The Abominable Snowman, 1957. Dir. Val Guest. Watched on YouTube so you don’t have to.
No excuses for choosing yet another Peter Cushing movie. I just wanted to see him again, okay? There’s something horrifically reassuring about him. And whilst you’re wondering about that, can I just say he was a lifelong vegetarian, wildlife enthusiast but had a fear of the dark? Fine. So settle down with your laptop in the LYE-BREH-REH as we press play on The Abominable Snowman.
1:08 Opening shots of the Himalayas, with a ponderous score like a sherpa making an ascent with saucepans on their feet.
1:39 Hairdressing is by Henry Montsash. I wonder if he did the Yeti, too. I think the Yeti mightn’t be so abominable if it had a stylish bob.
2:20 Starting in a monastery. Lots of chanting. A monk plodding across the courtyard with some sticks on his back. If you didn’t like snow, or heights, or chanting, I suppose you just wouldn’t volunteer for this shit.
2:37 I mean – austere doesn’t cover it. Even the carved faces in the pillars are grimacing.
3:05 Two monks take a plate of tea through to an elderly monk who’s either meditating or performing his morning ablutions with austere dignity.
3:14 Actually, there are two scientists in the room as well – Peter Cushing and Richard Wattis, who are hunched over a microscope getting ludicrously excited over some Latin names. ‘Yees – that’s Gackomandis Perficorus’ or something. Their film names are as follows: John & Peter. So when I say John I mean Peter. And when I say Peter I mean Richard. I hope that helps.
4:18 The scientists are there to study some exciting herbs. The lead monk lets them take a whole bunch (quite literally). PC (I’ll call him that because otherwise I’ll get confused and anyway who cares his name is supposed to be John) – PC explains to the lead monk that he used to be a climber so he knows the Himalayas well. He had to give the climbing up because he had a ‘stupid accident’ although he doesn’t go into details – maybe he tried to abseil down an icicle or something, not sure.
6:01 The lead monk freaks PC out by saying the rest of the team will be there in ‘a few hours’ – this is pre-mobile phones, of course, and anyway the reception would’ve been patchy even if he had one. The lead monk’s eyes go a bit crossy, which disconcerts PC, because he’s a plant doctor not an ophthalmologist.
6:30 Richard Wattis – whose nickname is Foxy for some reason – strides across the courtyard. His legs really are VERY long (an advantage in the mountains, you’d think). He takes some herbs to Helen, PC’s scientist wife who’s also on the trip. Foxy complains about the country, the cold, the tea &c. He seems quite high maintenance. Maybe useful in an avalanche (as a cave prop), but otherwise strictly comedy value. Helen seems sensible. Her sweater is very 1950s, which means pointy. Also useful in an avalanche.
7:08 Back with the lead monk, who seems to be a trance (probably all the herbs). He’s talking about the men who are coming, particularly worried about the leader of the party, who seems to be searching for something (I’m guessing a yeti, but I’m not a scientist, or a scriptwriter). By the way, I’ve never seen sleeves as big as the lead monk’s. Each arm is the size of a tent. Warm, I’d guess, but a bastard for housework. The lead monk also seems to know when Helen is approaching – explaining that ‘here one has an awareness of many things’ – except the size of your sleeves.
9:00 Helen comes in with a box. The lead monk lets it slip that PC is going on a climbing expedition – then leaves them to it. Helen is furious. After what happened with the icicle.
10:30 So it all comes out. It’s not just a botanical expedition. PC wants to look for ‘that creature’ (she doesn’t say abominable but you can read it in her expression).
10.36 Cut to a monk banging two enormous bells with a gigantic cotton bud – a symbol of the domestic we just witnessed. Or dinner, maybe.
10:48 It looks like the monks are about to have some kind of festival. There’s actually some glittery ribbons around, which is a nice change from all the stone. Helen is in the kitchen making supper (well – it is the 1950s). The other scientists arrive, wearing mittens on strings, which is cute. The scientists are loud types – the kind of guys who walk with a swagger and their arms crooked out, mittens or no. Helen gives them tin plates with a scoop of stew so tiny you’d think she’d mistakenly served them the relish instead. But they seem happy enough. I don’t think they’re the brightest snowballs on the mountain.
13.58 The new arrivals sound off about the yeti. One of the scientists – the one with the most sensitive chin – says he’s seen the footprints. ‘On the Rakaposhi glacier’ (which TOTALLY sounds made up. ‘Yeah – I saw some too. On the Gapagoomi slopes’). Anyway, he seems pretty anxious about the whole affair. He was with a climbing party, two years ago…. followed the tracks till they disappeared on some bare rocks…’ ‘You’re an impressionable man, Mr McGee,’ says Helen, shovelling in the relish. She’s right. He seems amazingly disturbed by the fact that he saw some big footprints. God knows WHAT he’d do if he saw the real thing (which hopefully won’t be long).
15:30 Tom, the lead scientist, pulls out an heirloom – a silver cylinder with inscriptions that PC translates – something about protection against a local god. Tom gives it a twist to reveal what’s inside – a giant tooth. ‘The canine tooth of an ape or a gorilla’ says PC, measuring it with a tape measure Helen probably gave him.
16:20 A gong is struck outside. Tom opens the door and sees all the monks dancing around with two ferocious looking dragon masks. They seem to be enjoying themselves in an austere kinda way. ‘Holy men doing a holy dance! Hey – this is good! Jock – get a picture!’ laughs one of the scientists – NOT someone you’d want on an expedition into the Himalayas, then. He’d make a trip to the shops unbearable. I’m hoping he gets eaten first. Then maybe the guy with the sensitive chin. Then Tom. But not PC. I hope he’s okay (and doesn’t do anything stupid with any icicles).
17:00 The actor playing Tom is Forrest Tucker. He’s extremely crabby & craggy. He makes the Himalayas look like a bunch of scatter cushions. Mind you – he’s not so ornery he doesn’t accidentally sit down on a dirty plate to explain about the expedition. But I suppose the others are too scared to say ‘watch the plate’ or ‘here’s a cloth to clean the relish off your pants’.
18:00 Tom explains that the territory they’re heading into is ‘like the craters of the moon’ with lots of rockfalls and so on – terribly dangerous. Which freaks Helen out – even when they say they’re taking Kusang, a sherpa who’s actually seen a yeti. PC ducks the issue of whether he intends to go along too by saying he’ll show the tooth to the Lama (who I’ve disrespectfully been calling the ‘lead monk’ and for which I apologise).
19:06 The Lama says he knows the object. It was stolen many years ago. He says it’s not a real tooth, though. Tom isn’t put off. He’s still going. His dimple demands it. PC says he’ll go, too. Helen storms off. The Lama gives PC some advice – which sounds like a warning about climate change, but that’s me talking from the future. The yeti as a stand in for the global climate emergency – which is pretty abominable, I have to say, so…. ‘Go in peace’ says the Lama, and waves him off to a background of more chanting.
21:40 Down in the yard, Ed (the mouthiest scientist) is packing their rucksacks for the trip – in a VERY shouty way, I have to say. I mean, doesn’t he KNOW about avalanches? I’m guessing not. I’m guessing he’d laugh like a donkey when he saw one coming, and carry on laughing till he got whacked by a million tonnes of ice and grit. Which is what it’s like talking to Tom, BTW.
22:15 Helen comes up to PC with an ice pick – looking like she’s in two minds whether to give it to him or hit him with it.
22:40 Can I just say – I’ve never seen Peter Cushing looking SO good as he does here in his steampunk explorer goggles, woolly hat, cagoule and corduroy trousers tucked into woolly socks. And I’m sure any Yeti would think the same. They’d probably lick their paw, slick their hair back and say ‘JOLLY nice to meet you old chap’.
23:00 Helen has a premonition she’ll never see him again so she gives him one last kiss. ‘Be careful, my darling,’ she says. Their fond farewell overlooked by the Lama from the balcony with a sour expression on his face along the lines of: Don’t come running to me when the Yeti rips your legs off.
23:50 And they’re off – into the Himalayas. Five seconds later and Ed is complaining they’re walking too fast. ‘Last time we went an easier way,’ he says, like maybe there’s a ski lift or something. They all start singing ‘John Brown’s body lies a mouldering in the grave…’ to keep their spirits up. Kusang hangs well back and who can blame him.
25.20 PC points to three men on the skyline who seem to be following them. ‘Let’s just keep moving,’ says Tom. Who’s surname seems to be ‘Friend’. Which seems unlikely.
25.56 The three men start shooting at them. Ed shoots back, his chin sticking out so far he can use it to steady the pistol.
26:50 Tom and Ed shout at each other when the team stops to rest. Why they have to shout at each other the whole time is anyone’s guess, although maybe it’s some elaborate courting ritual.
27:30 They need to ‘rope up’ to go along a steep bit to the hut that Tom says is over the ridge. PC has a rope that looks about long enough to reach from here to the bathroom, and about as thin as a bootlace. No wonder Helen was worried.
28:08 Ed’s shouting causes a small avalanche. ‘No more shouting’ says PC. ‘You got that, Ed?’ shouts Tom.
29.30 The one with the sensitive chin (I must find out his name) loses his footing and the rest of them have to haul him up the ridge. (Maybe I’ll find out what it is when he gets to the top. Maybe Ed’ll shout it out.)
30:10 Inside the hut the guys eat stew. Ed shouts about having to bury the empty stew cans. Tom helps himself to a tiny bit more stew, which looks suspiciously like shit. You really do have to be tough to be a mountaineer – as well as have good lungs.
31.30 PC smokes his pipe and tells them how he thinks the yeti lives – eating hares and voles and things like that, roots and what have you. Occasional forays online. He describes his theory of parallel evolution, chuffing on his pipe and looking meaningfully at Ed.
33:20 Ed and Tom break it to PC that they want to capture the Yeti, not study it. ‘Did you think we’d just want Jock here to take a picture of it…?’ Jock! His name’s Jock! Now my studies are complete. You’ll find me in the LYE-BREH-REH with a large BREN-DEH.
33:40 They all shout at each other, except for Jock, who puffs anxiously on his fag and stares at the door. He thought he heard a scream. They rush outside. Shout at each other to be quiet. Then go back inside. ‘Jock? You need some sleep,’ says Tom. I don’t get the impression this is a restful kind of trip, though.
35:20 PC and Tom go outside for a smoke because the wind’s dropped. Eurgh! Tom puts two fags in his mouth, ligths them both and hands one to PC. The last time I saw that done was Paul Henreid to Betty Davis in Now Voyager. What’s Tom going to say now? ‘Don’t let’s ask for the moon; we have the stars…’? (Except shouted).
36:40 Tom lays out his plans for the Yeti, which seems to boil down to TV appearances, chat shows, that kinda thing. To satisfy a curious world. And maybe start a new brand of cosmetics.
37:20 Back at the monastery the monks are arguing with Helen – who knows what about? The dreadful stews she’s been making, maybe? Foxy comes to her aid and shouts at them, which seems to work, as shouting seems to be general currency round these parts. The monks are angry because they haven’t been paid, which is fair enough. Helen’s worried that the monks know the party isn’t coming back. ‘Drink this and take some tablets,’ says Foxy. (I get the impression in these early films that the women either had to cook, look sexy, have hysterics or get sedated).
39:00 Foxy goes to speak to the Lama about the restive monks. The Lama is in deep meditation, an expression on his face much like mine when I do these reviews. Foxy goes out again.
40:00 Back out on the jolly ol’ Himalayas. Lots of crashing cymbals and so on. The director probably said ‘Write me some majestic shit’. And this is what he got.
40:45 The party has split up. Tom, Ed and Kusang, and then PC and Jock. PC is digging around in the snow looking for herbs he can smoke in his pipe. Jock admits he doesn’t like climbing or expeditions. He only came because he’s become obsessed with the footprint and the Yeti. He says he paid Tom to let him come on this expedition – but he promises to try not to do anything too dangerous.
42:38 It’s heavy going (the expedition AND the film). PC and Jock reach the crest of a ridge and when they look over see that the rest of the guys are gone. ‘Helllooooo?’ shouts PC. Nope. Not even a bellow from Ed in return. When Jock shouts HELLO he seems to squeeze his butt cheeks. Just a little detail I’ve noticed (but that PC has chosen to ignore).
43:57 Unfortunately Jock steps in a bear trap, no doubt set by Tom for the Yeti. Ed runs over and sets him free. Also says the plan worked and they caught ‘one of those things’. (He also says ‘Watch out! It’s icy up here’ – which is an odd thing to say to anyone in the Himalayas, but hey – that’s Ed.)
45:50 Turns out, what they’ve caught is a monkey. ‘That’s a Langor!’ says PC. ‘Let it go!’ Some trackers.
46:50 Later on they gather round a radio for a weather forecast ‘for Himalayan climbing parties’. Blizzards! ‘That’s all we need!’ says Ed, who seemed surprised earlier to find ice. I guess he normally goes on expeditions to Staten Island, or maybe Coney Island if he’s feeling adventurous.
48:11 Turns out Tom Friend isn’t his real name (I thought the Friend bit was suspicious). He was mixed up in some earlier scandal about some wolf children. ‘Why – you’re nothing but a fairground trickster!’ says PC. They fight. Break the radio. ‘It’s the altitude – makes you lose control’ says Tom (or whatever his name is).
48:44 The monkey (or Langor) starts screaming. They run out of the tent, leaving Jock to recover and be anxious on his own. They find the cage all bent out of shape and the monkey / Langor gone. ‘I…I just don’t understand this!’ shouts Ed. (Erm… yeti?) They find some big ol’ footprints. ‘15..16 inches long!’ (Erm… yeti?) ‘There’s no doubt about it. There was something else here, too,’ says Tom, looking round. (Erm… YETI?)
50:07 Back in the tent, Jock watches in anxious horror as a horrible hairy hand (erm… YETI?) wriggles under the canvas and reaches for the rifles. Kusang arrives, sees it and screams (not a great look for a Himalayan yeti guide, but still). The rest of the team hurry over with flares and smelling salts. Jock is in some kind of fugue state. They grab a load of guns and even more flares and then shout at Kusang to tell them what he saw. ‘I see… I see what man must not see…’ he says, ‘I see…. YEEEETTTTTIIIII’ – then runs off down the mountain pursued by Tom.
52:07 Tom stops chasing Kusang when he notices that the bear trap has been all broken up. He flashes his torch about, then hurries back to the tent where he finds Jock still in a trance – ‘hypersensitive to the presence of the beast’. In lieu of anything else, Ed rushes out to shoot wildly. A terrible beast howls in the darkness (Erm – yeti?) Looks like Ed got lucky. The three of them follow a bloody trail. Find the yeti dead behind a boulder. We know it’s dead because Tom flexes its horrible hairy hand about. ‘That’s really it,’ he says, sensitively. Ed goes off to get a sledge. They listen to other yetis calling to each other across the valley. There’s more than one. (Ya think? Otherwise they woulda died out YEARS ago).
56:08 Back at the monastery, Kusang bangs on the gates. He collapses into the other monks’ arms (and sleeves). Helen sees all this and doesn’t take it well. She wakes up Foxy then goes off to see the Lama. Faints at all the creepy statuary, then wakes up being offered tea by the Lama (probably with sedatives in it). The Lama says he can’t do anything to help PC because his destiny is controlled by his own actions (and he can’t fly the helicopter because of his sleeves). Foxy arrives to take her back to her quarters where there’s some cooking or maybe something hysterical to attend to.
59:20 I take it back! Helen has put on a sheepskin jacket and a headscarf and she’s heading out into the Himalayas to find PC. She’ll take some sherpas along, too, and a packed lunch. Foxy puts on a tie.
1:00:05 Back in the tent, Jock has recovered enough to ask what the yeti looks like. PC says it had a kind of sadness. No doubt being shot didn’t help.
1:00:01 They all hunker down in a cave, dragging the dead yeti – or deti – on a sled. The other yetis call mournfully to each other across the valley. Jock crawls out of his tent. Trudges off through the snow towards the sound. Reaches the top of the mountain.
1:02:41 PC goes back to the tent – finds it empty. Tom runs up. Together they watch Jock climb higher then fall to his death, crashing like a very poorly constructed mannequin down onto the polystyrene rocks below.
1:04:31 Ed shoots a couple more yetis as they attack the cave. ‘You don’t know what it’s like!’ he says as PC and Tom run up. Tom gives him a drink of whisky. He says the sun was in his eyes… he couldn’t get organised… and he missed them. Ed panics for a bit – says ‘they’ll know it was me!’ Then seems to recover. ‘Ah – I’ve had it before’ he says. ‘Me and this grizzly one time…’ Despite his misgivings, Ed agrees to act as bait – to hide in the cave with a net over his head and tempt the other yetis in like that. Hmm. Ed seems okay with it, though.
1:06:39 Helen and Foxy have made it as far as the first hut. Helen wants to press on but Foxy tells the sherpas they’ll camp there and maybe Helen can make them some stew.
1:07:40 Tom tells Ed they’ll keep him covered from the tent. Ed settles down. I get the impression Ed isn’t the sharpest icicle in the cave.
1:08:11 Ed sits and waits on a ledge with a rifle on his lap and a cross-eyed look of cluelessness on his face. The blizzard outside means Tom & PC can’t see a damn thing from the tent. Instead they argue about the morals of the case. Tom doesn’t want to just take a dead yeti back to be pickled or something. He wants something he can take to dinner parties and maybe a promotional tour of some kind (I must admit I lost the thread of his argument). Earn some greenbacks, anyway.
1:10:00 Meanwhile, back in the cave, Ed keeps rubbing his eyes – never a good look for someone who’s supposed to be ready to spring a trap.
1:10:20 ‘See anything?’ says PC as Tom looks out of the tent again. ‘No,’ says Tom. ‘I thought… for a second… nah! Let’s have a cigarette…’
1:10:50 But as soon as PC shakes out a couple, they hear a gunshot and some grunty, abominable noises. They hurry out of the tent into the blizzard. In the cave, Ed’s rifle jams! He looks up in terror as the shadow of a yeti falls across him…. ‘TOM!’ he yells.
1:11:14 They eventually make it to the cave. The net is ripped to pieces. Ed is lying on the ledge, dead – with a horrified but at the same time strangely camp expression, like the yeti killed him in a particularly abominable way.
1:11:55 PC wonders why the gun didn’t go off – but then finds it was loaded with blanks. ‘I didn’t want another dead one,’ says Tom.
1:12:28 PC and Tom finish knocking a grave marker in ‘EDWARD SHELLEY’ carved in wood, on a pile of stones so small they must’ve buried him standing up.
1:14:00 It looks like the yetis knew the gun was loaded with blanks ‘by thought transference.’ PC says that the yetis didn’t kill Jock – he fell when he climbed without a boot. And Ed died of a heart attack. PC says that the yetis aren’t the problem – THEY are. Tom doesn’t seem fazed – has another cigarette, which probably adds weight to the theory.
1:14:40 PC holds back the sheet and examines the yeti’s face (we’re not given that pleasure, though). He says it looks like an old face, a kind face. He says maybe the yetis are just waiting for mankind to go so they can have a crack at ruling the planet. ‘Suppose we’re the savages?’ says PC. ‘The WHAT?’ says Tom, savagely.
1:16:41 PC thinks he hears a weather forecast telling them they must get off the mountain immediately. He goes a bit crazy and tries to leave the cave. (I’m guessing it’s a yeti thought-transference thing again). Tom holds him back. ‘What’s the matter with you – are you cracking up?’ he says – having done his counselling certificate.
1:17:17 Suddenly Tom seems to hear someone calling ‘Help me!’ from outside. (I’m guessing it’s maybe a yeti voice throwing thing). Tom goes crazy, grabs a pistol. Wrestles with PC but elbows him out the way and runs outside the cave. Shoots the pistol in the air. Causes an avalanche. Gets buried and dies.
1:20:30 PC digs his way out of the cave. Staggers around the polystyrene boulders for a while, then heads back to the cave. Inside, sees the shadows of two yetis on the wall. They approach him. You see the top half of the face of one of them. One looks like Ken Dodd, coming backstage after three hours straight at the Winter Gardens. PC passes out.
1:22:50 Helen is in the hut. She’s woken up by a yeti call. Goes outside. Foxy wakes up. Goes after her.
1:24:15 Helen is climbing mindlessly in the snow. Finds PC frozen stiff. Foxy catches up – sees a big footprint nearby (erm… yeti?)
1:25:14 Back at the monastery a monk bangs the bell with the giant cotton bud again. A LOT of chanting. The Lama is talking to Helen and Foxy … and as the camera pulls back…. to PC, as well! He thawed out quite nicely, thank goodness. ‘What you were looking for does not exist?’ says the Lama to him. ‘Yes. I am certain of it,’ whispers PC ‘There is no yeti!’ says the Lama, widening his eyes, hypnotically. The orchestra swells. Distant shot of the Himalayas – a yeti waving goodbye on a crest (no, not sure about that bit).
That’s it! So what’ve I learned?
- The Himalayas can by icy, so go steady
- Shouting is not good for team morale or avalanches.
- Yetis are strong, have big feet but don’t get on with Langor monkeys.
- If you can’t take the chanting, keep outta the monastery
- Peter Cushing can play anything (so long as it’s Peter Cushing)