director Joseph Losey
I stumbled on this movie a couple years back, reading about it on TCM’s blog moviemorlocks.com. And I watched part of it, actually most of it. I can’t recall why I didn’t watch all of it. I only write about films that I watch in their entirety, so I certainly didn’t manage to do that.
I’d never heard of it before then, but it’s a very interesting film from the Hammer Studios in England, directed by American exile Joseph Losey. It’s a strange amalgam of genres with a gang-like “youth in revolt” theme contrasting against an almost surreal Cold War story about a group of radioactive children who are kept in an underground bunker by the military as the one hope for mankind in a post-nuclear war world. They are the only ones who could survive afterwards, you see. And so they are being raised as proper British children.
It’s not utterly unlike Village of the Damned (1960) and it’s kind of funny how reminiscent the posters are for the films. Only these “Damned” are the poor irradiated children, hidden away from the world, speaking properly and respectfully, as the hope of humanity in a demented government perspective. The “Damned” of the other film are far more dubious, alien children who are creepy and dangerous.
Oliver Reed plays King, the leader of a teddy boy street gang, who even have their own jiving theme song. They are petty thugs, selfish, unsophisticated, ready to trash the world. They live in the decaying seaside town of Weymouth, which is actually very interestingly used as the backdrop for the film, from its small seaside town and wharf to the rugged wild cliffs in which the children are hidden away.
It’s when an older American named Simon (Macdonald Carey) gets lured into a mugging by King’s teddy boys by King’s very pretty sister Joan (Shirley Ann Field), that these two strange worlds get thrust together. In trying to escape a second beating, Simon and Joan escape via the cliffs and wind up stumbling onto the hidden children. The children are cold, have never been able to touch a warm person, and their isolation has bred their very specific naivete in them. And since they are radioactive, they are deadly to those that encounter them.
It’s really quite a pessimistic little picture. The youth of today, the teddy boys and Joan, are hollow hooligans (though Joan shows some humanity and desire for something more), but the idealized perfect little children are sickened mutants, isolated from society, and yet somehow its only hope? I guess it’s also interesting as a Cold War film that isn’t post-apocalyptic but predestined to apocalypse.