Lady Summerisle (strange_complex) wrote,
Lady Summerisle

11. The Damned (1963), dir. Joseph Losey

I'm planning to synchro-watch another Hammer film with the lovely [personal profile] lady_lugosi1313 this evening, so had better get the last couple written up first!

This one is a black and white Hammer mystery / SF film which I recorded off TPTV ages ago (and which they coincidentally broadcast again recently anyway). What I knew about it when I started was that it starred Oliver Reed as the ringleader of a Teddy Boy gang, and that it had been strongly recommended to me by a member of the Dracula Society several years ago as being very 'ahead of its time'. But that was all, and that was probably the best way to watch it. It does indeed start off with Oliver and his chums in a Brighton Rock style narrative, but they turn out to be only part of the context for a gradually-revealed SF story - which I guess is what my DracSoc chum meant about it being ahead of its time. It certainly kept surprising me as the story unfolded, which was fun.

Oliver and his gang are good value in their own right. Their patch is Weymouth rather than Brighton, but they have the motorbikes, the black leather, the post-war teen attitude and the mindless violence. Ollie carries a curved-handled umbrella in a way that reminded me of Alex's bowler hat and cane in A Clockwork Orange - but actually even the book of that wasn't written until after this film had finished production (in 1961), so I guess the use of that sort of characterising device for gang members originates somewhere earlier. His sister, Joan, helps to target the gang's marks by pretending to respond to their perving and luring them down quiet side-streets - and of course Oliver Reed's character is obsessively, jealously protective of her, which acts as a plot driver when she decides she likes one of the marks more than she likes him. She is played by Shirley Anne Field, who also played the titular character in Beat Girl (1960: LJ / DW), which made it easy to slip straight into the correct early '60s rebellious teen culture mode while watching her - presumably part of the point of the original casting.

The characters involved in the SF side of the plot are gradually introduced in parallel with Ollie, Joan and the gang at first, but then the two strands of the story come together as Joan escapes Ollie with the help of an American tourist whom she had previously targeted on behalf of the gang. They find themselves in a hidden bunker in a cliff below a military base, inhabited by nine children who are strangely cold to the touch - and baffled by Joan and the tourist's own warm skin. We've already seen these children receiving lessons over a television screen (very COVID-esque!) from the leader of a team of scientists observing them, and after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing it gradually emerges they that were born of mothers affected by nuclear explosions, and are radioactive themselves. They desperately want to escape their bunker and see the real world they have been taught about in their lessons, but their radioactivity makes them dangerous, which is why they are kept inside the secret bunker. The scientists are bringing them up in the hope that they alone of humanity will be able to survive a nuclear holocaust - naturally considered inevitable, given the time when the film was made.

The set-up was clearly designed to create a tension between the scientists' desire to do something to save humanity from protection and the lengths they're prepared to go to for this 'greater good'. This includes not only keeping the children locked up in the bunker but ultimately destroying everyone who finds out about it or protests against it, including Ollie, Joan, the American tourist and a female artist who is the lover of the lead scientist and has been making sculptures at the top of the cliff where the children are hidden all this time. The film closes with the scientist gunning her down in order to protect his project, which I quite liked as an unambiguously bleak ending. But overall, I wouldn't say it entirely lived up to the enthusiastic recommendation which my DracSoc friend gave it.

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Tags: films, films watched 2020, hammer films, reviews, sci-fi

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