20 Feb 2020

The Damned (Joseph Losey, 1962)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼


With unapologetic gusto, Oliver Reed portrays King - the dandy, charismatic leader of the Teddy Boys biker gang who employs his younger sister Joan (the ethereal, velvet-voiced Shirley Anne Field) as a bait to lure the unsuspecting tourists of Weymouth, England, into a beat & rob trap. His latest victim is a middle-aged American fella, Simon (Macdonald Carey, excellent), who falls for Joan's charms (who wouldn't?) in the same way the viewer becomes infatuated with the beautiful cinematography and 'sort of unfinished' fossil-like sculptures seen during the opening sequence. As the story untangles, the trio finds themselves trapped in a secret government facility where they meet a group of nine eleven-year-olds with ice-cold skin...

And let's stop at this point, because revealing more of The Damned goings-on would ruin the mystery which surrounds both its characters and slightly bizarre, Twilight Zone-ish narrative playing on the 60s fear of nuclear war, and exploring the theme of human condition. Although it does take awhile to get to the main course, the film is continually involving, and not to mention generating the strong sense of wonder that seems to have faded or entirely disappeared from many of the modern cinematic offerings. Even the tiny pieces that don't quite fit in at first glance do have their purpose in the grand scheme of things - one such 'piece' is an eccentric artist named after the Norse goddess of love Freya and wonderfully portrayed by magnetic Viveca Lindfors who delivers some of the most memorable lines. Speaking of actors, the ensemble cast functions like a well-oiled machine or rather, a well-balanced organism, with no one stealing the spotlight, and all of the children being amazing in their roles!

On the surface, The Damned is a sci-fi B-movie, but once you start digging into it, you may be surprised by how insightful (and dark) it can be. Refusing to have all of the questions answered, it lightly carries the atmosphere of impending doom reflected in Freya's brooding, roughly chiseled statues and amped up by James Bernard's 'nervous' string score typical of the period. The enjoyment of watching it rests on its stark black and white visuals - Losey and his DoP Arthur Grant compose each scene with meticulous care, making the most of breathtaking shooting locations and less impressive, yet handsomely designed studio sets. Oh, and let's not forget the groovy Black Leather Rock theme song which is given ominous tones via Teddy Boys' whistling...

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