Some underground movies are truly not underground
at all. They just somehow fall throw the cracks when it comes
to film discussion and fandom. Such, I think, is the case with
Joseph Losey’s 1961 anti-nuke wonder work THESE ARE THE
DAMNED. There’s really no reason for this film to be that
“unknown” Produced for Hammer Studios in 1961 staring
a 23 year old Oliver Reed along with very able American actor
MacDonald Carey, Losey’s indictment against violence carries
an incredible soundtrack, beautiful Hammerscope black and white
cinematography and a story with more than a little bit of bile
seething beneath the surface.
The plot begins with American tourist Simon Wells walking the
streets of Weymouth Promenade and sightseeing. As he glares at
a clock tower, the hot buttered strumpet Joan mocking asks him
“Never seen a clock tower before?” and then walks
hurriedly away as Simon follows. As she passes a group of teddy
boy asshole-types surround a unicorn statue in the town square
the soundtrack kicks into “Black Leather Rock” as
the boys bedecked in biker jackets and ducktails mill about whistling
at birds (what a stupid thing for me to say), all but one them
sports the throwback American 50s look. (Black Leather, Black
Leather, KILL, KILL, KILL!) The song continues without a word
of dialogue being uttered, as the boys and the standout begin
walking the same path as Joan and Simon, as the soundtrack builds
Simon is pounced upon by the gang, mugged on a side street, the
lone “different’ gang member is apparently the leader,
he’s wearing a herringbone blazer, carrying a cane and has
long hair combed down to bangs. He checks the American’s
wallet for cash and utters something to Joan “You ‘appy
in your work Joanie?”, who seems in on the heist.
Simon has been beaten up and robbed, but is found by two army
security officers and, on being taken to a hotel to clean up,
meets Bernard, a bureaucrat in charge of things we are told are
“top secret,” and his girlfriend Freya, a beautiful
sculptress who occupies a cottage she is renting from Bernard
to do her work. This is all very British, generally not my cup
of tea (bad pun, I know) but shockingly the scene not that annoying,
even for my very American tastes. During this exchange we learn
a few things about our film. Carey is an American who definitely
questions authority and as he puts it appreciates ”people
who know all the answers” but “doesn’t like
the answers.” Freya, claims to like Simon already because
“he doesn’t like the world and that’s a good
start.” Bernard appears to be a man of some mystery but
claims to be in the right as he keeps reminding Freya to trust
his judgment and that him telling her his secrets would cost her
“her life.” A back and forth bit of dialogue between
Bernard and Simon reveal timely feelings Americans probably held
about Britain as a land of “old ladies knitting socks”
and the stuffy British coming to grips with the fact that “"the
age of senseless violence" had affected the motherland. This
opening scene sets the stage for what seems will surely be an
indictment on violence involving misspent youth in the traditional
50ish “boys gone wild” garden variety, and from there
it moves forward to day two in this film’s world.
Simon is readying his boat for a little trip around the shoreline
when Joan appears. She strips away her biker boots and puts on
a pair of sensible flats (character development play via shoe
changing, I like it, I like it) as she flirts with Simon. Simon,
who is sporting a rather nasty swollen cheek and a huge scratch
across his forehead at first admonishes Joan by stating “I
have no more money,” but realizes rather quickly, Joan might
not have been in on the take. The couple is interrupted when the
gang shows up. King, the smartly dressed leader is Joan’s
big brother and he is not kowtowing to his sister hooking up with
an older Yank. When Simon snaps back at King, he’s quickly
quieted by King’s cane-handle dagger wielded as a threat.
The teddys push Simon’s boat off and bid him a hardy heave-ho
as Joan and the boys stand on the dock. As Simon leaves, Joan
breaks and runs down the coastline and the leather clad boys pursue,
but she jumps from the road near the shore onto Simon’s
boat and the two escape as one of the gang members takes and jump
and appropriately… misses by a mile.
Now this is where Losey’s begins to change the film on
us a bit. Joan and Simon discuss Joan’s lifestyle, Simon
forces a kiss on Joan, Simon suddenly seems like a ogling old
dude, no longer just a happy go-lucky American on vacation but
just maybe King’s assumptions about Simon are spot-on. Simon
is portrayed by MacDonald Carey, age 48 when the film was made,
Joan, Shirley Anne Field brings her into being, is played to be
around 20ish, Field who you astute viewers might remember from
a Prof. Tread favorite PEEPING TOM was only 23 herself. The crisp,
contrasty on-the-water cinematography and the noticable difference
in ages makes for an uncomfortable kiss, so much so even Simon
realizes it to be wrong and pulls back and apologizes. Joan decides
that she must return, even if King is going to be pissing pickles
and reassures Simon she has a place to stay until King cools off.
They head for shore but what they don’t realize is one of
the teddys is watching them with binoculars and leaves to alert
King of their whereabouts, they are heading to the cottage that
Freya is renting.
Inside a security gate, Bernard has a seat in front of a TV screen,
he’s lit to be on camera and we are shown children in a
classroom setting. Bernard addresses the children via this closed
circuit system as the kids watch him on a giant screen at the
front of the room. He is cordial to the children but cautious
to not tell them too much when they begin to ask questions about
their strange situation. Bernard assures them he will tell them
more as they are able to understand more.
A fairly straight-forward 2 acts really. Decent performances
abound with King (Oliver Reed) by far the most interesting character
due to his snappy dress and volatile actions. MacDonald Carey
before 1965, was known as a pretty good journeyman actor, having
done almost 40 features before tackling Losey’s Simon. It’s
pretty easy to draw a couple parallels between Simon Wells, the
character and Joe Losey. Losey who had received critical acclaim
in the late 40s with the film THE BOY WITH GREEN HAIR found himself
2 years later while directing THE PROWLER in Italy, placed on
the list of anti-Americans and investigated by the House of Un-American
Activities Committee (HUAC) as a member of the Communist Party.
These allegations blacklisted Losey in Hollywood, so he made his
home in England following the investigation. Simon Wells has left
America as well, he has grown tired of what he refers to as “the
rat race” Simon seems to almost hate what is perceived as
the political establishment. No doubt, Simon Wells shares a bit
of Joe Losey’s feelings towards the US of A. Carey breathes
a nice life into Simon early on. If you only know MacDonald Carey
as good old Tom Horton from NBC’s long-lived soap DAYS OF
OUR LIVES (he is actually the voice of “like sand through
the hour glass so are the…”) then it might come as
a shock to see him play a somewhat debonair leading man type.
I’ve mentioned Field as Joan, who as an actress spent most
of her career as little more than eye candy in shit loads of mostly
sub-par British productions like BEAT GIRL and strange early sex
romp THE FLESH IS WEAK which starred a young John Derek of Bo
fame. She is capable here, in what most see as her best performance,
but she is no match for her brother King or for the controlled
performance of Oliver Reed. Reed, who deserves not only his cult
status but any and all praise afforded him for a career that spanned
nearly 45 years. It doesn't seem very fair just to mention him
in what isn't even a starring role for him and God knows, his
life is one that could fill books. The 60s were a brilliant decade
for Reed and this performance really started the era of some of
his best work. 2 years later he had to have his face pieced back
together with 36 stitches after a bar fight, just a tiny chapter
in a legacy of years of battling with booze which he ultimately
lost. Reed is a standout in a list of great genre movies that
would span the inseam of Andre the Giant. From HANNIBAL BROOKS
to TOMMY to THE DEVILS, THE BROOD and many, many more. He died
during the making of Ridley Scott’s GLADIATOR of a heart
attack but not before downing a purported three bottles of rum
and arm-wrestling with a group of sailors.
Simon and Joan make it to the cottage and Freya is not there,
they begin to bond and it seems the age difference has little
to do with our plot, these 2 are both looking for something and
they find it with each other. Their idyllic hideout situation
is interrupted by the arrival of Freya’s car. The couple
are able sneak out a back window as Freya enters and notices the
empty wine glasses and a huge dent in the mattress. As she is
surveying, in walks King. Freya’s sculptures are everywhere
in and outside of the cottage. King asks her about her work and
Freya does more than a little philosophizing about its importance.
King snaps and takes a hatchet to one of the drift wood oddities
and Freya attacks him and they both end up crying or sorts on
the ground. This scene takes on a importance if for no other reason
than we see King as slightly more than just the animal he seems
at first. But one of the teddys has spotted Simon and Joan and
then begin to chase them alerting King by whistling their earlier
soundtrack theme song. As the chase heats up on foot Simon and
Joan run next to what is obviously a high security government
facility. How do I know? The sign, of course. They eventually
jump over the fence and run. But they don’t make it far,
they fall off of a cliff back into the ocean. Simon and Joan are
rescued by a handful of the children that we saw earlier in the
classroom setting. Joan touches one the children and realizes
that the child is freezing to the touch, quite eerily cold-blooded.
Eventually King tumbles from the cliff as well, and is rescued
by another one of the children and brought into this secret hiding
place the children have fashioned inside this sterile domicile,
which from the outside appears to be a solid rock fortress built
into the side of the cliff.
Here we learn very little of why the children are there, they
don’t even know, they think Simon and Joan may be their
parents. They speak of hidden eyes (cameras) and something they
refer to as The Black Death, which they claim their teachers sent
down to a rabbit they once captured only because they loved it.
When teh children decide they must go to bed or risk being discovered
missing, they all take turns touching the faces of Joan and Simon,
the first warm people they've ever felt. Poignant and strange
goings on indeed and if you thought this film was about greaser
bullies and a trite May-December love affair then hold your fucking
horses, I think we might have a strange, little sci-fi potboiler
at work here. And that, we truly do.
Giving away the third reel would only spoil it for you, but I
have to bring up a few points while dodging some of the plot elements.
Bernard, the bureaucrat with some top secrets really comes unto
his own and all of his secrets are revealed, some very shockingly.
Canadian born Alexander Knox gives a very effective performance
as this man with a noble mission, who is willing to make very
difficult choices in the name of “the big picture.”
Bernard is the sort of man whose life is consumed by the decisions
he must make, he barely changes facial expression and seems at
times to lack any emotion but that is not the case, he is a man
who has accepted his role in humankind’s future and he might
be more machine than man now. Knox is no stranger to bad movie
watchers, having done time in the somewhat maligned THE PSYCHOPATH,
not the killer kiddy show feature, but the mid-60s semi-Hitchocockian
rip-off. He also shows up in SKULLDUGGERY, the missing link movie
with Burt Reynolds that for some reason doesn’t get much
chatter and has long been a rarity for tape collector goons like
me. Freya, the free-spirited artist is the liberal minded character
that one might expect in a film produced 10 years later but for
1961 her philosophical views on life and art were rarely, if ever,
uttered in mainstream cinema and never in my recollection by a
female in a science fiction flick previous to this film. She is
one person who seems initially to give Bernard a touch of humanity
(in her scrape with King she also accomplishes this). She also
will force his hand ultimately. Freya is the drop-dead gorgeous
Viveca Linfors, the Swedish-born actress who had been brought
to the US in the 40s to become the next Bergman or Garbo, but
instead wound up in small parts in a variety of lesser-acclaimed
filmthings and truly did her time in low-budget outings like BRAINSTORM,
CHILDREN OF BLOOD, THE HAND and CREEPSHOW among others. Her Freya
is a complex character in what could have been just a cardboard
love interest for a calculated scientist. She is just one more
reason why THESE ARE THE DAMNED is a very good film.
As THESE ARE THE DAMNED rolls to a final climax the boys at Hammer
did not sell out and go a for a stock wrap-up. The final frame
is as cold and stark as any, and the final sobs for help from
the children from inside the cold confines of what is their world
that can only be described as “throat lumpingly powerful.”
In my opinion, this is one of the best, if not the best Hammer
production. It’s definitely the best work ever captured
by the studio in black and white. Budget-wise this film looks
much more professional and Hammer’s good old Arthur Grant
helms the camera duties and delivers what is one of the best looking
movies from the stylish stable. That’s saying something
from the studio that dripped
blood from 1957 to 1975. Best known for the horror works that
featured and made stars of both Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing,
THESE ARE THE DAMNED has little in common with what most associate
I highly recommend you getting your mitts on a copy of this overlooked
small treasure of a movie. Ex-pat Joe Losey did not only make
a very watchable 2 films in one, he compared mans violence towards
one another and the governments violence towards man as a species
every effectively. He also made one of the best anti-bomb movies
ever without even bringing the bomb per se into the discussion.
From the haunting score by Hammer's master composer James Bernard
to Arthurs Grant’s final aerial shot THESE ARE THE DAMNED
is one damned fine picture and should be more highly regarded.
Oh, By the way the British title is THE DAMNED, guess which band
took the name of the film for their moniker.
A note, there are copies of THE DAMNED floating around that are
cut by nearly 10 minutes, some even more I’ve seen it listed
at 77 minutes, 82 minutes, and 86 minutes. Get yours at Shocking
Videos, it’s a stellar print.
THESE ARE THE DAMNED.
Email Prof. Tread.
|Simon forces himself
on Joan and she doesn't like it.
|And like all women
she ends up in the sack with him
|I just like Simon's
Black Gestapo Black
Girl From Tobacco Row
Rape Squad Join
The Meateater Do
Dixie Dynamite POW!
Run Stranger Run
Horror House On Hwy 5
Behind Locked Doors It's
Nailgun Massacre Some
Bat Pussy It had to
Thunder Alley It is
Blood Freak A Classic
The Geek Bigfoot Porn
High School Ghosthustlers
Frankenstein Island You
SuperCock Not that kinda
The Alienator Feeling
Angel Midnight Fantasy
Vanity and the Beast
Tim Ritter's $0 budget wonder
Nightmare Prof. Tread
still can't sleep.
Shanty Tramp She is sumpin'
If Footmen Tire You...?
Viva' Knievel Evel of
The Killing Of A Chinese
Bookie! Smart Guy.
The Pink Angels Gayness,
The Burning The 80's,
ahhh the 80's.
Q - The Winged Serpant! Larry
Fight For Your Life!
WARNING Racist content
Walking Tall Buford Pusser
in the Hizouse!
Sleepaway Camp Internet
Born Losers Ya Loser!
Shriek of the Mutilated
Bro. George gets busy.
Bury Me An Angel
Gal Biker and more.
The Grim Reaper Reap
Abby One of William Girdler's
Deadbeat At Dawn A
Sonny Boy Carradine,
Great Hollywood Rape-Slaughter
Savage Weekend. Take
Dead and Buried. A Should-be
Hot Summer In Barefoot
Night Train To Terror
I Drink Your Blood Glug,
Vixen Russ Meyer and breasts!
Truck Stop Women Honnnk
Daddy's Deadly Darling!
Flesh Feast Maggots!
Soapy the Germ Fighter!
Why Doesn't Cathy Eat Breakfast?
Moonshine County Express!
The Night God Screamed!
White Dog Racists Pets!
Hunter's Blood City
Slickers get offed!
Devil Times Five Sean
Terror at the Red Wolf Inn
Headless Eyes See It
World's Greatest Sinner
One of the best!
The Baby! Goo Goo!
Summer Camp Nightmare Viva
Attack of the Beast Creatures
Let's Play Dead Incest
Island of Death Vacation
Evil Come, Evil Go! Bye,
Darktown Strutters Get
Poor Pretty Eddie Deep
Miami Golem Jewish Folklore
Tenement NYC Apartment
To Kill A Clown Alan Alda Vietnam Vet!
The Spook Who Sat Next To
The Door Booya!
I Woke Up Early The Day I
Died Mr. Ed Wood's last.
The Mutilation Man Andy
Copp goes arty on us!
The People Across The Lake
The Woman Hunt Load Up
These Are The Damned