Film

Don’t Open That Door! #53: 'The Abominable Snowman' (1957)

Welcome to our weekly field guide to 1950s horror and sci-fi movies and the creatures that inhabit them. This week: An ugly Himalayan Yeti encounters an even uglier American researcher in The Abominable Snowman.


The Abominable Snowman

Director: Val Guest
Cast: Peter Cushing, Forrest Tucker, Maureen Connell
US Release Date: 1957-10

Alternative titles: Nature Vs. Nurture; The Thinking Person's Monster Movie

POSITIVES:

It has Peter Cushing in it (and a good cast all around).

Good cinematography and location shooting.

Attempts to make human story and character as important as shock, unease and terror.

Excitement level ramps up in the last 30 minutes.

NEGATIVES:

Slow start—some might say, mighty slow start.

"Nepali" high lhama's accent is bizarre and tough to understand.

Sometimes a little more shock, unease and terror is just what you need.

SYNOPSIS: Hawkfaced British botanist John Rollason is busy collecting botanical specimens up in he Himalayas, aided by his assistant Peter Fox and his scientist wife, Helen, when a group of thuggish Americans show up to do a little exploring of their own. Rollason decides to accompany them, even though he's a "reformed" mountain climber who quit after suffering through a major, though unspecified, accident. Since then he's kept off the slopes, which is just how Helen likes it. Now that he's going off with the boys, however, she's more than slightly peeved. Cue domestic tension.


Nor is Helen the only one annoyed. The high lhama himself, a sort of local archbishop with a thoroughly inexplicable accemt—French? German? Yiddish? Aw hell, let's just call it "foreign"—none-too-subtly discourages the expedition, all but demanding that Rollason not go. Rollason, being a jolly-olde-England type of bugger, pooh-poohs the sentiment and goes off anyway. Which, as it turns out, might not be such a brill idea. But you know, stiff upper lips and all that.

The Yanks, led by a blustering lout ironically named Tom Friend and guided by the lovably colorful Kusang, experience a variety of misadventures along their journey, none of them terribly interesting. Rather scarier are the Americans themselves, who soon reveal their true intentions as a hunting party with commercial interests. This doesn't sit well with Rollason, who argues the point, but it's a tad late to change his commitment now. He'd probably try harder to find a way, though, if he could see the lhama back at the monastary, sitting with his eyes rolled back into his head…

When one of the climbers gets injured, things turn sinister. The other climbers fight among themselves, the radio gets smashed, and oh yeah the Americans are revealed as amoral scam artists. After a nighttime encounter with something big and furry, Kusang freaks out and wisely hightails it for the hills (the foothills down below, that is), leaving behind three healthy climbers and one hurt guy. You might think those are lousy odds for taking on a healthy, hairy and extremely annoyed Yeti. Much less a whole bunch of them. But you know what? There are even more dangerous critters in those mountains, if you can believe it.

Best line of dialogue: "You're nothing but a cheap fairground trickster!"

What gets abominated: One furry snow creature; one much-less-furry creature; another less-furry creature; yet another less-furry critter.

What gets saved: Scientific inquiry? Nah, probably not.

Moral of the story: Bloody Americans, amirite?

Did you notice? Our intrepid, high-altitude mountain climbers' favorite pastime is, ah—smoking.

This reminds me of… …other Abominable Snowman movies, including The Snow Creature (1954) and Man Beast (1956). They're both pretty awful, so this is the best by default, even though it's no great shakes either. There is also a 1996 movie out there called The Abominable Snowman, but it doesn't appear to be a remake of this movie.

Isn't it refreshing… …to watch a movie in which the Americans are, for once, the scumbags? After countless movies in which foreigners are at the least unreliable and at worst, downright evil, it's a change of pace all right. (Cf. Dracula, The Thing From Another World, The Lost Continent, The Mole People, Zombies of Mora Tau, Monster From Green Hell, etc.)

Somehow their careers survived: 1957 was a good year for Peter Cushing (Rollason), who would jump-start his career by playing Dr Frankenstein in Hammer Horror's Curse of Frankenstein before going off to star in a slew of classic shockers like Horror of Dracula (1958), The Mummy (1959), The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959) and many more. Later work would include roles in the At the Earth's Core (1976) and the original Star Wars (1977). His extensive "legit" career is easy to overlook; in 1952 he had starred as Mr Darcy (!) in a 6-episode BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, as well as Winston Smith in the BBC's version of 1984 (1951). Forrest Tucker (Friend)'s long career included plenty of westerns like Gunfighters (1947) and Stagecoach to Fury (1956), plus The Crawling Eye (1958) and lots of TV. Maureen Connell (Helen) featured in 1957's film version of Kingsley Amis’s novel Lucky Jim, while director Val Guest's impressive credentials included The Quatermass Xperiment (1955), Quatermass 2 (1957) and The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961).


BOTTOM LINE: Too slow for some tastes, but with an interesting subtext that adds depth often missing from more visceral thrillers.

NEXT WEEK: Creature with the Atom Brain (1955)

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