Skip to content

The Damned (1963, UK)

20/03/2011

Director: Joseph Losey    Starring: Macdonald Carey, Shirley Anne Field, Viveca Lindfors, Oliver Reed

I must confess I had never heard of this presumably rather obscure science fiction film from Hammer Studios which suprised me considering my love of the studio’s output. Securing their place in history with their revolutionary horror films, Hammer’s legacy is a bit of a mixed bag. When they were good they were very, very good but they have also been responsible for some howlers ranging from the farcical to just plain dull, a trend that increasingly led to their demise (they have recently been resurrected – vampire remake Let Me In being one of the first releases from the new Hammer). The Damned is an example of Hammer at their freaky, visionary best.

It’s difficult to summarise the slightly convoluted plot without ruining the film. Simon, an American, middle aged, former insurance salesman enjoying early retirement on his boat finds himself in the seaside town of Weymouth. There he is lured into an ambush by the beautiful and mysterious Joan where he is set upon by the gang of Teddy Boys led by her brother King (an early and impressive turn from a young Oliver Reed). Sensing her unease at the life she’s living, Simon encourages Joan to run away with him on his boat which leaves her fiercely protective brother incensed and in hot pursuit. The gang pursue the lovers into a nearby military installation where Simon, Joan and King find themselves embroiled in a strange and sinister experiment involving a group of young children.

It’s a peculiar and haunting film, soaked in cold war paranoia and wide eyed fear of the atomic age. It’s not clear to me how much of the original novel (H. L. Lawrence’s Children Of Light) remains intact but it is clear that Losey had little respect for the machinations of governments and heartfelt suspicion for what they got up to behind closed doors. The secret experiment being undertaken on the nine young children in the base is indicative of a deep pessimism for the fate of humanity and what we describe as progress. This is echoed in the unredemptive story with an effective but decidedly downbeat ending.

The performances from the leads are all rather good, especially Oliver Reed as King. He portrays the jealous, obsessive, seemingly incestuous gang leader with a fiery intensity and maintains depth in a character that could easily have been a one-dimensional stereotypical thug. Shirley Anne Field’s turn as his sister Joan (the catalyst for all that is about to transpire) is also excellent, wavering between childlike naivete and whimsical philosophy. It’s all very understated which just adds to the sinister atmosphere. Indeed, it’s the performances that give the film its “Portmeirion” feel, the sense that there is something going on, something wrong that everyone is aware of and nobody wants to get involved in. It takes the stranger from out of town to stumble into it and stir things up.

While it’s broadly a condemnation of the way governments treat the people they are supposed to serve (“A public servant is the only servant who has secrets from his master”) it isn’t a film of black and white morality, of us and them, choosing rather to protray the scientists in charge of the secret project as misguided rather than evil. It treats the gang of muggers in much the same way and seems to hold the two up as an example of how violence and mistreatment of others are traits of the human character regardless of social standing, education or upbringing. If you like happy endings, this is unlikely to float your boat but if you like films that explore the darker side of the human psyche then The Damned definitely fits the bill.

Advertisements
No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: