Quatermass and the librarian

Tube sign of Hobbs End from the Hammer film Qu...

Tube sign of Hobbs End from the Hammer film Quatermass and the Pit. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The 1967 sci-fi cult classic Quatermass and the Pit is one I’ve been trying to track down for awhile. It’s a Hammer film production, and follows two Quatermass feature films (The Quatermass Xperiment, 1955; and Quatermass II: Enemy from Space, 1957) and a 1958 TV series of the same name (and plot). The film is also known as Five Million Years to Earth, the title of choice when released in the U.S. in 1968. Admittedly, the biggest question in my mind was how to pronounce Quatermass! (I kept wanting to insert an extra “r” to make it like Quarter-mass. But it turns out his name rhymes with Crater-mass.)

The plot is an interesting take on religious myths and science fiction, and starts off with a discovery of ape-like human skeletons when a construction crew is digging a subway extension near Hobbs Lane, London. When scientists further discover a missile-like metal shape, the armed forces are called in, who jump to the conclusion that it’s an unexploded German bomb from World War II. Only Professor Bernard Quatermass (intelligently played by Andrew Keir) thinks they’re mistaken, so he and an assistant scientist, Barbara (Barbara Shelley), do some digging of their own — but this time in the research archives. Good plan.

Almost a half-hour in, Barbara has made copies of old newspaper files from the 1920s — which look suspiciously like blank pieces of paper onscreen — that reveal a history of disturbing stories and incidents around “Hob’s Lane” (the old spelling of the street, “Hob” being an old term for the Devil). Several stories mention small dwarf-like figures, like goblins. After a disturbing incident in the subway station involving an hysterical workman, Quatermass then insists on following up on the stories.

Reel Librarians:  Quatermass and the Pit screenshot

~ What does this say?
~ I don’t know, it’s just a blank piece of paper. And I forgot my lines. I’ll just wing it.

This cuts to a closeup of a file cabinet in an unidentified private library, seen above. Quatermass and Barbara read aloud snippets from more reports — including one from 1763! — mentioning alarming noises, spectral appearances, grievous sounds, and “weird happenings.”

Finally, Barbara asks the $10 million question:  Where next?

Quatermass:  The archives at Westminster Abbey, I think.

Next shot is a closeup on an old text and the hands of an archivist librarian, seen below. It’s important to note that the focus is on the information, not the librarian. Therefore, from the first moment, the librarian’s primary role is identified as that of Information Provider. The Abbey Librarian (Noel Howlett) is an older white male, bald, with thick black glasses, and dressed quite conservatively in a dark suit and tie, pocket square, and cuff links.

The setting looks to be the basement or catacombs of an old abbey, with stone walls; wood furniture, including what looks to be an old card’s catalog or apothecary cabinet; tables with stacked-up books; and sconces along the wall.

Reel Librarians:  Quatermass and the Pit screenshot

The Abbey Librarian is busy reciting text and translating, quite impressively, from Latin:

Abbey Librarian: In the winter of the year 1341, the religious of that region did strive against an outbreak of evil at Hob’s Lane. [He looks up at Quatermass]

Quatermass:  Oh please go on, my Latin’s not up to it.

Abbey Librarian: Imps and demons did appear. Foul noises sent by the devil did solely afflict the charcoal burners that had lately come there.

Quatermass:  Charcoal burners?

Abbey Librarian:  Yes, yes, that’s right.

Quatermass [to Barbara]:  They’d been felling trees, big heavy ones. In 1763 a well was being dug. In 1927 the underground station. And now the extension.

Barbara:  All disturbances of the ground.

Abbey Librarian [continuing]:  This has well been known as a troubled place. It is said that in the time of the Romans…

Quatermass:  I had better go.

Abbey Librarian [looking a bit startled]:  I beg your pardon?

Quatermass:  I have to leave now. But Miss Judd will stay on. [to Barbara] Find out everything you can and collect Dr. Roney. I think he should be in on this.

Quatermass [to Abbey Librarian]:  Many thanks.

Quatermass is ultimately quite dismissive of the Abbey Librarian; once the librarian has served his purpose, there’s no more need for him. That’s the way it goes for Information Providers. Miss Judd does pause to give the librarian a sympathetic smile.

Reel Librarians:  Quatermass and the Pit screenshot

Although this archives scene is short — only about a minute long — it is a key scene, giving credence to the timeline of the stories connected to disturbances of the earth. This Class III librarian appears an expert at this job, translating quite rapidly, and seems only a little put off by Quatermass’s interruptions and abrupt departure. At his age, he’s probably used to this kind of reaction!

Also, about a half-hour after this library scene, the cast returns to what looks to be the same abbey set, to talk to a worker affected by another incident at the excavation site. Barbara and Quatermass talk to a priest, but there’s no further sign of the Abbey Librarian.

It’s interesting to realize that I’ve been featuring quite a few monastery/abbey librarians lately — all males, of course — including those in Necronomicon (another sci-fi title, hmmm) and Ever After. And you’ll probably want to catch back up with the monk librarians in The Name of the Rose (click here and here), just for good measure. 😉


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