The Damned (Losey, 1963) DVD
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Directed by Joseph Losey
Produced in 1963
Main Language - English
Countries & Regions - British Film
Stylish, bewildering, thought-provoking, cryptic, apocalyptic and (maybe) even a touch pretentious, there are precious few movies like The Damned. That it was produced by the venerable but conservative Hammer Studios only adds to the fun, for it is like nothing else they ever produced. Horrified by Joseph Losey's oblique first cut, the studio mucked about with it, trying to tame it into something more conventional. They did not succeed.
It starts in Brighton Rock territory, as Simon Wells (Carey), an American sailing around Britain, is mugged in Weymouth by a vicious biker gang led by King (a youthful Reed, glowering as only he could). Wells flees town in the company of King's sister Joan (Field); the outraged thug vows pursuit.
From here, it takes a sharp left into science fiction fairy tale. The lovers seek shelter inside the perimeter of a secret Army base and find their way into a mysterious bunker, filled with children. But there is something very odd about these children, not least that their skin is cold to the touch...
Despite his background in low-budget genre flicks, Losey was at heart an art house director, keen to communicate big themes and ideas. Here, he deals with nothing less than the end of civilisation itself, a society destined for seemingly inevitable nuclear annihilation. It's a theme exemplified in the brutal scene where King confronts a sculptress: her beautiful creations are so fragile compared to his barbarian instinct.
Not all the film is so effective. Losey's predilection for cod-psychology gets another workout (King's barely sublimated incestuous desire for Joan) and sometimes he seems to be trying too hard, cramming in too many ideas. The post-production tinkering resulted in an uneven and sometimes frustrating film.
As so often, though, an ambitious-but-flawed film has more to offer than a middle-brow success. For its baroque tone, its fatalism and – yes – the fact it refuses to explain itself, The Damned is a fascinating, haunting experience. Hammer might not have known what they had on their hands but it's the most intriguing picture they ever released.
James Oliver on 1st September 2009
Author of 149 reviews
'Come At Your Own Risk ... If You Come Alone!'
A Hammer production directed by Joseph Losey, in which a story of adolescent thugs, led by Oliver Reed, combines with a disturbing science fiction story about the government raising radioactive children to populate the earth after the bomb.
Publisher: Sony Pictures
Length: 91 mins
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1 Anamorphic
Format: DVD B&W
Released: 30th November 2009
Cat No: CDR10673
- 24 page illustrated booklet with film notes by Hammer Films' historian Marcus Hearn.