Joseph Losey's
The Damned, or
These are The Damned, or

Joseph Losey did some brilliant films, and I understand that if you are familiar with the title(s) you probably love this film, but come on, its threads are so loosely and carelessly woven as to have can-drive-a-truck-through-it problems (P.S. I wrote this header before taking a deep dive in the film and have now a certain affection for it, but the header still stands)

It begins as a document of the art of sculptor, Elisabeth Frink

The camera pans from high rocky cliffs to a foreground shot of what at first look almost like rocks, but also not rocks. The film is black-and-white and the confusion would be intentional. The second form gives the impression of broken fossilized human remains, or a burned body, but we also know it's not likely this, so what are we looking at? Then we see an authentic boulder with a round stone (likely another sculpture) placed upon it and we sense intention. The camera moves along to show next, placed on a wooden stand, a sculpture of a grotesque horse head in the same textured style of the other forms. The camera progresses to another grotesque form that may represent a pair of human legs, broken from a torso, flesh burnt. scaling off. But is that what I'm really seeing, or wait, is it instead a scuba diver? I have no clue, but I'm certain that pareidolia isn't to be relied upon, that the sculpture is representational, but of what? The next question is what are these sculptures doing on these cliffs? Why are we being shown these art works? How will they fit in to the movie?

As the camera has slid over the horse's head, "Frink" appears in the credits as responsible for the sculpture. The artist was Elisabeth Frink, all of about 31 at the time of the filming of the movie, and this must have been exciting for her, to have her work appear in a Losey film. I wonder how Losey became aware of her, but her sculpture is of the type that would be very exciting to photograph, dynamic, offering different content for interpretation with every angle, so I understand the attraction. The casual viewer wil not likely notice that the credits include a sculptor, but you know Frink's friends, when viewing her name, may have let out an appreciative "Whoop!".

Even if I did know who Frink was, watching the film, at this point I would still not have a clue why the sculpture was being featured.

Plot twist, it becomes a We're Scared of Leather Boys movie

Cut to the seaside resort town of Weymouth, Dorset, England, then Macdonald Carey, who starred forever as the kindly and wise Dr. Tom Horton in the American soap opera Days of Our Lives. You've likely no idea what that was but every episode began with the image of an hourglass and a voice intoning, "Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives." His future haunts his past here, but we must try to accept him as only Carey playing an American tourist, Simon Wells. As he stands examining a clock tower, Shirley Anne Field, as Joan, 25 years his junior, young enough to be his daughter, slides between him and the tourist attraction erected in 1888 to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria. Her blouse and trousers are a little too tight to be approved by Victoria and absolutely everyone can spy a knife slipped into the waistband of her pants. Was this even legal? ("Oh, this knife, officer? It's for paring oranges.") Conspicuously diverting Simon's eye, she inquires if he's never seen a clock tower before. Several elder female vacationers stand just beyond to serve as counterpoint, females fallen outside the realm of child-bearing-age sex objects. Several young girls pass by as well, as if to better impress on us how Joan is the porridge that's not too cold or not too hot, she's just right. Simon follows her, not acting like he's looking for a possible companionable relationship, instead behaving as if she's a prostitute who has dropped her handkerchief and he''ll restore it to her at the appropriate location to which she will lead him. Our first impression of Simon Wells is decidedly negative. Or that's my first impression and perhaps this betrays me as prurient. He's also peculiarly incautious, because over this encounter plays the song, "Black Leather", Joan has a knife handle sticking out of her waistband, and we know he's going to get messed up. Maybe Joan has identified Simon as someone whose kink is the taste of his own blood. If that's the case, to each their own.

The Weymouth clock may be made a key feature opening the film because of the movie, Village of the Damned, which came out in 1960. It was about a group of children, all the same age, born in the same village, who have no respect for the lives of those outside their group, are extraordinarily intelligent, can read minds and telepathically force people to do things against their will. We are led to believe that they are alien-human, the product of what amounts to a miraculous conception intervention in the human gene pool. Whereas a clock is focused upon toward the beginning of this film, it features at the end of Village of the Damned. George Sanders, the children's teacher, destroys them with a bomb, keeping secret his intention by focusing his thoughts on a brick wall as the clock behind him ticks down the seconds to the predetermined moment of all their deaths. Only just as the clock reaches 3-2-1 do the children mentally break through the brick wall to see his plan--and boom. How does that have to do with this movie? If you don't already know, you will soon enough. Kind of. About half an hour into the film.

The next shot, right after Simon pockets his tourist guide to follow Joan, is of a unicorn with a virile, erect horn, an umbrella's crooked handle hooked over it. The unicorn and the virgin slash pure of heart symbolism. Not drawing upon material more remote than the medieval, the unicorn could only be tamed by a virgin, then became cognate with royalty in that only a king could control the fantastic beast. A virgin was the fabled lure to capture a unicorn, the animal so trusting in her that it would lay its head in her lap to sleep, which is when it could be destroyed and its horn seized. The duplicity of the pure of heart seemed not to tarnish their purity. Losey is acting out the legend by having Joan trap Simon for her brother, King. We will later learn she is actually a virgin.

Glide camera up to show this white unicorn rests at the base of the Weymouth monument to King George the Third. So-called the "Mad King"", he enjoyed taking recuperative bathing holidays at Weymouth, and Weymouthians thus, in 1809, memorialized their appreciation, inscribing on the statue's pedestal, The grateful inhabitants, To George the Third, on his entering the 50th year of his reign. The unicorn is a heraldic attachment that is currently being disrespected by a group of black leather attired street toughs loitering about the monument, one climbing atop the unicorn to ride it. A transistor radio perched upon the statue's base supposedly blasts out the "Black Leather" theme music to which they cavort, which serves as their anthem.

Another famed feature of Weymouth is the Osmington White Horse, a giant carving made in a limestone hill that, again, commemorates King George III. Wikipedia states that Elisabeth Frink's Times obituary "noted the three essential themes in her work as 'the nature of man; the horseness of horses; and the divine in human form.'" Frink would later establish her studio in Dorset, but wasn't located there when the film was made. But it seems to me that Losey's choice of one of her horse heads appearing at the film's beginning would have to do with Osmington and the unicorn.

Black leather, black leather, rock, rock, rock
Black leather, black leather, ta, ta, ta
Black leather, black leather, hip, hip, hip
I got that feeling, black leather rock.

Black leather, black leather, smash, smash, smash
Black leather, black leather, crash, crash, crash
Black leather, black leather, kill, kill, kill
I got that feeling, black leather rock.

Yes, it's a "rock" song, a banal one, written for the film, and doesn't capture any of the root energy that made rock popular. With this movie, we really need to chase all forms of symbolism, including associating the black leather "rock" back to the massive cliffs and rock-like statuary with which the film opened. At least I will be so pedantic, until I weary of it, which may be quickly. I'm just trying to look for points of more densely woven cloth in this confusing film.

I usually pay no attention to phallic imagery as it's such an easy target and so easily imagined when it's not intentional, but this scene is ripe with it. Some of the toughs wear bike helmets while others sport tourist carnival-type hats topped with cones. As they cat-call a young woman who passes by, one of the toughs struts along behind her, having moved the cone hat so it is over his nose, stuck high in the air. Her snobbery in ignoring them is suggested, but so too is his phallic interest, referring back to the unicorn.

Ruling over the toughs is an individual dressed in a suit, Oliver Reed playing King. Joan approaches a concession stand and exchanges a knowing conspiratorial glance with King, who at this pont we assume to likely be a boyfriend. Simon, having followed Joan to the stand, exchanges looks with her. She walks away and he follows, enchanted by her rear attractions. At a crosswalk, they stop and stare at one another. Commonly attired female members of the public, doubling as extras, standing behind a nearby guard rail, step back on cue in order to not crowd the scene. Losey has not done a good job of letting it be known to them they should act as the general milling public, for they all stare at Simon and Joan like they're the only show in town, the star attractions, when the crowd should instead be ignorant of them. This will be the only topic of conversation that evening at nearly every dinner table in Weymouth, the native citizens of Weymouth looking forward to seeing themselves and their home on the big screen. One wonders how they responded when the film received, at first, an X rating (imagine) and was even banned in several countries.

"Going into battle, dear chaps," says King, and the toughs all form in a double-line parade, King leading, left-right, left-right, aping the military as they cross the street. The song no longer playing, they instead whistle it. And, somehow, they have taken the lead over Simon and Joan who now follow them into a polite but very empty side street. As they duck behind a wall, Joan sings to Simon, "Black leather, black leather, crash, crash, crash, black leather, black leather, smash, smash, smash." Out comes the handle of the umbrella that had been hanging on the unicorn's horn, catches Simon's neck, pulls him around, and he's thrown to the ground. King takes the umbrella and stabs Simon with it, then they all beat him up. One of the gang hands King Simon's silver cigarette case and passport. King keeps the cigarette case but is kind enough to return Simon's passport, tossing it down on his unconscious body. Which he didn't have to do. A tough, who we will later learn is Sid, wonders aloud, "You happy in your work, Joanie?" And off they merrily march.

In a moment, these thugs will be identified as "Teddy boys", and while I'm no expert, I don't know how a bevy of leathers, and one Oliver Reed in a fairly standard suit jacket and trousers, constitute a gang of Teddy boys. Like the fake rock song, they too come off as fake and too tame in their threads to be classified as Leather Boys or Rockers, their style not individualized, nothing to distinguish them. As for Oliver Reed, his suit isn't that far removed from the one that Simon wears except it is more form-fitting and his pants have a classier cut. If he stands out it's because he wears black leather gloves and has a touch of Oliver Reed swagger that is already souring on this character to the point of pathetic. There are no throw-back Edwardian elements to mark him as a Teddy, and he's not stylish enough to be a Mod. As is the case with most films, there's a failure to depict street culture, which is surprising here as it's such an easy reach. All the Teddy Boys and Rockers who went to see the film must have scoffed from their seats, "Actors!"

The sculptress and the doctor, and why I can't read the book the film is based on so can't personally compare the film with it

Rather than get to know Joan, or King, cut to what appears to be perhaps a hotel cafe/bar and a woman in a posh convertible parking out front. Inside the establishment, a middle-brow, middle-aged man reads a paper. His umbrella's handle is hooked over an open window's casement. The woman comes running in to greet him, obviously a free spirit, she wearing what appears to be a knee-length leather coat, probably black. The "Black Leather" song plays in the background so her leather coat and his umbrella handle are intentional references to the prior scene. She is Freya Neilson, a sculptress, played by Viveca Lindors. He is Bernard, played by Alexander Knox, seeming to be a doctor. They are obviously in a relationship, though one what the attraction would be, and she sometimes rents a "birdhouse" from him. Announcing she has brought rent for two summers, she unwraps what she calls her "Graveyard Bird", a sculpture done in the style of those we saw on the cliff. It's one of Frink's series of Harbinger Birds done in 1960. A harbinger is something that foreshadows a future event. Losey has opted to not call it a Harbinger Bird, but will preserve its function.

As Freya kisses Bernard, cut to Simon being helped up the steps by two individuals, one of whom will be introduced by Bernard as Major Holland, the other as Captain Gregory. Simon, feeling faint, says he needs to sit down, and of course the only chair that presents itself is at the table of Freya and Bernard. It's disclosed Simon was beaten up by Teddy Boys, and Freya rather aggressively demands, "But why?" He reasons they wanted his money. "But why did they beat you up?" she asks again, making this a sticking point in the film. Why? Freya doesn't buy they're getting the whole story. Bernard asks where all this happened, and Simon's silence prompts Freya to propose, "Maybe he doesn't want to explain." Simon says he'd not expected street gangs in England, and Bernard complains that the Age of Senseless of Violence has caught up with them. His verdict is no reason is needed.

While Simon exits to wash off the blood, Freya asks if Bernard's military friends belong to his mysterious project. Top secret. She hates his secrets. He says if he told her about them he might be condemning her to death. Zoom in on the Graveyard Bird.

Freya is an interesting contribution to the movie as she is purely Losey, not appearing in the book, The Children of Light, by H. L. Lawrence. I don't know this from reading the book as it's not available. I found the web page of author/artist Murray Ewing, who has read the book, but he was only able to do so after waiting nearly eight years for a copy to appear in 2022. He wrote up a few notes on it, and it's from those notes that I know Freya, the sculptress, is Losey's idea. Also, the book discloses that Simon is on the run for having murdered his wife, only it wasn't really murder, she had attacked him with a pair of scissors when he discovered her infidelity, and in the ensuing struggle she was stabbed. The movie dispenses with this and instead has Simon as an insurance executive who got tired of the business and quit. It was a good idea to chisel off the extra weight of Simon being on the run. There will be enough going on in the movie and little enough time to begin to explain it.

Joan runs off with Simon to get away from her disconcertingly possessive brother but declines to go to France, opting to stay close enough to Weymouth that King will be able to catch up with them

Structure. OK, considering that Freya and Bernard had to be introduced sooner or later, sooner was probably better, but the transition was clumsy. Losey now returns us to King and Joan, at a game arcade, and though we're already acquainted with Joan and King, they aren't new faces, this also feels clumsy.

As it turns out, Joanie (King calls her the more intimate Joanie) is not happy about their stealing from the American and calls King out on it, though not around the other gang members. Then, she muses, "I wonder what kind of a man he is?" King responds he was looking for pick-ups so he was dirty. History enters with King reminding her it's them both against the world and has been this way since they were kids. Joan responds, "He offered me his arm to cross the street."

We begin to realize that King's rationalization for beating and stealing from others is based on their biting on Joan's bait as a pick-up. His own moral compass has him bashing offenders and legitimately acquiring material spoils from perverts.

Cut to a strip of beach outside Weymouth, first a long shot, then Joan sitting on a rail while the gang plays behind her. She's singing "Black leather" when she suddenly up and shouts that the last one to the unicorn is, well, a rotten egg or something, whatever is the local jargon, and leaps on her motorcycle and takes off. They all rather ridiculously run to their bikes and follow, their behavior communicating more as childish antics that don't read well on adults. At first I thought it was misdirection, but now think it's likely Losey is intentionally connecting them with the children who will later enter the film.

The drive into town from the beach gives a reason for shots of scary bikers terrorizing the Weymouth community with their en masse presence, confirming this is a bad biker movie, in case we were starting to wonder where the story was going.

But it was a trick on Joan's part. She instead goes to the harbor where we find Simon with his boat, named "Dolce Vita" (the Fellini film, La Dolce Vita, came out in 1960), a big American flag waving from its rear. There's no way Joan would know how to find Simon if she'd first seen him at the Weymouth clock, so in order to fill a plot hole it would be safe to reason she, and perhaps the gang, had noticed when Simon had arrived in Weymouth in that boat with the very noticeable American flag, and decided to make him a mark as he was an American with money. At first, Simon's not too happy to see her, declaring he hasn't a penny for her to rob. He asks why they do it as it couldn't be very lucrative, and he wonders why she chose him. She essentially says it takes two to tango, he responds that he'd asked her for a drink, she says he didn't ask her anywhere, that he invited a tart he picked up on the street. He asks who is she, Lady Godiva, to which she replies, "That would make you a peeping tom", which I only mention because Shirley was in Michael Powell's Peeping Tom in 1960 and I reason the viewing audience would be well aware of this. Losey has made references to at least two films in this segment, and when I consider what connects them, the primary thing that comes to mind is photography, the paparazzi pursuing their photographs in La Dolce Vita, and the character of Mark Lewis, in Peeping Tom, filming his murders of women, he having been tortured and terrorized in his childhood by his scientist father who surveilled and recorded his responses. At first I think, "But how does photographic intrusion in those films relate to this film? There are no cameras in this film other than the film crew's." Then I remember the cameras that are used to surveil the group of isolated children, who we know nothing about at this point.

Joan complains she's not who Simon thinks she is and that he never even asked her name. "With a figure like that, you don't need a name," he declares, then says he still thinks she's a tart but promises to do better. In the meanwhile, we see the gang has shown up and is watching as, now properly introduced, names exchanged, hands shaken, Joan takes a look around the boat and gets Simon's back story on his being an ad exec who gave it up. How nice to be able to give up what you do, she says, highlighting the class gap between them, as well, we will learn, her lack of freedom. The gang descending upon the pair, King orders her out of the boat. She complies but when he tells her not to ever do that again, she says she'll do what she likes.

"Do you think I'll let a man put his dirty hands on you?" King threatens, a knife held to her face, then releases her. Previously, the men who thought Joan was a pick-up were dirty. Now, it's any man who pursues Joan.

Cut to the face of Sid who is realizing that he's not going to have a chance with Joan because of King, or is simply realizing being in a gang isn't what he wants to do with his life.

Ordered to leave Weymouth, Simon drives away in the boat but then calls out to Joan to come with him. She runs down to where she's able to make a rather spectacular leap down into the boat and doesn't break an ankle. King vows to kill Simon! Seeming to believe they'll be able to follow the boat on land, in hot pursuit the gang members run to their bikes.

Time to chill and soak in some rays. Joan tans her legs and tells Simon the story of how she's afraid of King. The last time she went out with a man he stuck her in a cabinet for a week. Simon encourages her to stay with him, saying she has already make that choice by instinct when she leaped on his boat, then grapples with her for a kiss.

"Damn you, damn you, damn you! You are dirty! You're just what King said you were!"

It seems to dawn on Simon that Joan is a virgin, and he apologizes for having been a brute. She asks to be put ashore. He offers her France. She says she can't go but he can spend his life running away. Simon says he'd be running from her! She argues she has to live with what she's got, so put her ashore. Simon directs the boat toward the Portland Bill cliffs we'd observed at the film's opening.

Over to Sid, the one who seems to love Joan, watching with binoculars and now riding off to tell King the pair are going ashore. Cut to Bernard being dropped by a driver at a Restricted Zone, a fenced compound protected by military guards. Then to Joan and Simon now in a small dingy that had been towed behind his boat, which they are using to put ashore at...the base of these prodigious cliffs? Why are they rowing toward the cliffs? Do they have ropes with which to climb them? How do they plan on going ashore? I don't have a clue.

The bikers-terrorizing-civil-society film suddenly becomes a movie about top secret stuff concerning a group of children who will be able to marry one another because they're not brothers and sisters

Zoom out from a window looking on a very bad green screen of the Portland Bill rocky landscape to the interior of an office, one of Freya's bird sculptures perched on the window casement. An officer picks up the sculpture and remarks, "A bird in a gilded cage." A man in street clothes responds, "More like a gilded bird in a rather rusty cage." They argue something something about education, as we are now shown this is a meeting of more than several individuals in a room fairly plastered with art, and the officer gets upset saying if the other one had the authority he'd "turn all these children into beatniks". The group apparently divided ideologically into two, the street clothes individuals against the military, the beatnik friendly faction proposes that the best they can give the children is self-reliance, chiding the officers who "built the empire" for their reluctance to think. "Any bully can command obedience, only a gentleman can command loyalty," one of the officers responds. At which point Bernard arrives. They cut on a big television that has taken center stage, Bernard settles into a chair facing the TV, and via it he greets the children who he hopes aren't in a rebellious mood that day.

Cut to a schoolroom (what would have been ultra-modern for 1961) in which children in school uniforms, all obviously bored, lackadaisically slouch at their desks and protest they don't like being seen "this way". What they mean, we'll soon comprehend, is they want to communicate in person. Observed on a big screen on the wall at the front of the school room, Bernard orders them to sit up. He tells them it's the morning for questions. The first posed by one of the children is that they've been told brothers and sisters can't marry, is this true? He says it is but they're not brothers and sisters so there's no need to worry. They say there are nine of them, four boys and four girls, so what about the 9th? Bernard says it's not time to be concerned about that yet, which is pretty much his answer for everything and that they'll just have to trust him, that all their questions will be answered in time, when the time is right. At the end of the questions and not-much-to-the-answers, Bernard goes to tne same window with which the scene had opened, and, to conclude this segment, zoom in on a poorly done green screen view of Portland Bill that's different than what had initially greeted us, this view showing a house perched near the edge of the cliffs. We will now transition to where the sculptress is renting, in what in real life is the mid-19th century Cheyne pumping station below the Cheyne house, which was originally constructed for the individual who ran the pumping station. The casual viewer will be unaware of the actual identities of these structures.

I find...

"In 1874, concerns were made over the quality of the water by the Verne Citadel's medical officer...By 1895, the water from Cheyne was condemned for consumption by boyth the Admiralty and War Department....The station, last named on a 1903 OS map as 'Chene Pumping Station (Admiralty Waterwords)', remained in use until its closure during the 1910s. One of the naval facilities recorded as using the water from Cheyne until 1905 was the Admiralty Slaughterhouse..."

Source: The Encyclopaedia of Portland History

A parallel has been built between these children, isolated in a small community of nine, and the situation of Joan and King, who were dependent upon one another since they were young. I could be wrong, but it's seemed to me mid-century 1900s films were rather obsessed with possible sibling sexual relationships. The film suggests an incestuous relationship at first, but will eventually clarify this isn't the case, though the potential on King's part is left on the table. The pair are compared with these children who live communally together, but aren't related, who have asked about the sibling taboo perhaps because of their isolation and their consequently feeling like family. The film is zeroing in on the prospect of civilization destroyed by nuclear warfare, repopulation left to these children who, for the moment, are presented as something like the dreaded alien-humans of Village of the Damned. At least, that's what the audience of the time will immediately think of, and are intended to connect these children with the ones in the other film, who were destroyed. The film doesn't yet let us know why these children in particular, and why they're isolated.

Why was there this curiosity in incest and siblings? I don't know. Perhaps because it was the unavoidable question to be wondered about eventually by those raised on the biblical creation story. If there was originally only one family birthed by Adam and Eve, siblings had to have mated. Then, after the flood, the human race was repopulated by Noah's family. There are, for very good reasons, genetic and social, incest taboos, exempting some cultures and their ruling families who were thought of as descending from the gods. Eventually the members of the Christian congregation had to at some point consider these taboos were in conflict with the traditional origin stories, conflicts that went unaddressed as sexuality was a taboo subject and because questioning the traditional origin stories was also taboo. There had already been two biblical scenarios in which humans had to start again from another Adam and Eve, and the Christian imagination, faced with a possible nuclear apocalypse, would return to the "what if" of repopulation from a bottle-neck of family.

Another popular scenario was what if the next Adam and Eve consisted of a Black individual and a White one, but I suspect that this nuclear apocalypse scenario was primarily an American one addressing racism.

Murray Ewing relates that, in the novel, an essay in one of the textbooks used by the children reveals a disturbing purpose behind their isolation and indoctrination.

“We...will be known as The Race. In our minds and hearts we shall carry all the knowledge and wisdom of the Past. We shall create in an empty world the people of the future, free from racial pride, free from the Babylon of speech confusion, free from the terrifying superstitions of the past so-called religions, free, for the first time in human history, to form a society of healthy, intelligent Beings; we shall have the knowledge of every science, from the beginning; knowledge will be all we shall have; but as we shall increase in numbers, we shall be able to use our knowledge and once again force Nature to provide us with all we need. Mankind, the Old People, are doomed to perish at the dawn of the Space Age. We shall begin, in a few generations, where they finished. But this time we shall begin as One People, The Race, with neither false pride nor false illusions to frustrate us.”

Beliefs in cultural and racial supremacy have been partly approached, in the meeting, by the beatnik-friendly faction being critical of the military who built "the empire" and their approach to the children's education. In the book, it's clarified that the reason the children are hidden from the rest of the world is so their education will be culturally pure and without conflict, that their pedagogy will be purely British. In the book, as all the children were White and British, to be free of racial pride and speech confusion and multiculturalism was to be White and British. One People. The Race. In 1961 this wasn't so distant from the Nazis. In a sense, the great reboot of civilization, caused by a nuclear apocalypse, was approached not very differently from genocide. The Race that survived was curated by, in this case, the British. In The Village of the Damned there was much the same scenario. The children, all platinum blond, were the Aryan ideal, their lack of humanity to be compared with Nazis executing populations they considered undesirable. In that film, the British are the saviors of humanity. This story now explores the White Nationalism that was taken for granted, and conceptions of cultural, racial and national superiority. It may be a reason for which we have an American as a significant character, a love interest for Joan. Not of her family, not of her country. Is he intended to be the equivalent of this film's idea of the Black individual? Or is the American instead British-lite but he's also a rebel, having dumped the insurance executive rat race. It's to be remembered that Joseph Losey, blacklisted by American McCarthyism, had taken refuge in Britain.

Joan asks Simon how he feels about Freya's sculptures, Simon asks Joan to marry him, and King asks Freya if she thinks he ought to like her art

Back to Simon and Joan who have somehow managed to climb the cliff and arrive at a house-in-a-hill (the Cheyne pumping station) where she, in the past, has taken refuge from King, the same place leased by the sculptress, her boyfriend identified as a bigwig who owns the larger, standard house just beyond. Joan examines a few of the sculptures, but when she asks Simon if he likes them, rather then give his opinion he instead asks how she feels about them and she confesses she's unable to say. As they begin to break into the house via a window, cut to a few seconds clip of the George the III statue in Weymouth and King being told by Sid that Joan and Simon are at the bird house. Cut back to Joan and Simon as they finish climbing through the window. (It's a very awkward film in the way it's edited.) Joan has acted and talked like such a completely different person since they've come ashore that, even as they finished climbing up the hill to the pumping house, romantically hand-in-hand, I had to rewind to make sure I'd not missed out on an extraordinary event in the interim, what had transformed her personality, but then Simon notes that she confounds him in the way she acts like two different people, so this is a purposeful change that fits with most of the individuals in the film having different sides, suggested when Joan said that Simon hadn't spoken with her but the tart, and Simon's dropping his ad executive persona to become the wanderer. King, who was initially threatening, is revealed to be not more more than a confused, violent child.

When Joan attempts to fix something to eat for Simon, she cuts herself on a tin. He examines the cut, and then...well, next thing you know they're lying on the bed, candle lit, obviously post-coitus and Simon inquires just how is she feeling about this? She's not thinking about anything, which Simon says is happiness. Joan says she doesn't think that's right. They lie back together and when she says she didn't want to be "just somebody's girl" he asks her to marry him. He acknowledges he's far older than her, and that he's been married and divorced, but he's never known this kind of quietness before, as if he was no longer afraid of dying. Again, the unicorn captivated by the pure woman. She thanks him and says she's lucky then, whatever that means. Was it her way of accepting his proposal? Are they engaged?

As far as Simon being old enough to be Joan's father, they're consenting adults so that's not so much the problem as that Macdonald and Sheila have zero chemistry. There's so zero spark that one wonders why Losey hired Macdonald in the first place. But he did. Losey's casting was perfect for such gems as The Servant and Accident, which means he had Dirk Bogarde in both, so why didn't he hire Dirk Bogarde for everything? I'm only half-joking. The casting for those films, for every character, was brilliant. So what happened here? Is this what Losey wanted for Simon? The answer is perhaps found in Losey's 1950 The Lawless in which he had previously worked with Macdonald Carey, a "story of a town and of some of its people, who, in the grip of blind anger forget their American heritage of tolerance and decency, and become the lawless." That's how the film begins, and certainly a person with any degree of social and historical awareness would have known that America's history was the opposite of tolerance, but I suppose Losey felt the movie needed that introduction to placate the public into receptivity. The film concerns agricultural workers and prejudice against Hispanics and Latinos in Sleepy Lagoon, a real place that became a focal point with the "Sleepy Lagoon murder" of 1942. It's an absolutely beautifully done film in nearly every way--cinematography, editing, acting--and novel for its time in its depiction of a minority population, immediately engrossing. Macdonald Carey plays a newspaper editor who falls in love with a Hispanic woman whose family publishes a newspaper for their community. I won't go into the plot, prejudice making a fight into a race riot in the news (not Carey's town paper but a large syndicated one) and encounters with a bad White cop resulting in a near lynching. The film calls into question news sources, a lack of nuance and comprehension of the impact of history and how too easily truth is twisted. What I liked about the film was its throwing itself fully, at first, into the lives of those in Sleepy Lagoon, but it eventually instead moves over into focusing on the predicament of Carey as the editor, one who has virtually abandoned his earlier commitment to making waves, and how he finds that voice again. Macdonald Carey came through for Losey in what was a decidedly leftist picture, and perhaps that's one of the reasons he was pulled in for this one. The Lawless was a good film, and I can see why Losey would have turned to Carey for another movie that addresses White supremacy/nationalism.

Before we can question further if Simon and Joan are now engaged, they hear a car, and, believing King has found them, they flee. Instead, it's Freya who realizes that some lovebirds have been in her nest. And right on her heels is King. At first he's so threatening as to make us fear he might rape Freya. Instead, he accuses her of being smart-talking, bad-living, a person with no morals, as his hands grip the throat of one of Freya's sculptures. (Oh, Oliver, did Joseph tell you to make like you were strangling it or did you come up with that idea? Either way, you are by now appearing as if you have serious doubts about your role and act with halting conviction, as if you are in the theater seats watching yourself and grimacing.) Freya responds that perhaps her morals are different than this, and King declares she has none. Looking around at her art, he demands, "You think this junk's all that matters?! I've been here before. I've seen them. They're nasty, that's what." Freya says that's all a matter of how you look at them.

"You think I ought to like them?"

Yes, Freya responds. "Don't you?" Freya calls him a strange boy, and King attacks her art. She fights him. He pins her down then releases her. She asks him how he can be so cruel. He says he enjoyed it and flees to a graveyard where he signals his gang, whistling "Black leather".

How awkward.

King and the gang pursuing them, Joan and Simon enter the military compound, causing the military police to give chase as well now. They fall off the cliff and King follows.

Do you like Frink's art?

Frink Harbinger Bird IV
Tate Museum. Harbinger Bird IV, 1960. Dame Elizabeth Frink

Let's take a poll. I like Frink's art. Frink's creepy boyfriend likes her art. Frink likes her art. Joan is attracted to Frink's art but doesn't know if she likes it. Simon passes on giving an opinion. King adamantly doesn't like Frink's art because he doesn't know what it means which makes him uncomfortable, we've come to understand he feels like the upper class is laughing at him because he's not good enough, not smart enough.

Murray Ewing informs that a character left out of the movie is a reporter who takes King's place in the pursuit of Joan and Simon. After a supposed explosion inside the No Trespassing government base, when it's reported by the government that Simon had died in it, King knows that's not so as the proof given of Simon's death is the finding of Simon's silver cigarette lighter, amongst body parts. But King had stolen Simon's silver cigarette lighter (the movie instead has King taking Simon's cigarette case with no more made of that). So, what's going on? Why is the government saying Simon is dead? What are they up to? King's not so much concerned in that as getting Joan back under his control, but he knows a reporter will be interested. Contacted by King, the reporter goes in to find out. It would seem the reporter was replaced, in part, with the character of Freya, and Losey may have felt that Simon, Joan and King fulfilled also that character. We can't ask Losey why he replaced the reporter with Freya, what gave him this idea, but it's interesting that the book has Simon's supposed body parts found after an explosion, and the film opens with Freya's sculptures that can remind of charred body parts.There's a connection between these things, and Frink's art is in fact central to the film, a demand made of everyone to give their assessment of it, how do they react to it? If that's being asked of the characters, then the people in the audience are then tasked to ask the same question of themselves. It's only natural. How do they respond to Frink's art? What does Losey expect them to see? Does he give them a hint when he titles the sculpture she gives Bernard, "Graveyard Bird"?

It's good that Losey doesn't divide it so the art is appreciated only by good guys but not the bad guys, as in Bernard. Art appreciation doesn't make one a better person. And it's good that individuals in the film can appreciate the art without being able to answer if they like it or not. As for its meaning, Freya concedes that if she could say what it meant she wouldn't have to make it. Losey may have felt the same about certain aspects of his work.

Discovering what's hidden, a therapy session with Joan and King (that doesn't resolve much), Freya and Bernard part ways, everyone you care about dies

Next we know, a wet Joan and Simon are being carried by a group of children into a cave. It's the children we had seen in the secret schoolroom who have rescued the pair and hide them in an area that isn't surveilled by their "teachers". That Simon and Joan were already in a partial cave in the pumping house perhaps suggests we're to draw some comparison between the children and Freya--though it was also just a cool place to shoot, the association with the graveyard has been made from the beginning. When Simon asks to see the teachers the children plead that's impossible as if they were discovered the "black death" would take them away. Startlingly, the children are cold to the touch and unaffected by cold temperatures. Simon, realizing that they are under the military base, says they should let those above know they're here, but Joan observes that the children have been locked up, which begs the question, "What's going on?" While they gather what information they can from one of the little girls, Victoria, King is discovered in the surf by another boy and brought inside. Simon and Joan learn the children are all eleven years of age, born within the same week, that they have always been there and never seen their parents. When King is brought in he is at first combative, wanting his vengeance on Simon, but then he is distracted with horror by how the children are cold, to which he exclaims that they're dead.

Some precious screen time is wasted with the military interrogating a captured gang member as to what they know about the intruders on the base, then we return to Simon, Joan, and King, surrounded by the children's toys, in what effectively becomes a not-very-successful therapy session for Joan and King concerning their childhood and King's reluctance to grow up. King unsuccessfully tries to separate Joan from Simon and Joan declares the problem with him is he thinks sex is dirty "because you've never had a girl yourself". He says if Simon and Joan lay hands on each other he'll kill them, and warns he'll be keeping watch (which is a tad confusing because moments before he had said he wasn't going to stay there and watch the two of them). "What do you think I am?" Joan exclaims and hits him with a doll. Then her sisterly instincts take over and she gently hands him a towel with which to dry himself, and the snuff is taken out of King as Joan retires to rest next to Simon. As soon as King is revealed as being sexually inexperienced with women, the subject of King's relationship with his sister seems to be exhausted and won't be approached again. But King, of the three adults, is also the one most impacted by the cave, disabled with illness from the beginning.

A gradual revelation of the children's circumstance--still a mystery--continues when a man dressed in protective suiting enters their very modern communal living situation to check out if anything's going on with them. The following day, Bernard visits Freya and she discusses with him her intruders. When he says her place has a fatal attraction for lovers, the discussion takes the turn of her talking about how with time some people grow together and some apart. Her purpose in life, her art, isn't secret, while his is. She doesn't care for this, and observes he didn't have to become a public servant. Freya's attitude is one of having the possibility to change, while Bernard insists that the power has been released that "will melt those stones" and it's too late to do anything about it in private life for which reason he must remain in his position. He believes there will be a nuclear apocalypse and his goal is to prepare for it. Freya is dismayed that his view on the world is consumed with belief in its destruction. She states she doesn't believe there's nothing to be done to prevent it and returns to working on her art.

We've about 35 minutes left in the film and it becomes increasingly fragmented, all the scenes seeming composed of what should be expanded ones that deepen the plot but have been sliced to ribbons to conserve time. We get a glimpse of the school's instruction. They listen to Lord Byron's poem, "The Prisoner of Chillon" (apropos), sew, study art. A brief moment is taken for us to observe a meeting in which Bernard and others discuss how two of the children have died and a third has become ill with the same symptoms, which doesn't bode well for their experiment and the choice of these children as the ones to carry on civilization, but this is something they don't want to confront yet. We see Joan comforting King as he suffers intense chill and nausea, which he blames on their confinement in the cave. One of the children explains their belief they're being punished for their sins, like in "The Prisoner of Chillon", and that eventually their parents will arrive and open magic doors for them. Another says the facts are they are on a space ship heading to a distant star, they're being taught the history of earth and that by the time they get there all the teachers will be dead and they'll be able to restart civilization. Another short segment reveals the military and Bernard sighting Simon on a surveillance camera outside the secret spot the children have been afforded by Bernard, Simon being shown about by a child who incorrectly believed he'd calculated how to do it without Simon being seen, and we learn that Bernard wants Simon removed because he doesn't want the children to watch him die. One of the brass claims to visit Freya to query her on her sculpture, when he is instead checking out her place and if he can learn anything about the intruders there. Sid drops in on Freya to find out if she knows where King is. The shadow of Freya's Graveyard Bird on the wall behind him, observed on the screen with which he communicates with the children, Bernard attempts to convince them to turn the adults over to him, telling them that the adults will "become sleepy" if they stay with them. Simon determines they must try to escape and take the children with them. Sid tells Freya it's kid stuff knocking about with the gang, but what else is there to do, and she asks him what he'd like to do. Bernard demands the children turn over the adults, Victoria having accidentally betrayed they are all with them, and the children rebel against Bernard, disabling or covering the surveillance cameras.

We've observed the banks of cameras monitoring the children, and the importance of not being always under surveillance has become a crucial message in the film, which is to have been completely deprived of freedom and living in a prison no matter one's physical ability to move about.

Several more individuals in protective suits having been sent down into the children's quarters, Simon and King fight them. When King murders one, he expresses the kind of anguish that betrays he's never killed before. Simon acquiring from one of the individuals a geiger counter, that's when it's revealed to Simon, Joan and King that the children are all highly radioactive. Despite the danger to themselves, Simon and Joan still elect to rescue the children. As they escape into the sunlight and the outside world, Sid and Freya witnessing the mayhem, every child is captured except for the one who had saved King, who insists on staying with King when he uses Freya's car to get away, and King permits the child into the car, torn between his desire to help and to save himself. A confrontation is had between Simon and Bernard, Simon angered by Bernard being one of those individuals in the world who believes they possess all the answers, and rather than answering any of Simon''s questions, Bernard simply tells Joan and Simon they can leave in the boat.

Bernard divulges to Freya he didn't engineer the children. They were born that way due to their mothers being accidentally exposed to an unknown kind of radiation; however, if he knew how to do it they would create more children like them. He explains to her that Simon, Joan and King are already dying because of their exposure. He bemoans that now the children will see themselves as freaks, and know that they are prisoners. He begs for Freya to understand what he's doing, "his children" being the only seeds of life that can survive when nuclear destruction inevitably happens. She rebels against joining him and he asks her if she knows what this means. She does.

The boy who had saved King was an outcast amongst the children because he enjoyed fighting. He pleads to stay with King, to whom he feels connected by having saved him, and though King knows the child is "killing him" he lets him stay. A helicopter descends, the child is seizes, King attempts to escape in the car but drives off a bridge in order to avoid being captured.

Aware that her death is imminent, Freya continues working on one of her sculptures. Bernard shoots her.

The credits roll over the boat uselessly going in circles in the ocean, the helicopter hovering over it as Joan and Simon die, free to go but surveilled until the end. And we hear, calling from the cliffs, the children trapped inside, calling for help, to be freed. Though this is a "sci-fi" film, as with many sci-fil films, it tackles instead contemporary issues, and what Losey seems predominately concerned with are children, and thus the future, imprisoned by authoritarian agendas, as well the complacency in not focusing on making life better for all and instead permitting the trains of politics and economics to continue down their doomsday scenario tracks.

Some thoughts

I find a lot of people like this film. Going through it as I have, I've developed a definite affection for it myself. I credit the film with attempting a grand reach concerning some very important issues. However, my initial assessment still stands, that it's a particularly clumsy film that works against itself. The writing is clumsy and that impacts the acting, an uncertainty of roles and motivations seeming apparent. The conception was probably weak from the beginning regarding how to put this much story together, perhaps resulting in, script in hand, an ability to move into a more creative approach than one reliant on an action-oriented timeline, and we end up with a film that's edited to force a sequential plot line with bits and pieces.

Without Freya, however, I don't believe I would have any fondness for the movie. It's Freya, not caught up in the possible incest pot-boiler story, not running from a gang into the arms of an ad exec, who gives the film any sense of expansive emotional and philosophical motion. Simon, Joan and King are locked into the novel's construct and that hurts them with a concretization into sci-fi action pieces. Though little used, Freya and her art, the questions posed concerning it, her humanist approach, frees the film up considerably. I don't know if Sid was in the book, but he's another character that at least feels like he was added in and I was left rather wishing there had been more development with him, which means his character had potential.

I wrote the header for this after my first viewing, just as I returned to the film to take a deep dive into it, and one can see how my feelings about it have shifted. But my initial thoughts still stand. There are holes in this film so large--and not just plot holes--one could drive a truck through them. I get why Losey made the film. I can imagine him in private discussing how The Village of the Damned was entirely wrong, how it made the children the bad guys, when the children are vulnerable and need to be saved from society and their elders if they are going to stand any chance of saving themselves. But how?

Back to Joan being the virgin who captured the unicorn. In legend, the horn of the unicorn was able to detect poison and purify it. The uncovering of the poison happens here, but it isn't neutralized. Not unless Losey determined that the children learning their predicament, that they are prisoners, is the opportunity for purification.

Some see A Clockwork Orange as having been influenced by The Damned

There were a lot of biker-rebels-terrorize-towns movies in the 1960s and I would say I see no connection at all to Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange...until...well, perhaps there could be.

A Clockwork Orange - The sculptural suit

Doesn't everyone have an art work of figure garbed for an apocalyptic nightmare (or a warrior partly dissolved by the apocalypse) in their living room?

Losey's big story change to The Damned was to add the artist, Freya, which I've already covered. When it came to the scene in which King, looking for Joan, confronts Freya about her art, his insecurity over their class differences highlighted, I looked at the statue between Freya and King and I thought, "I could be wrong. There might be a connection between A Clockwork Orange and The Damned." After all, Alex, in Kubrick's movie, is into art, and his rampage at Alexander's HOME places him in uncomfortable Oedipal territory, as if he's stumbled onto his legitimate parental nest and the people who had raised him were but shepherds who claimed the foundling as their own and never told him how it was they bore no resemblance.

One of my primary focuses concerning HOME territory, in my analysis of A Clockwork Orange, was the theatrical aspect, the relationship of the audience with what occurs on screen or stage, which is invited by the way HOME is staged with light sources that resemble theatrical foot-lights, and the prospect of the audience beyond the windows at the foot of the staging. But there are layers, it isn't all one thing and nothing else.

Alex, who does exhibit a refined Teddy Boy influence when he goes to pick up his record, an alter-ego that he hides from his gang of droogs, exempting his obvious love for Beethoven, is different than King in that he's far more confident. HOME is where he belongs, he's the rightful heir, and there's a bitter class differential that comes into play with the attack on his betters who are entirely dislocated from his social strata. In that way he is like King, and we can see the parallel drawn between the two films perhaps in the enigmatic statue in Alexander's HOME. I've wondered about it, been unable to find anything about the piece, have previously observed it as a maybe cross between an environmental suit, such as an astronaut's, and a suit of armor. It has a doomsday quality to it, and I've reasoned there's a point to it, it's referencing something, but what? In my analysis on A Clockwork Orange I wondered if it could be compared with, perhaps, the warrior's suit in the film, Ned Kelly, but now I see this scene in The Damned and it seems to fit hand-in-glove, aided by the cavern quality of the pumping house ably slipping into the natural cavern quality of any theater, such as we feel at HOME.

From there we must go to the scene st the Cat Woman's home, where all her art has a harbinger or in-retrospect deja-vu effect. Freya is an artist, and King's attack on her art is due his sense of inferiority in not understanding it. Alex's encounter with the Cat Woman is purely class, but she is an art collector/appreciator and the art becomes a vehicle for the attack, as with King, who knows that the way he's going to most hurt Freya is by abusing her art. Alex confronts the sexual aspect of the Cat Woman's collection, as if it is only hedonistic, and the woman's ire is roused because it's "very important", not to mention expensive. Like Freya, she can well take care of herself, and she almost defeats Alex when she clobbers him with her Beethoven bust. But, like Freya, who is finally overpowered by King, so too is she. Whereas King releases Freya, his goal not being to rape her, professing he enjoyed destroying her art, and she not accepting this, Alex instead accidentally kills the Cat Woman with the sculptural phallus, which is a rape of sorts. He obviously hadn't intended to kill the Cat Woman but his rage got the better of him when this woman, one of his "betters", almost defeated him. His anger became pure, divested of all irony. His action wasn't planned. He wasn't thinking. He simply did.

In The Damned, after "choking" the statue, King had pressed his thumbs in its eye sockets, as if gouging out its eyes. Kubrick could well have caught this and counted it as an Oedipal allusion made by Losey, which it may have been, Freya being old enough to be his mother, just as Simon is old enough to be Joan's father. And what happens after Alex's attack on the Cat Woman, he is blinded by the bottle of milk being smashed in his eyes. This happens in the book as well, but he's not blinded by a bottle of milk, instead with a chain, and he doesn't yell out that he's been blinded, he's closed his eyes and is briefly overcome by pain.

With this scene between the Cat Woman and Alex, and the sculptural suit in the HOME, I can see how Kubrick very well might have been influenced by/pointing to Losey's The Damned.

April 2023. Approx 10,100 words or about 22 single-spaced pages.

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