A look back .........
October 21, 2009
In October of 1957, the British Board of Film Censors stated: “This is to certify that The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas has been passed as more suitable for exhibition to adult audiences.” The maturity required for this film, however, has nothing to do with sex or violence. Known in later releases simply as The Abominable Snowman, this British Hammer film production is nothing like its name implies – no monsters here, nor cheesy sci-fi effect. This film requires the maturity to appreciate the poetry of a haunting story of great depth.
Peter Cushing stars as Dr. Rollasan, a British botanist sent to Tibet to study rare plants. Cushing’s mere presence lends dignity to the story of a creature with which his interests really lie, what the Tibetans call the Yeti. Neither beast nor man, the legend of the Yeti says that they live in the high frozen Himalayan mountains. Huge footsteps are the only evidence ever seen by man. Dr. Rollasan believes that the Yeti may be a third branch of the great evolutionary split between ape and man.
The overwhelming vastness of the Himalayas is captured cleverly by cinematographer Arthur Grant, as well as the art and set directors, smoothly blending the real location shots with some of the most realistic studio sets I’ve ever seen. The great Himalayas are like a living entity in this film. The film makers used the Pyrenees mountains in France during winter to double for the long shots of the mountain range. We are inexorably drawn into the feeling of howling winds, cold, exhaustion and fear of the climbing group led by Dr. Rollasan.
The other members of the expedition have their own unique reasons for searching for the Yeti. Forrest Tucker is excellent as 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 bullying greed to fear to an acceptance of destiny. Tucker’s performance stands strongly beside Cushing’s always outstanding acting. Ed Shelley, played by Robert Brown, is Tom Friend’s companion, whose talents are specific to Friend’s intentions. Scottish actor Michael Brill is McNee, 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 supporting cast complements the story beautifully, with special mention for Arnold Marle as the High Lama of the Buddhist lamasery from which the expedition commences. He is mysterious, cunning, other-worldly, possessed with strange powers of knowledge.
Director Val Guest makes the most of a small budget and delivers a movie that is poetic in nature and haunting in style. When you meet the Yeti, it will not be in a way you might expect. I have never forgotten it, and I suspect you won’t either.