Directed by Val Guest
Written by Nigel Kneale
Based on his 1955 TV play The Creature
Cinematographer: Arthur Grant
Film Editor: Bill Linney
Music by Humphrey Searle
Cast: Forrest Tucker (Tom Friend), Peter Cushing (Dr. John Rollason), Arnold Marlé (The Lhama), Maureen Connell (Helen Rollason), Richard Wattis (Peter Fox), Robert Brown (Ed Shelley), Michael Brill (Andrew McNee)
The Western part of North Carolina certainly gets its share of Sasquatch sightings. So many, in fact, that a small town (Marion) held its second Bigfoot Festival back in September. With all the talk of Sasquatch/Yeti/Bigfoot going on around here, Scream Factory’s Blu-Ray of Hammer’s The Abominable Snowman (1957) seems almost topical.
It’s a movie I’ve loved since I was a kid, and the chance to see Arthur Grant’s B&W Regalscope cinematography in high definition is a huge deal.
The Abominable Snowman began as a live TV program from the BBC, The Creature, written by Nigel Kneale — drawing on recent Yeti sightings and Mount Everest expeditions for inspiration. It starred Stanley Baker as Tom Friend and Peter Cushing as John Rollason. Two performances were aired live in January 1955 — neither were recorded. What a drag.
Hammer Films had turned a Kneale TV serial, The Quatermass Xperiment, into a successful film in 1955 (they’d do the same with its TV sequel), and they bought the movie rights for The Creature. Val Guest, who’d directed the Quatermass feature was brought back. Peter Cushing, who’d not only starred in The Creature, but had begun an association with Hammer with The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), was also put on the payroll. Forrest Tucker was cast as Tom Friend, making the explorer/entrepreneur an American.
Nigel Kneale turned his own teleplay into a screenplay, calling it The Snow Creature — until someone realized there already was a picture with that title. (The Snow Creature is a cheap piece of junk from 1954, with the distinction of being the first Bigfoot movie.) Hammer eventually settled on The Abominable Snowman. In the States, the title was extended to The Abominable Snowman Of The Himalayas. Kneale gets solo credit for the script, but Val Guest did a rewrite cutting back on a lot of the dialogue.
The production kicked off with a small crew doing some location shooting in the French Pyrenees in mid-January 1957. None of the cast made the trip; they used doubles. Some of the impressive mountain scenes used a helicopter, others were snagged from a cable car. Principal photography ran from January 28th to March 5th at Bray and Pinewood studios. The monastery set was built at Bray (with waiters from local Chinese restaurants playing the monks), while the snowy mountain stuff required the larger space to be found at Pinewood.
The story is pretty simple, at least on the surface. Tom Friend (Forrest Tucker) brings an exhibition to a monastery in the Himalayas, where Dr. John Rollason (Peter Cushing) is conducting botany research. Tucker’s after the Yeti, and he convinces Cushing to come along. It would’ve been better for all concerned if they’d stayed home. They do indeed find the Yeti — gentle, intelligent creatures waiting around for us to wipe ourselves out so they can take over.
Tucker and Cushing are perfect for their roles, and they really put this one over. Guest’s direction is quite good — keeping things moving, building tension and doing a great job of cutting together the location and studio stuff — they say he kept a Moviola on the set so he could refer to the mountain footage. This was cinematographer Arthur Grant’s first film for Hammer, and it looks terrific. He’d eventually replace Jack Asher as Hammer’s go-to DP.
I’ve raved about Scream Factory’s previous Hammer Blu-Ray releases, and The Abominable Snowman continues their stellar track record. When they received the HD material, they found it five minutes short. That footage has been reinstated from an (upscaled) SD source, though you can watch the shorter, all-HD version if you prefer. Either way, it looks terrific (go with the complete one), with the B&W ‘Scope a real knockout. The sound’s good, giving real power to the windy sound effects and Humphrey Searle’s score. There are plenty of extras, too — commentary, trailer, Joe Dante’s Trailers From Hell piece, etc. A nice package all-around.
In the UK, The Abominable Snowman was often paired with Mamie Van Doren in Untamed Youth. Now that was a nice night at the movies. I highly recommend The Abominable Snowman Of The Himalayas. It’s still the best movie ever made about Bigfoot (to be honest, it doesn’t have much competition) — and this Blu-Ray is the perfect way to see it (especially if you’ve got a big TV).