The middle-aged American Simon Wells sails in his boat to Weymouth and stumbles with the twenty year-old Joan on the street. He believes that she is a prostitute but she is actually part of a scheme of a motorcycle gang to rob tourists. Simon is brutally beaten up by her brother King and his gang. The policemen find the wounded Simon and take him to a bar to recover, where he meets the military Bernard and his mistress Freya Neilson. On the next morning, Joan challenges King and meets Simon in his boat, and King and his gang hunts Simon down. Joan and Simon spend the night together in an isolated house and on the morning, they are located by the gang. They try to flee and stumble in a top-secret military facility managed by Bernard. They are helped by children and brought to their hideout in a cave. King falls in the sea while chasing the couple and is also helped by a boy and brought to the same place. Soon Joan finds that the children are cold as if they were dead. What is the secret of the children and the military staff?
Directed by: Joseph Losey
. Starring: Macdonald Carey
, Shirley Anne Field
, Viveca Lindfors
, Alexander Knox
, Oliver Reed
, Walter Gotell
, Brian Oulton
, Kenneth Cope
, James Villiers
, Tom Kempinski
, Barbara Everest
, Allan McClelland
, James Maxwell
. Music by: James Bernard
Hammer Films were noted for their horror and science fiction productions, but this is one of their more curious offerings, made in black-and-white rather than Hammer's more usual colour. The action takes place in the South Coast seaside town of Weymouth and the neighbouring promontory of Portland Bill. There are two strands to the plot. The first deals with the curious relationship between Simon Wells, a middle- aged American tourist, and Joan, a beautiful 20-year-old local girl. The first time they meet she lures him into a brutal mugging at the hands of her brother, King, and his gang of hooligans. (With their motorbikes and black leather jackets the gang appear to be part of the Rocker subculture; during the sixties the Rockers and their Mod rivals often used to congregate in seaside resorts, especially in Southern England).
Despite this unfortunate start to their relationship, romance later blossoms between Simon and Joan, largely because she sees him as a way of escaping from her jealous, possessive brother who will not allow any man to show any interest in her. The script, in fact, implies a possible incestuous attraction towards Joan on King's part, but in the early sixties this could never be made too explicit.
The second strand to the plot concerns the military base on Portland Bill and the sinister experiments being carried on there. The film was based on a novel entitled "The Children of Light", but the film itself was given the title "The Damned" (alternately "These Are the Damned"), possibly in order to suggest a link with John Wyndham's novel "Village of the Damned" and the film made of it in 1960. No such link actually exists- "The Children of Light" was written by one H.L. Lawrence, not by Wyndham- but both feature a mysterious, otherworldly group of children who appear different from normal humans.
The children here are being held prisoner in an underground bunker beneath the military base, isolated from the outside world and from all contact with outsiders. They are being educated by a scientist named Bernard, but he only contacts them via closed circuit television, never in person. We learn that the children's peculiarities are due to their pregnant mothers having been exposed to radiation in a "nuclear accident", although it is never explained how this happened. (The children are all aged 11 and, as the film was made in 1961, but not released until 1963, this implies that they must have been conceived around 194950, a time when Britain had neither nuclear weapons nor civilian nuclear power). The two strands become linked when Simon and Joan are forced to enter the base in order to escape pursuit by King and his gang. When, however, they stumble upon the children they find that their lives are in danger.
The film's main weakness is the difficulty in uniting its two different plot strands into a coherent whole. It starts off as a sociological examination of British youth culture in the early sixties, something akin to "Beat Girl" which also starred Shirley Anne Field and Oliver Reed, and ends up as a science-fiction thriller about clandestine government activities in the nuclear age. The idea was presumably to imply some sort of parallel between the violence perpetrated by King and his gang and the violence perpetrated by the state, but this is never really convincing. The relationship between Simon and Joan never really rings true either; it might have been better if they had been closer in age.
Indeed, it might have been better if the film had concentrated more on the imprisoned children and less on the SimonJoanKing storyline, as it is this part of the story which contains the most original elements. The film was made a year before, and released a year after, the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, and its themes fit in well with the nuclear anxieties of the sixties. The force which drives Bernard's every action is his conviction that a nuclear holocaust is imminent, and in 1961 there would have been many who shared his fears, even if few would have shared his ideas about how civilisation could be rebuilt after such an Armageddon. The director Joseph Losey was an American Communist who had fled to Britain after being blacklisted during the McCarthy era, and he may have been attracted to this story as an example of the sort of film he might not have been allowed to make had he remained in America.
Losey's sharp black-and-white photography brings a grimly compelling quality to the film, especially to the scenes dealing with the doomed children. Overall, however, "These Are the Damned" never really succeeds in joining together its two incompatible story lines and wastes too much time on the first, resulting in a broken-backed feel to it. To paraphrase Eric Morecambe, "You can see the join!" 610.
Review by James Hitchcock from the Internet Movie Database.