Davis, de Havilland, Flynn, Cagney, Bogart ...

Davis, de Havilland, Flynn, Cagney, Bogart ...

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas


I love a classy piece of art, don't you?
The terror of all that is human?  A shock-test for your scare endurance?  Hmmm.......  Now who would guess that a movie by that name, advertised with a schlock poster like that, would turn out to be a wonderful little film, literate and thoughtful, that would find a special place in my movie-lovin' heart?  I wouldn't have expected it ... but it did.  Hammer Studios released The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas in October, 1957.  It is not one of Hammer's better-known releases,  boasts no big production values, did not receive very good reviews upon release ... yet I believe it is one of the best of the Hammer lineup.
 FYI:  There is a spoiler regarding the end of this movie.

I really love Hammer's Dracula, Frankenstein and Mummy movies, and never miss them when I get the chance to see them.  Still, I guess my favorites are the stories that rely more on psychological fear, particularly Five Million Years To Earth (aka Quatermass and the Pit), The Gorgon, and The Abominable Snowman.  Writer Nigel Neale must appeal to me, because he created two of those, Five Million Years to Earth and The Abominable Snowman.  Director Val Guest was also responsible for another good Hammer production, The Quatermas Xperiment, as well as a non-Hammer film that is in my top 10 sci-fi list, The Day The Earth Caught Fire.  Even The Abominable Snowman's music appeals to me ... it just sounds Tibetan and mountainous, as silly as that may sound, with its gongs and soaring strings.  The composer for the soundtrack was Humphrey Searle, who, although I don't recognize most of the movies he wrote for, did the wonderfully eerie music for the best scary movie ever made, 1963's The Haunting.  The Abominable Snowman has a great deal of solid talent behind it.


The overwhelming vastness of the Himalayas is captured cleverly by cinematographer Arthur Grant, using several different techniques, including cable cars.  The film makers used the Pyrenees mountains in France during winter to double for the long shots of the mountain range.  Production designer Bernard Robinson, well-known for his ability to create sets for Hammer that were used for many different productions, smoothly blended the real location shots with wonderfully seamless studio sets. The mountains are like a living entity in this film.  We are inexorably drawn into the feeling of howling winds, cold, exhaustion and fear of the climbing group's trek into what seem to be the mountains of the moon.

Dr. John Rollason and the Lhama 
Peter Cushing stars as Dr. John Rollason, a British botanist sent to Tibet to study rare plants.  However, it is a legendary creature in which his interests really lie, what the Tibetans call the Yeti. Neither beast nor man, the Yeti are believed to live in the highest peaks of the frozen Himalayan mountains. Huge footsteps are the only evidence ever seen by man. Rollason believes that the Yeti may be a third branch of the great evolutionary split between ape and man.  Arnold Marle appears as the Lhama of the Buddhist lamasery from which the expedition commences. He is mysterious, cunning and other-worldly, possessed with strange powers of knowledge.  He is aware of Rollason's obsessive desire before Rollason himself makes the final decision to join a climbing expedition for the search.  Maureen Connell, as Rollason's wife Helen, is the voice of his conscience and inner doubts, fearful of what she sees as a doomed expedition.


The other members of the expedition have their own unique reasons for searching for the Yeti.  Forrest Tucker is Tom Friend, a domineering carnival barker-type of man whose interest in the Yeti is far from scientific. We watch Friend evolve during the film from a greedy, bullying "fairground trickster", in the words of Dr. Rollason, who puts his own friend's life in danger to get what he wants, to a man who realizes his failings and eventual destiny.  (Critics almost unanimously panned Tucker's performance, but I completely disagree.  I think he did a fine job.)  Ed Shelley, played by Robert Brown, is Friend’s companion, a blustering man of little imagination and less class, but real loyalty to Friend. Scottish actor Michael Brill is McNee, gentle, quiet, whose fearful search for the Yeti is a personal quest. In the course of the expedition, each man finds himself faced with the deepest, sometimes primitive, parts of his psyche.


 The one great arrogance that all members of the party bring with them, even Rollason, is the belief that the Yeti is something to be hunted, in one way or another.  Rollason believes his own particular hunt is for science, Friend for profit,  but all feel justified in pursuing the Yeti.  Rollason himself is perhaps the more culpable, as he believes the Yeti may be more than an animal, where Friend sees it as something that belongs in a zoo.  Perhaps it is in Kusang (Wolfe Morris), the climbing party's guide, that we see the dual nature of man's ability to think one way and do another.  Kusang is perfectly willing to go along with Friend's desire for profit in treating the expedition as an animal hunt, even going so far as identifying an obvious mountain monkey as the abominable snowman.  However, when Kusang unexpectedly runs into the object of their search, he cries in terror "You make me see true Yeti!"  It is obvious that he has believed all along in a real living presence that deserved respect.  Although Rollason and McNee at least had some realization that this was the case, their personal desires overcame that very important consideration.


Rollason, when at last faced by the Yeti, sees humanity and wisdom in the haunting eyes.  We as the audience see the same.  We might initially have expected to see a monster, but we have met a fellow thinking creature.  I found this movie to be quite poetic and haunting in nature.  I know that those eyes and the quiet music that accompanied that shot stayed with me ... perhaps you will feel the same.




This post is part of the Hammer Halloween Blogathon hosted by the Classic Film and TV Café.   For the complete list of blogathon entries, click here:


27 comments:

  1. Yay! The Great One has returned! I remember seeing this as a kid. For some reason we had an actual film that ran through a home projector with no sound, so we made up our own dialogue. We were thrilled to see the guy from F-Troop!

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    1. I would LOVE to have heard your dialogue! I'm sure some plot devices from F-Troop made their way in there somewhere .... thanks, Chick!

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  2. I'm intrigued. Your article make me want to see this film. Soon.

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    1. You'd like it. A lot. Really. I swear.

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  3. So is it safe to say that this movie foregoes traditional monster movie scares completely? If so, kudos for trying something different, I suppose. Too bad that sort of thing would never play with modern horror audiences.

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    1. It has its moments, Rich. A huge hand reaching under a tent fly, distant cries in the night -- they are pretty much of the subtle type. As for modern horror audiences, well, anybody who can only enjoy things along the lines of Hostel or any Rob Zombie epic would doubtless fall asleep within the first five minutes of this movie. A lot is lost with the numbing of the moral senses.

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  4. Boy, you nailed this one Becky. One of Hammer's best and am glad you gave props to Searle's music score. It really adds another layer to the film.

    I will admit I hated this movie as a kid, due to its lack of a raging monster tearing its way through the Himalayas tossing bodies off mountains, etc.

    But as an adult, I was very impressed with the mood and texture of the film, and the dynamics of its characters. I well remember loaning my dad the VHS copy of the film and he looked at the cover and thought it was going to be something like an AIP movie. When he returned he marveled at how good it was - not only good, but how intelligent. Definitely one of the gems in the Hammer catalog.

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    1. Thank you so much, Kevin. I'm glad you agree about the wonderful music. Yeah, kids expect the abominable monster, but the adult appreciates the Yeti ... it is definitely a gem!

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  5. Sounds like a great film to see. Glad to see you're back. The screen cap with just the eyes is a spooky one. It looks like a wise creature. But if it's so wise why did it pick such an inhospitable place to live ?

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    1. It's interesting that you mention the Yeti's choice of where to live, Tom. The movie speaks to that issue. It's choice is a wise one, in that it wishes to remain out of reach of man. Get a chance to see it and it will explain.

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  6. So happy to be reading a CB post! Leave it to the brilliant Nigel Kneale to approach the Yeti with a twist. While this film is not as innovative as Kneale's best (that'd be Hammer's QUATERMASS AND THE PIT), it's still a satisfying, intelligent tale that eschews horror in favor of intriguing ideas. I'm always a sucker for snowy settings and, as always, Cushing is a delight. Thanks so much for participating in the Hammer Halloween Blogathon, Becky!

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    1. Thanks, Rick! Quatermass and the Pit is definitely a tremendous story, and at the top of the heap! That's funny you say that about being a sucker for snowy settings -- I too love movies about mountains, and I'm also a sucker for submarine movies as well! LOL!

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  7. As I mentioned on FB, I have not seen this film, but I have been aware of it since I was a young kid. I actually thought there really was this large "abominable snowman" running around in the snowy wilderness! That thought scared the hell out of me and made me glad I lived in NYC!

    This does sound like a fun flick and one I should finally catch up with now that I know it is not real...or is it?

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    1. Oh, it is definitely real, John -- and it scared the hell out of everyone who was looking for it -- just for different reasons than you thought when you were a kid! I hope you do get to see it. Cries in the night give me chills, along with other things that happen ... I know you'd like it. Glad you came by!

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  8. If I have a gap in my film-viewing, it concerns films with the Yeti. This film seems interesting and I had never heard about it, until you introduced it to me. Thanks!
    Kisses!

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    1. Hi Le, good to see you here! There aren't many films about the Yeti, but of what there are, this is the crown jewel!

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  9. Great write-up on another of my favorite Hammers, Becky! I was pleased to see you mention QUATERMASS AND THE PIT as well, another classic (I love the non-Hammer you mentioned, THE DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE, as well). THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN is really atmospheric and intelligent (a Nigel Kneale trademark), and you're right in identifying that shot of the Yetis eyes as haunting - it's certainly firmly etched in my mind many years after having seen the film for the first and only time. This is one I really need to get on DVD.

    Forrest Tucker plays a much more sympathetic character in another British sci-fi/horror flick set on a mountain, THE CRAWLING EYE. The Brits just seem to have a dab hand at making these sorts of films.

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    1. Hi Jeff! Love to find another lover of The Day the Earth Caught Fire -- what a special film! And of course Quatermass and the Pit is one of the best. I know what you mean about wanting to get Snowman on DVD -- my old VHS copy bit the dust not too long ago, and I want it in my collection! So what is it about the Brits and those films? They are just plain good at it! Thanks for coming by -- this blogathon has been fun!

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  10. Becky:
    Great job. You actually beat me to this one for the blogathon!

    It was really an inspired idea to put Tucker and Cushing together in this, and I agree, both actors are at their best. Tuck's performance was praised by Leslie Halliwell (he highlights it in Forrest's entry in his film guide) and DVD Verdict actually stated it is the best performance of his career when they reviewed the DVD release over a decade ago (I don't go that far, but I agree with you he's in excellent form here). Val Guest had a number of entertaining stories about Tuck and Cushing on the DVD Commentary when this was released in 1999/2000.

    What we *don't* quite see is what makes this one so scary. "Atmospheric and intelligent" describes this to a T. It might well be my favorite Hammer, period.

    Not sure if you're aware of this, but Tuck worked for Hammer, and for director Val Guest before, in the hard-to-find and non-horror BREAK IN THE CIRCLE (55) with Eva Bartok. That's a film I'm still trying to find.

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    1. I'm glad to see that Tucker was praised by somebody for his performance here -- I saw too many criticisms and just didn't get that. I mentioned to Jeff above that I'm dying to get a DVD of this, and now look forward to Val Guest's commentary. Indeed I never heard of Break in the Circle -- I'll have to look for that one too. Sorry I beat you to it with Snowman, but thanks for the compliment!

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  11. Oh, wow. Touching. I think I'd like this very much, Becky. Your post is fab, as always, and a nice respite from the horrors and nightmares!

    Aurora

    PS - who knew Lamasery was a thing?

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    1. Thank you so much -- I love to write about a movie that is chilling and touching at the same time. (Chilling -- I guess that's sort of a pun!) I had to laugh out loud at your lamasery question!)

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  12. Great write-up of one of Hammer's hidden treasures (but not quite as elusive as the Yeti, as it's had its share of DVD releases). Nigel Kneale lent class and intelligence to any project he was part of, even if the final product didn't always meet his vision. This one was based on a play of Kneale's, and you can see the roots of its origin in the film. Rollason (Cushing) has a line that nicely sums up the film, and is one of my all-time favorites:

    "It isn't what's out there that's dangerous, as much as what's in us."

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    1. I couldn't agree more about Rollason's line -- that is exactly the theme of the movie! Thanks so much for your compliment about my write-up, Brian. That makes my day!

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  13. Hey Becky! Welcome back! I'm catching up with CMBA blogs and loved this one! How can you go wrong with Hammer, Cushing, and Indiana's own Forrest Tucker?!

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    1. I'm so glad to see you, and I'm glad you liked this! You are too right about the line-up in this movie ... great people make great movies!

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  14. Hi Becky,
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    We offer the possibility for talented writers to share their passion for cinema on our website which currently has 4 million readers every month and 17 million fans on Facebook.
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