……from Professor Spool’s archive
Either end of the 1960s decade saw the release of films both entitled The Damned. The first was located in a contemporary England, the latter set in Nazi Germany. Into the Retroscope will provide you with a review of each film, with this initial article focusing on the earlier movie.
From the opening panoramic shots of the Southern England coastline to the closing sequences of a helicopter hovering over a doomed boat at sea, The Damned (aka These are the Damned) makes effective use of its Weymouth in Dorset seaside location.
Forward into battle dear chaps!
When James Bernard’s haunting title music suddenly gives way to the strident and catchy song ‘Black Leather Rock’, this is an early indication of how the plot itself will switch genre. As the soundtrack blasts out ‘Black leather, black leather, smash smash smash, crash, crash, crash, kill kill kill….’, we see the young and provocative Joan (Shirley Anne Field) engage the attention of American tourist Simon (Macdonald Carey) as he photographs a timepiece monument. ‘Never seen a clock tower before?’ she says sarcastically whilst walking past him. From her the viewer is then led to a gang of leather jacket clad juveniles. Chief among them is their sartorially dressed leader, King (Oliver Reed), complete with umbrella.
‘Forward into battle dear chaps,’ he cries with a faux posh accent. It soon turns out that Joan, who is King’s sister, is the bait for the gang to attack Simon and rob him. It was this assault scene, with King making malevolent use of his brolly, that resulted in the film’s UK release being delayed until 1963 as the British censor required cuts. Interestingly, the characteristics of King’s gang are somewhat similar to that of Alex and his Droogs in 1971’s A Clockwork Orange.
The first reel of this Hammer production initially suggests a story of juvenile delinquency, perverse possessiveness (King seems to have an incestuous protectiveness for his sister) and an unlikely relationship between Joan and Simon. This, however, is a film directed by Joseph Losey* – who never did formulaic.
Using the source material of H.L. Lawrence’s book, The Children of Lightness, the plot changes with the introduction of military scientist Bernard (Alexander Knox) and his artist girlfriend Freya (Viveca Lindfors), whose bizarre sculptures are perhaps symbolic of a warped ‘cold war’ world. What is Bernard’s secretive government work? Simon, Joan and King accidentally stumble into this clandestine world upon discovering a cave. A cave home to a group of cold blooded, well educated children who have never seen daylight.
‘Why are you doing this!? What’s it all for!? What are you trying to make out of these children?’ asks Simon of Bernard. It turns out that Bernard and his team have developed the Children to survive the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust! With that knowledge, it is obvious that Bernard cannot let Simon, Joan and King reveal the secret of the Children’s existence. So, what is to become of them?
Director Losey would go on to have greater critical acclaim with the better known The Servant (1963), King & Country (1964) and Accident (1967). However, he adds many layers to this thought-provoking and uncompromising science-fiction chiller. Just who are the damned: The children deprived of a normal childhood and treated like guinea pigs? The juvenile thugs restricted to a life of crime? The discoverers sentenced to early death? The future of mankind and the earth it violates?
*Joseph Losey was forced to flee his native USA after the McCarthy communist witch-hunt of the 1950s.