British scientists, British censors and a wild party: TV and movies

QUATERMASS II (1955) stars John Robinson as British rocket expert Professor Quatermass in the follow-up to 1953’s The Quatermass Experiment. As the six-part serial opens, Quatermass is in despair: his nuclear-powered rocket is too dangerous to take humanity to Mars and he’s still stressed out from the nightmare experience of the previous system. Then his prospective son-in-law reports a series of strange hollow meteorites falling on England that leave strange facial marks when they crack open. And what do they have to do with a mysterious government research facility?

This is the weakest of the three serials, much inferior to Quatermass and the Pit, just as Robinson is less interesting than Andre Morrell in the role. However after three sluggish chapters it picks up steam for the second half, with screenwriter Nigel Kneale taking the story to unexpected places. “Let’s not employ sterling endurance until there’s a need for it.”

In CENSOR (2021) the protagonist is a female censor working for the British government in the 1980s: the VHS revolution is under way and it’s her job to figure out how much cutting graphically violent “video nasties” need to become acceptable, or if any cutting will help. But she has a tragedy in her past — the death or disappearance of her sister — so the sight of an actor who looks just like the sister, grown-up, sets the censor on a desperate quest to meet her. This was well executed but ultimately felt flimsier than it was trying to be. “You lost the argument the moment you brought Shakespeare into the room.”

THE CAT’S MEOW (2001) is Peter Bogdanovich’s fictionalization of the death — or murder — of Thomas Ince (Cary Elwes) about William Randolph Hearst’s (Edward Herrmann) yacht one night in the 1920s.  The yacht’s glamorous passengers include Hearst’s mistress Marion Davies (a delightful Kirsten Dunst), novelist Eleanor Glynn (Joanna Lumley), gossip columnist Louella Parsons (Jennifer Tilly) and Charlie Chaplin (Eddie Izzard) who wants Davies to leave her married lover and fly away with him; she attracted, but she knows damn well how unreliable Chaplin would be, in contrast to the solid support Hearst offers. Hearst, meanwhile, is increasingly aware that he may be losing his great love …

From what little I know of Davies and Hearst, their relationship is pretty accurate. I don’t care if the story is true, as it’s mostly an excuse to cover glamorous people in a glamorous time and place. Which worked for me. “I know you’re looking for a harpoon, Tom, but this one is dangerously double-edged.”

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