The Damned (1963)
The Damned starts as a delinquent youth drama (a popular theme at the time) and then over the proceeding ninety minutes morphs into a menacing sci-fi plot that climaxes in a full blown conspiracy. It's a most unusual and experimental film that cannot easily be pigeon-holed, yet the same could be said about many other movies by veteran film director Joseph Losey (Boom!, Figures in a Landscape). It proved to be somewhat too "different" for Hammer studios who commissioned the movie and they subsequently shelved The Damned for two years. It was finally released in a heavily edited form under the alternative title of These are the Damned.
Set on the Dorset coast an American tourist Simon Wells (Macdonald Carey) on a boating holiday along England’s south coast, is assaulted by a gang of hoodlums led by the charismatic King (Oliver Reed). King's sister Joan (Shirley Anne Field) tries to make amends with Wells but incurs the wrath of her Brother. Both Wells and Joan escape the gang and hide in a network of caves and bunkers on the coast. They discover a group of strange children who have been kept isolated from the world by the military, in what appears to be some sinister government experiment. It soon becomes clear that military are not going to allow them to leave and risk the security of their top secret operation.
The Damned runs at its own pace and which is somewhat sedyte. Yet the shift between storylines midway through the proceedings is bold and quite compelling. The film explores several themes that would later be the foundation for other more notable movies, such as Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971). The most outstanding facet of this film is its overall tone. Government conspiracies where not such a common place plot devices at the time and the notion of sacrificing children for an advantage in the Cold War, made the distributors uncomfortable. The bleak ending further muddied the waters. Such material is far from controversial today but at the time this was quite radical.
It should be noted that this film is not a third instalment in the cinematic adaptation of John Wyndham's The Midwich Cuckoo. The story is based on the novel Children of the Light by H L Lawrence. It is alleged that Losey completely rewrote the script and that as well as being a statement about the Cold War, it was also a veiled criticism of his Hollywood blacklisting. Whether that is true or not remains to be seen. The Damned is mostly certainly an interesting curio with is wistful introspection and existential crisis. Dated in many respects (especially the opening song) it is still tonally a very experimental piece, especially if seen in its fully restored ninety seven minute running time.