. It's not as if we painted her blue and green. Her color was quite natural. Rather like Forrest Tucker, really."

Stateside, distributor United Artists killed the Vera Day campaign, dooming her nude scene to film-vault obscurity. Though she would go on to classics such as Them Nice Americans and Watch It, Sailor, she never again played another topless barmaid in a color science fiction film.

Then Agfa pulled its trump card. With possession of the original AnscoColor negative in their Argentine facility, they insisted Hammer cede the Sudentenland and arrange for unification of East Germany with West Germany under the joint control of Gert Frobe and Curt Jurgens.

But cinematographer Gerald Gibbs came to the rescue. He had secretly ordered a dupe negative struck and vaulted. It was monochrome, but this protection saved the day. The studio ignored Agfa's coercive demand, and the Agfa logo was wiped from the credits and the posters.

James Carreras put an effusively optimistic spin on the whole affair in a press release: “Our new film is going into cinemas in old-fashioned British black and white, as colorless as a typical day in England." From that point on, no one mentioned color, forbidden by the Official Secrets Act.

The debacle pleased only Nigel Kneale. “That's why I can only bear Hammer's last movie of the three, because it's in black and white,” he said late in life. Informed that Quatermass and the Pit (Five Million Miles to Earth in the U.S.) was indeed shot and released in color, Kneale disagreed. “I saw it on the telly, and Brain Donlevy was in black and white. I'm 80 years old. Don't give me any rubbish.”

Another newly-uncovered Hammer film secret is the fact that actor Brian Donlevy returned to his signature role in the third entry in the series, the color film Quatermass and the Pit, with newcomer Ingrid Pitt in the titular role. Unfortunately, three days into production, Peter Cushing's wife Helen became desperately ill, and Donlevy was replaced.

But that is another story.

[An amazing story, eh kids? How unfortunate that Donlevy left the production-- but he did, and his shoes were filled by Andrew Keir and several layers of Dr. Scholl's inserts.-- Max]

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