The Abominable Snowman (film)
|The Abominable Snowman|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Val Guest|
|Produced by||Aubrey Baring|
|Written by||Nigel Kneale|
1955 TV play
by Nigel Kneale
|Music by||Humphrey Searle|
|Edited by||Bill Lenny|
Warner Bros. (UK)|
20th Century Fox (US)
The Abominable Snowman (US title: The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas) is a 1957 British fantasy-horror film, scripted by Nigel Kneale from his 1955 BBC teleplay, "The Creature", produced by Hammer Film Productions and directed by Val Guest. The plot follows the exploits of a British scientist (Peter Cushing) who joins an American expedition led by glory-seeker (Forrest Tucker) to search the Himalayas for the legendary Yeti. Maureen Connell, Richard Wattis and Arnold Marle appear in supporting roles.
Dr. John Rollason (Peter Cushing), his wife, Helen (Maureen Connell), and assistant, Peter Fox (Richard Wattis), are guests of the Lama (Arnold Marlé) of the monastery of Rong-buk while on a botanical expedition to the Himalayas. A second expedition, led by Dr. Tom Friend (Forrest Tucker) accompanied by trapper Ed Shelley (Robert Brown), photographer Andrew McNee (Michael Brill) and Sherpa guide Kusang (Wolfe Morris), arrives at the monastery in search of the legendary Yeti or Abominable Snowman. Rollason, despite the objections of his wife and the Lama, decides to join Friend's expedition. Whereas Rollason is motivated by scientific curiosity to learn more about the creature, Friend seeks fame and fortune and wants to capture a live Yeti and present it to the world's press.
The expedition climbs high into the mountains and finds a set of giant footprints in the snow, evidence of the Yeti's existence. As the tensions between Rollason and Friend rise, McNee is injured by a bear trap laid by Friend to catch the Yeti and later dies in a fall. Kusang flees back to the monastery from where Helen and Fox decide to mount a rescue mission. Meanwhile, Shelley succeeds in shooting and killing a Yeti, an act that enrages the creature's fellows. When Shelley is killed in a failed attempt to catch a live specimen, Friend finally decides to cut his losses and leave with the body of the dead Yeti. The Yeti close in on the two survivors, however, and Friend is killed in an avalanche.
Rollason takes refuge in an ice cave and watches in amazement as a number of Yeti arrive and take away the body of their fallen compatriot. He realises the Yeti are an intelligent species biding their time to claim the Earth when humanity has destroyed itself.
The rescue party finds Rollason and brings him back to the monastery where, when questioned by the Lama, he claims the expedition found nothing.
- Forrest Tucker as Dr Tom Friend: The American producer Robert L. Lippert co-produced many of Hammer's films in the early 1950s, including The Abominable Snowman. Under these co-production deals, Lippert provided an American star in return for the rights to distribute Hammer's films in the United States. For The Abominable Snowman, Lippert approached Forrest Tucker, who had previously appeared for Hammer in Break in the Circle (1954), also directed by Val Guest. Nigel Kneale considered Tucker's performance to be on a par with Stanley Baker, who had played the part in The Creature, saying, “Baker played it as a subtle, mean person, Forrest Tucker as more an extroverted bully but they were both good performances and I found very little to choose. Tucker was, I think, an underrated and very good actor”. According to make-up artist Phil Leakey, Val Guest was disappointed with the casting of Tucker; he recalled, "Forrest Tucker might have been very good at some things but, to many people's minds, acting wasn't one of them and I think he rather spoilt the picture". The Abominable Snowman was the first of three horror films Tucker made in Britain around this time; the others being The Strange World of Planet X (1958) and The Trollenberg Terror (1958).
- Peter Cushing as Dr John Rollason: Cushing reprised the role of John Rollason that he had played in The Creature. At this point in his career, he was best known as a television actor, having starred in productions of Pride and Prejudice (1952) and Beau Brummell (1954) as well as the Cartier/Kneale production of Nineteen Eighty-Four. The Abominable Snowman was his second picture for Hammer; the first had been The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), the film that would bring him international fame and establish his long association with the Hammer horror brand. Recalling how the cast and crew were entertained by Cushing's improvisation with props, Val Guest said, “We used to call him 'Props Cushing', because he was forever coming out with props. When he was examining the Yeti tooth, he was pulling these things out totally unrehearsed and we found it very difficult keeping quiet”.
The film also stars
- Maureen Connell as Helen Rollason
- Richard Wattis as Peter Fox
- Robert Brown as Ed Shelley.
- Michael Brill as Andrew McNee
- Wolfe Morris as Kusang
- Arnold Marlé as Lhama
- Anthony Chinn as Majordomo
Origins: The Creature
Writer Nigel Kneale and television director/producer Rudolph Cartier had collaborated on several BBC dramas, including The Quatermass Experiment (1953) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1954), an adaptation of the George Orwell novel. Their next production had been The Creature, a morality play written by Kneale about a search for the mysterious Yeti in the Himalayas. Kneale wished to write a story about the Yeti that would "not make him a monster but put a twist on it that really he was better than us". He was influenced by numerous reports of the Yeti that had appeared in the news at the time, including discoveries of footprints by the Eric Shipton in 1951 and by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay on the first complete ascent of Mount Everest in 1953. In particular, he was influenced by an unsuccessful 1954 expedition to find the Yeti sponsored by the Daily Mail newspaper. The play starred Stanley Baker as Tom Friend and Peter Cushing as John Rollason with Arnold Marlé as the Lama, Eric Pohlmann as trapper Pierre Brosset, Simon Lack as photographer Andrew McPhee and Wolfe Morris as Nima Kusang. It was broadcast live from Lime Grove Studios on Sunday, 30 January 1955 and a repeat performance was broadcast live the following Wednesday, 2 February. The broadcast was not recorded and the only record of the production that survives is a series of screen images, known as tele-snaps, taken by photographer John Cura.
The play received mixed reviews: the critic in The Times found it unrealistic and dull. Similarly, Philip Hope-Wallace of The Listener found it “a Boy's Fiction standard with a conversational cut and thrust to the dialogue which sounded as dry and powdery as the snows of the film inserts”. On a more positive note, Peter Black in the Daily Mail found the play to be a “rousing, outdoor adventure story” while Clifford Davis in the Daily Mirror described it as “gripping stuff and, for this viewer, packed with terror”. The play was spoofed by The Goon Show in the episode "Yehti", broadcast on 8 March 1955. Hammer Films purchased the rights to The Creature on 2 November 1956. They had enjoyed success with The Quatermass Xperiment (1955), an adaptation of the first Quatermass serial and would achieve similar success with Quatermass 2 (1957), an adaptation of the television sequel. Val Guest, who had directed the two Quatermass films, was assigned to direct; this would be his third, and last, collaboration with Nigel Kneale.
Nigel Kneale wrote the screenplay, which is a generally faithful adaptation of his original television script, both of which run to approximately 90 minutes. It was initially titled The Snow Creature until it was discovered there was a 1954 film of the same name. According to Kneale, Hammer wanted a title more literal than The Creature, which played on the ambiguity as to whether the real monster of the piece was the Yeti or its human pursuers, and settled on The Abominable Snowman. The screenplay adds two characters: Rollason's wife Helen and his assistant Peter Fox. The addition of the character of Helen, who is named after Cushing's wife, was prompted by Cushing's desire to flesh out Rollason's character by representing a woman's point of view of his obsession with the Yeti. Kneale was able to modify the ending of the story by using the characters of Mrs Rollason and Peter Fox to develop a subplot in which they mount a rescue mission for the expedition. The characters of Pierre Brosset and Andrew McPhee are renamed as Ed Shelley and Andrew McNee respectively; these names were used by Kneale in early drafts of The Creature. Although Kneale is the only credited screenwriter, Guest performed his own rewrite of the script in advance of the production, removing a lot of dialogue he felt to be unnecessary. Guest said, “You can't have long speeches with people on the screen unless it's a closing argument in a court case or something”.
The Abominable Snowman was the only film to be produced for Hammer by Aubrey Baring, who was a member of the Barings banking family. Shooting began with a ten-day second unit location shoot at La Mongie in the French Pyrenees between 14 and 24 January 1957. Guest and Baring led a crew that included cinematographer Arthur Grant, camera operator Len Harris and focus puller Harry Oakes. Local trade union rules required that they were accompanied by a French crew. None of the principal performers were brought on location and doubles were used for the actors. Most of the filming was done in the vicinity of the observatory at the summit of Pic du Midi de Bigorre, reached by cable car from La Mongie. Although a helicopter was used for some of the panoramic shots of the mountains, many of them were shot from the cable car as it ascended the mountain. Cognisant of the conditions they would be working in, Harris used a Newman-Sinclair clockwork camera whereas the French crew used a conventional Mitchell BFC camera, which failed numerous times on account of the cold.
The film was shot in an anamorphic wide screen format called Regalscope, renamed "Hammerscope" by the company. Val Guest found it an unsatisfactory format to work in, which made getting in close to the actors difficult and required careful framing of scenes. This was the first film Arthur Grant worked on for Hammer as cinematographer and his reputation for being fast and cheap meant he soon replaced Jack Asher as Hammer's regular cinematographer. Just as he had done with the Quatermass films, Guest tried to give the film "an almost documentary approach of someone going on an expedition with a camera for Panorama or something". To this effect, he made extensive use of hand-held camera and overlapping dialogue.
Principal photography took place between 28 January and 5 March 1957 at Bray and Pinewood studios. The sets for the monastery were constructed at Bray by production designer Bernard Robinson, assisted by art director Ted Marshall and draughtsman Don Mingaye, and required detailed research in books and libraries. Nigel Kneale was particularly impressed by the monastery set, feeling that it acted not just as a background but as a participant in the story. These sets were later reused for the series of Fu Manchu movies made in the 1960s, starring Christopher Lee. Assistance was provided by members of a Buddhist temple in Guildford to choreograph the monks chanting. Most of the extras were waiters in Chinese restaurants in London. It was realised early in production that there was insufficient space at Bray for the sets depicting the snowscapes of the Himalayas and so production shifted to Pinewood. Each element of the set was built on a wheeled rostrum so the set could be reconfigured to show many different panoramic backdrops. The set was decorated with artificial snow made of polystyrene and salt. Matching the footage shot in the Pyrenees with the scenes filmed in Pinewood represented a major challenge for Guest and his editor Bill Lenny. Guest had a Moviola editing machine brought on set so he could view scenes from the location shoot and synchronise them up with the scenes being shot at Pinewood.
It was Val Guest's view that the Yeti should be kept largely offscreen, bar a few glimpses of hands and arms, leaving the rest to the audience's imagination. By contrast, Nigel Kneale felt that the creatures should be shown in their entirety to get across the message of the script that the Yeti are harmless, gentle creatures. In the climactic scene where Rollason comes face to face with the Yeti, only the eyes are seen: Guest used Fred Johnson to play the Yeti in this scene, relying on his "eyes of worldly understanding" to convey the benign nature of the Yeti.
The musical score was provided by Humphrey Searle, his only score for Hammer. The score was heavily influenced by that of another film with the theme of exploration: Scott of the Antarctic (1948), composed by Ralph Vaughan Williams.
The Abominable Snowman was released on 26 August 1957, with an 'A' Certificate from the British Board of Film Censors, as part of a double bill with Untamed Youth, starring Mamie Van Doren. In the United States it was released under the title The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas. Reviews were mixed: Derek Hill of the Evening Standard found it to be "among the best of British science-fiction thrillers". Derek Prouse in The Sunday Times welcomed the fact that "for once an engaging monster is neither bombed, roasted nor electrocuted". By contrast, Robert Kennedy of the Daily Worker said, "The film gets bogged down in its own contradictions, including the notion that the Yeti are at the same time horrific and super-sensitive". William Whitebait in the New Statesman said, "The film lacks grip… the most authentic thrills are of men going mad and stumbling off into the snows where dead mens' voices join the wail of the Yeti". The critic in the Monthly Film Bulletin said the film was "on the whole a disappointingly tame and ineffectual screen version of Nigel Kneale's intriguing TV play".
The release of the film was overshadowed somewhat by the huge success of Hammer's The Curse of Frankenstein, released the same year, and it was a relative financial failure, a fact Val Guest attributed to the intelligence of the script, saying, "It was too subtle and I also think it had too much to say. No one was expecting films from Hammer that said anything but this one did… audiences didn't want that sort of thing from Hammer. This was the last film Hammer made in association with Robert L. Lippert; following the success of The Curse of Frankenstein, Hammer was now in a position to be able to deal directly with the major American distributors.
Critical views of the film in the years since its release generally consider it to be one of the lesser films in the Hammer and Nigel Kneale canon. Critic Bill Warren finds its to be "an intelligent but commonplace adventure thriller with the Yeti little more than background fugures… a little too ponderous and hence unexciting". Similarly, John Baxter felt that "in recreating a peak in the Himalayas, the set designer had more control over the film than the director, and despite some tense action the story drags". Baxter acknowledged however that the film exercises "a certain eerie influence", a view echoed by Hammer historians Marcus Hearn and Alan Barnes that "the film conveys a taut, paranoid atmosphere; set largely in wide open spaces, it's remarkably claustrophobic in scale". Nigel Kneale's biographer, Andy Murray, finds the film "eerie and effective" and also suggests the scenes of the expedition members calling out to their lost colleagues across the wastelands influenced similar scenes in The Blair Witch Project (1999).
In November 2013, a remake of the film was announced, with President of Hammer Films Simon Oakes saying of the project: "The success of Let Me In and The Woman in Black has shown that there is an appetite for quality horror films so it is exciting to draw on Hammer's unparalleled source material in this genre which can be reimagined and updated for a new audience." The film will be written by Matthew Read and Jon Croker.
- Hearn & Rigby 2003, p. 9.
- Hearn & Barnes 2007, p. 26.
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