X the Unknown – the UK Exclusive cut

X the Unknown, for the uninitiated, is a science fiction film from Hammer Films, released in 1956. Starring Dean Jagger as an atomic scientist, the film is concerned with a blob-like threat that thrives off nuclear energy. Scripted by Jimmy Sangster, and directed by Leslie Norman (following the sudden departure of Joseph Losey after filming had commenced).

Originally Hammer / Exclusive Films had conceived the project as a direct sequel to their smash success The Quatermass Xperiment, itself based on a popular BBC serial by Nigel Kneale. Once Kneale got wind of the plan, he refused permission, and Hammer proceeded to develop the project with a thinly-disguised alternative lead character instead of the continued adventures of Professor Bernard Quatermass (well, until Kneale scripted an adaptation of Quatermass II for them).

The film was originally a co-production between Exclusive Films and Sol Lesser’s RKO in the US, with RKO lined up to distribute in North America, until their fortune faltered and the film was picked up instead by Warner Bros.

Over the years, X the Unknown has been repeated on television fairly regularly, and has been released on laserdisc, DVD and finally restored in HD for Blu-Ray, with several releases around the world including Shock Entertainment in Australia and Scream Factory in the US. The print you’ll see in HD is sourced from an original Warner Bros US release, and is more than serviceable. But overlooked to date on every release is the fact that this differs significantly from the original UK release by Exclusive Films in one crucial sequence – the opening.

In the print you’re more than likely familiar with, X the Unknown opens with captions played out over a scene of an empty quarry, backed to a rousing, menacing James Bernard score. Once the credits end, the music cuts and the shot moves to take into frame a soldier with a Geiger counter, scanning the mud. Its quite an effective jump and moves us into a sense of eerie emptiness and a work in progress.

Here’s the sequence as it plays out on screen:

X the Unknown – US title sequence

Back in 2011 Icon Films released a series of Hammer titles to DVD. Following a warehouse fire, the masters to the previous range of DVDs in the UK produced by DD Home Entertainment were lost. And so, Icon resorted to whatever masters they could get their hands on – mostly much older. The fans, noticing the drop in picture quality and restoration between the DD releases (which appear to have used the same source material as the Anchor Bay discs in the US and Anolis releases in Germany) and the new Icon discs, were outraged and disappointed. Perhaps understandably.

However, unnoticed by just about everyone, the copy of X the Unknown wasn’t a sub-standard version of the WB print, but an old SD video taken from an original UK Exclusive Films print. The quality featured a notable drop, but I was excited, for surely in the UK, this film ought to be sourced from a country-of-origin master?

The Icon disc included BBFC X cert card, the Exclusive name, and a slight text variation in the credits themselves. Curiously, while the US print bears a copyright line for Sol Lesser, the Exclusive print omits a copyright line entirely.

The significant change, is something quite different.

In the US prints, the music starts as soon as the Warner Bros logo appears and continues throughout the credits sequence. In the UK Exclusive print however, after an initial sting as the film’s title appears onscreen, the music suddenly drops away. And instead we are left with the sequence playing out over a wild track. You can hear the sounds of the quarry, some birds. Its still, its eerie. And it puts us right into the zone of discomfort even before we see the soldiers on their exercise.

X the Unknown is a film that plays with very little non-diegetic music overall. It allows those uneasy silences and stillness to play out, emphasising the remote nature of the Scottish landscape where events unfold. The decision to cut the music right from the start is very much part of the mise-en-scene of the picture.

Here’s the sequence from the Exclusive print for comparison:

X the Unknown – UK title sequence

Surprisingly, as far as I can tell, the rest of the sound cues throughout the film are exactly the same between the two prints. It is possible that there are visual cues that differ, but watching the two prints back to back this week, I couldn’t spot them.

What is clear, however, is that the Exclusive print is darker overall. This is probably the result of a soft transfer onto SD video at some point in the 1980s from an old, tired, release print of the film – possibly even a 16mm print rather than a 35mm. However, while at times, it is a little too much like peering through mud, I do think there’s an argument to be made for darkening any future restoration. The night sequences in the Exclusive print, do appear to take place at night – the shadows loom large like a film noir. With the current HD Warner print the night sequences are a little over-lit. Similarly, the special effects shots seem a little more convincing in the dark – when we can’t see the join.

X the Unknown deserves a proper restoration, alongside its spiritual brothers The Quatermass Xperiment and Quatermass II. And taken from original UK elements where possible. (Paging the BFI!)

The BFI archives hold an original 35mm negative, along with multiple positive prints and a digital master (although I’m not clear if that digital master is taken from Exclusive or Warner Bros source material). Therefore it would seem hypothetically possible for a remaster built around the original UK/Exclusive elements should be possible.

As an addendum : Curiously in the early hours of Sunday 13 October 2013 the BBC screened X the Unknown in a unique hybrid. The broadcast included the Exclusive Films title at the front, but from that point on used the existing WB print source for the rest of the film. Completists may have thought they’d been treated to a clean original UK print, but sadly not.

I prepared a comparison of the opening and closing captions of the Exclusive and Warner Bros prints later that day and sent the notes to my former line manager at Hammer (I’d by this point stopped working for the company), Nic Ransome, who had been overseeing a major restoration project for Blu-Ray, in case it was of use. At that point, X the Unknown wasn’t lined up for an HD restoration however. Those comparisons are below for reference. The one clear difference is on the production team credit card. The final “A Hammer Film” card comes from the close of the film and is not part of the opening sequence.

Captain Clegg’s ‘Lost’ UK Title Sequence

Captain Clegg is an often-overlooked gothic fantasy picture from the Hammer Fms stable, first distributed by Universal in 1962. Based on the Dr Syn novels by Russell Thorndyke, it was for many years completely unavailable to the domestic commercial home video market, and quite hard to find. I’d even supplied a DVD dub to the film’s producer John Temple-Smith.

JTS to RJES
Personal card from John Temple-Smith, producer of Captain Clegg, to Robert JE Simpson

The prints that had surfaced on television over the years, and which did the trading rounds back in the 1990s and early 2000s, were all sourced from US prints of the film, under the title Night Creatures. In 2005 the film finally made its way to DVD as part of Universal’s The Hammer Horror Series collection of 8 films.

[Clegg isn’t an Exclusive film, by the way. It’s firmly a Hammer film. But as a long-time Hammer researcher, and former archivist, it comes under my area of interest, and is just tangential enough to merit inclusion here on the blog.]

That US DVD came under criticism for its incorrect aspect ratio, but it did mean the film finally got a commercial release, and many more fans could finally appreciate its fine performances (Peter Cushing is on top form) and Scooby Doo-type plotting (seriously, it’s a Scooby Doo story, down to the unmasking of mysterious phantoms).

In 2014 the film was released in the UK for the first time via Final Cut, under the UK title Captain Clegg. And then in June 2021 on the Indicator label as part of Hammer Volume Six box set, which it claimed offered a presentation of the film containing its original UK title sequence among its extras.

Clegg Extras
Indicator’s advertised Captain Clegg Blu-ray special features list

Earlier this week, over on Twitter, HammerGothic and I got to talking about Clegg and title sequences. And we quickly spotted a problem:

I had shared an image of the titles I took in 2012 from a screening of Captain Clegg at the National Media Museum in Bradford. I had programmed a Hammer thread as part of the Fantastic Films Weekend and had gone to pains to source a few genuine rarities for the audience. I’d spent some time negotiating a slightly complex situation, but had secured an actual original UK 35mm print from Universal. The film was seldom shown in the UK, had been difficult to secure, and because I was only ever familiar with the Night Creatures card, I had to photograph this for reference. It was as elusive as the original British titles for Hammer’s Dracula, and very exciting to finally see in person.

[That image has been shared via various bits of my social media over the years, and has been in a public Flickr album for quite some time.]

HammerGothic then posted this image of the title card from the Final Cut Blu-Ray:

Clegg_new
Captain Clegg title from the Final Cut BluRay (2014)

Even though I’ve had the disc on my shelf for several years, I hadn’t ever got round to watching it, and so it had never occurred to me to check. But I was instantly struck because the titles were evidently not the original UK ones. They are a modern remake, using the British title, but overlayed on top of the American sequence. They’re uniform, in a slight italic, unlike the slightly haphazard alignment of the originals – which follows through into the Night Creatures caption:

NightCreatures card
Night Creatures title card – snapped from my TV screen, apologies for the reflection!

During the remade titles, movement in the background becomes visibly stopped. There’s a rounded almost comicbook look about them. To me, the original captions (both UK and US) suggest instability – foreshadowing the mental breakdown of the Mulatto, and the fragility of the deception that keeps Clegg’s identity hidden in the film.

We then asked around on Twitter to see if anyone could supply a shot from the new Indicator Blu-Ray, seeing as neither of us had picked it up yet. In return we were sent an image taken from his tv by HorrorPosterGuy:

Clegg_HorrorPosterGuy
The remade Captain Clegg title as used in the Indicator Blu-Ray

Its pretty clear then that Indicator have used the same source as Final Cut for their HD master – one that incorporates a remade title card, and not the original UK title sequence as advertised.

Having previously done a little work for Final Cut, I’m well aware that they tend to work with whatever elements are supplied to them, and are at the whim of Universal. But Indicator have earned much plaudit for their extensive extras packages, and additional research, including 8mm cut-down versions and alternate title sequences. So this oversight seems somewhat egregious.

What isn’t clear, is why a remade title card was produced for HD transfers no later than 2014, when original UK elements, at least in print form, were available in the summer of 2012. I know, because I handled them. How likely is it that Universal have subsequently junked their theatrical 35mm print? Even with an HD digital master available, I have my doubts.

At any rate, a 35mm print of Clegg is held in the archives of the BFI, so subject to clearances, it should be possible to scan a genuinely original UK title sequence for preservation and restoration purposes.

It would arguably be sensible to scan the entirety of the opening and closing captions in case of other text variances too. Looking at my photo from the 35mm screening, the lettering under the title also appears different, which means that there may be other subtle adjustments elsewhere (something I’ve noticed previously when comparing US and UK credits). It would probably also make sense to do a complete comparison of UK and US prints in these sorts of situations in case of other small alterations, otherwise overlooked. Something that is currently impossible for anyone to do domestically with this title.

Ultimately, it appears that at present, regardless of which version of Captain Clegg you buy on home video, none of them use original UK release titles, even as an extra. Hopefully now that this has been flagged* any company preparing a future release, may be able to fix this.

clegg_35mm title
Original UK title card for Captain Clegg
as screened in Bradford in 2012

* I tagged Indicator on Twitter on 10 August 2021, and asked about the remade titles within both the Hammer and Indicator fan groups on Facebook that employees of Indicator frequent, without any acknowledgement as of 17 August. I’ll update the post in the event that changes.