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Damned, The (1963)

Main image of Damned, The (1963)
35mm, black and white, 87 mins
DirectorJoseph Losey
Production CompanyHammer Film Productions
ProducerAnthony Hinds
ScreenplayEvan Jones
PhotographyArthur Grant
MusicJames Bernard

Cast: MacDonald Carey (Simon Wells); Shirley Anne Field (Joan); Viveca Lindfors (Freya Neilson); Alexander Knox (Bernard); Oliver Reed (King); Walter Gotell (Major Holland)

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While trying to escape a violent teenage gang, an American tourist discovers a secret military project to breed radioactive children who will be safe from the after-effects of nuclear war...

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With its potent mix of mysterious scientific experiments, radioactive children, portents of dystopian doom and biker gang violence, The Damned is a strange, sometimes uneven, but always compelling hybrid of science fiction and 1950s teenage gang exploitation. It is unquestionably one of the more unusual films to have emerged from the Hammer stable.

Despite misgivings about the original novel's pulp content and science fiction theme (he had no interest in the genre), director Joseph Losey was drawn to the project by his belief that the novel spoke passionately about the irresponsible use of atomic power. Although Losey was unconvinced by the central premise, that the human organism could be radioactive and still able to survive, the finished film bears no trace of his doubts, and the tragic plight of the children is handled with moving sensitivity.

The introduction of Freya (a character not in the novel) also serves to introduce a science fiction theme, whether knowingly or not, first used by H.G. Wells in Things to Come, that of art (represented by Freya) in opposition to science (Bernard). While in Things to Come the victory of the scientist over the artist represented progress as seen through the eyes of Wells, in The Damned, as elsewhere in postwar science fiction cinema, the opposite viewpoint prevails, with the scientist's victory, symbolised by Bernard's shooting of Freya, is presented as regressive and ultimately responsible for humanity's impending demise.

Ironically, considering Losey's antipathy towards the genre, The Damned is at its strongest when it focuses on these very science fiction themes. It is weakest with the second element that attracted him to the project - the biker gang. The novel's teenage gang subplot was retained to express Losey's contention that the overt violence of society's young was a corollary of the more covert violence of the Establishment. However, the director's attempts to convey this by paralleling King and his gang with Bernard and his military subordinates feel forced and underdeveloped.

Regardless, The Damned is one of the director's most intriguing and undervalued works, and among Hammer's finest and most haunting productions. Not that the studio saw it in this light at the time. Aghast at the downbeat result, they shelved the film for two years before granting it a release, and only then in a cut form.

John Oliver

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Video Clips
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Village of the Damned (1960)
Carreras, Michael (1927-1994)
Day, Tilly (1903-1994)
Field, Shirley Anne (1938-)
Hinds, Anthony (1922-2013)
Losey, Joseph (1909-1984)
Mills, Reginald (1912-1990)
Reed, Oliver (1938-1999)
Hammer Horror
Science Fiction
Teen Terrors On Film