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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 Hammer with.

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.

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 sweater.

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The Damned!
Sing the title to the tune of We Are The World, it's fun.

That's MacDonald Carey, his character, Simon Wells, has just been mugged.

That's Oliver Reed, he's King and that's one of his Teddy Boy followers. They are bad boys.

That's Shirley Anne Field, Joan, changing into some sensible shoes.

Freya, the lovely Ms. Viveca Linfors...prrrrrrrr.

Bernard, the man with some secrets, some top secrets even, he just looks like his asshole is knotted doesn't he?

Dashing this young gang of nar-do-wells, duck tails, helmets and scarfs as well as switchblades and hidden daggers. It's like a queer-eye surprise birthday bash.

May, December, Hell you make the call, you can't knock SImon for trying.

This is a sort of all around anti-nuke protection helmet, but you already knew that I bet.

King doesn't like sculpture..."Ew you sculpture, tolly ho on the pip pip you bloody knackered...!"

King and Freya end up on the ground all weepy which describes just about every one of my relationships perfectly

The rescuers and captives, the children try and explain some things to the adults.

He's really cold.

This is a sort of thinking gizmo that allows you to think. I think.

Could you say "no" to those eyes?

Freya and the very sexy Bernard.

Ummm, I don't have one thing funny to say.

Simon wants some answers and he wants them then.

Bernard stares him down, content with his decision about the future of all involved.

Wha? Wha? Whaaaat? Is that Bernard with a pistol?

The beautiful and damned Joan.

The final moments of the film...ouch, it hurts.
Brains On Film 2004