Three Early 60s UK Science Fiction Movies
Three Early 60s UK Science Fiction Movies
Village of the Damned, Gorgo, and The Day the Earth Caught Fire are three United Kingdom Science Fiction movies. They each were innovative in their own way. These movies are interesting examples of United Kingdom Science Fiction at the beginning of the 1960s. This article contains spoilers for these movies and other movies mentioned in the article.
Village of the Damned
Village of the Damned (1960) is a Thriller that is a mixture of Science Fiction and Horror. The film begins with a look at the village of Midwich. It shows the villagers carrying out their normal daily routine. Gordon Zellaby (George Sanders) calls his brother-in-law Major Alan Bernard (Michael Gwynn) and during the conversation Gordon collapses. Views from the rest of the village reveal all the villagers and their animals collapsed. No one can approach the village without falling unconscious. The pilot of a low flying plane falls unconscious and crashes. Suddenly the villagers and their animals awake. Two months later Gordon’s wife Anthea (Barbara Shelley) tells him she’s pregnant. They are overjoyed. A doctor tells a young woman she is pregnant. The distraught woman tells him it’s impossible. Another woman, whose husband has been at sea for a year, is pregnant. Twelve Midwich women became pregnant at the same time. There were a couple of minor abnormalities in their fetal development. The children were all over 10 pounds when they were born. The first thing the doctor (Laurence Naismith) noticed was their eyes. One day Anthea forgot to test the baby formula before giving it to her son David (Martin Stephens[i]). He spit out the formula and Anthea was scalding herself when the nurse stopped her. David and the other children had extraordinary intelligence. They also had a collective intelligence. Whatever one of the children knew every child knew. The children were outwardly polite and well behaved. Their ability to read and control minds made a dangerous combination. During a meeting about the children it was revealed there were 4 other groups of children similar to the Midwich children. Only one group was still alive. The Soviet group was doing well academically. A theory they were the next phase in human evolution was floated and discredited. The concluding theory was extraterrestrials caused the pregnancies. Gordon convinced those at the meeting to let him work with the children for a year. Soon after the meeting the children’s actions became undeniably lethal. The children kill three Midwich men in separate incidents. Alan tells Gordon the Soviets destroyed the town with their children with a nuclear artillery shell. The children know the fate of their Soviet counterparts before Gordon tells them. The children order him to make arrangements to have them leave the town and settle with other families. Gordon puts a time bomb in his briefcase and goes to the children’s house. He concentrates on a brick wall that keeps the children from learning his plans long enough for the bomb to go off. The explosion and fire kill Gordon and the children.
It is said about many Science Fiction movies using child characters hurt or ruined the movie. In Village of the Damned making children the antagonists made the movie. David, and the other children, by being formal and devoid of emotion made them frightening instead of annoying. They killed with complete detachment. This fusion of Science Fiction and Horror predates Alien by almost 20 years. The movie has very little Science and the Horror is implicit. There are no gory scenes. There were few special effects and the burning building at the end was obviously a toy. Touching on the topics of out of wedlock pregnancies and marital infidelity showed it was not a children’s movie. There was no greed or obsession in the characters. Gordon’s state of denial was understandable and he accepted reality about the time a normal person would. While the villagers mistrusted the children they didn’t try to harm the children until it was obvious the children were a mortal threat. It was common in movies to have the middle aged husband, leaving behind a young widow.[ii] In Village of the Damned there wasn’t another man to step in as the woman’s love interest. Alan was her brother. This meant while the threat was eliminated it couldn’t be considered a happy ending.
Village of the Damned had a sequel Children of the Damned (1964). There was also a 1995 remake that was set in the United States.
[i] Martin Stephens played the 10 year old David.
[ii] George Sanders (Gordon) was 26 years older than Barbara Shelley (Anthea)
Which Movie Do You Prefer
Gorgo (1961) is a giant monster movie. The film begins with a ship of treasure hunters diving off the Irish coast. The team is headed by Joe Ryan (Bill Travers) and Sam Slade (William Sylvester). There is a volcanic eruption and two divers are killed. Joe and Sam dock at the nearby village and go to the harbor master’s house. There they meet Sean (Vincent Winter), an orphan boy, and the harbor master. The harbor master tells him they need some forms and refuses to give them any assistance. The villagers are unfriendly to the treasure hunters. Sean later tells Joe and Sam the harbor master lied to them. That night a 65’ dinosaur attacks the village. The villagers drive it off by throwing torches at it. Joe and Sam confront the harbor master. They learn the harbor master wanted the treasure for himself. They strike a deal with the harbor master that they will capture the monster for some compensation. The ship’s crew captures the monster. The Irish government claims the monster for Ireland and orders Joe and Sam to take it to Dublin so it can be studied. The government representative promises Joe and Sam fair compensation. Joe and Sam scoff at the prospect. They get an offer of $10,000 up front and a percentage of the gross from circus owner Dorkin (Martin Bensen). They take the monster to England, with Sean onboard as a stowaway, where Dorkin names it “Gorgo” after the mythical Gorgons[i]. Gorgo is paraded through London, including Piccadilly Circus. Gorgo is put in an enclosure. Scientists conclude Gorgo is a juvenile specimen and an adult version of the dinosaur would be 200 feet tall. An adult Gorgo destroys the Irish village. The adult Gorgo follows the trail of juvenile Gorgo. The Royal Navy attacks Gorgo and scores two direct artillery hits on it. The navy then saturates the area with depth charges. They believed this destroyed Gorgo. Then Gorgo sinks a navy ship. The Royal Navy attacks it with artillery and aircraft. Their weapons prove useless against it. Then Gorgo rises from The Thames River and the army attacks it with everything short of atomic weapons. The army weapons were also ineffective and Gorgo destroyed much of London, including The Tower Bridge, Big Ben, and Piccadilly Circus. Then Royal Air Force aircraft attacked. Their weapons didn’t hurt Gorgo. The British had an electrified fence surrounding the juvenile Gorgo’s enclosure.[ii] The 4 million volts at full amperage didn’t stop Gorgo from reaching the young Gorgo. Then the adult Gorgo and her child returned to the sea.
When it was release Gorgo was made to order for the audience base for monster movies, boys. There were no women in the cast.[iii] A lament of boys in 1961 was a leading lady and the inevitable romance with the leading man took away from the action. Since monster movies were popular with boys making a boy a major character seemed a logical choice. Unlike many boys, and girls, in future monster movies Sean wasn’t exceptional. His sympathy for Gorgo was his sense of right and wrong as opposed to having some psychic powers. The movie showed the military hardware of the three United Kingdom service classes in action rather than models. In this movie the monster won. At the end of the movie Sean showed a discreet smile. The radio announcer expressed the feeling of defeat, helplessness, and relief the nightmare was over. This is in sharp contract with Mothra (1961) where people cheerfully waved Mothra “sayonara”.
Episode 909 of Mystery Science Theater 3000[iv] showed Gorgo.
[i] Gorgons, one of which was Medusa, were so hideous someone looking at it would turn to stone.
[ii] This is similar to Tokyo’s main defense against Godzilla in Godzilla (1954),
[iii] Connie Tilton was one of the stunt artists and there were women and a girl as extras.
[iv] Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K) was a series that showed movies and had an actor and two “robots” make jokes throughout the movie.
Gorgo vs. Japanese Monsters
How Does Gorgo Match Up Against the Kaiju Monsters
The Day the Earth Caught Fire
The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961) is an end of the world movie. The movie begins by showing a deserted and devastated London. Peter Stenning (Edward Judd) walks up a street as an announcer gives the time and states it is 19 minutes before countdown. He walks into an empty newsroom and phones in his story. As he dictates his story over the phone the movie flashes back to the beginning of the story. The story begins in the same newsroom. It is crowded and buzzing with activity. There is a story about a flood and an announcement of an atomic test the Americans performed 10 days earlier. It is a busy news day but nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Peter tries to speak to his contact at the Home Office. He wants some explanation for the problems with electrical equipment. Information comes into the newsroom the Soviets tested a bigger bomb at the same time as the U.S. bomb test. At a nuclear disarmament demonstration there is a lunar eclipse. The eclipse was days earlier than expected. A government broadcast attempting to explain the eclipse in fact explained nothing. The temperature in Britain slowly rises over the next month. Other countries are also having extreme temperatures. An unusual mist rolls into London and rises to 4 stories. Peter seduces Jeannie Craig (Janet Munro) who works at the Home Office. There are a series of cyclones in Europe, the first ones in history. There are also an unusual number of cyclones around the world. Jeannie tells Peter in confidence she learned the twin atomic explosions threw the earth 11 degrees off its axis. Peter writes the story. There is mass rioting. Jeannie is arrested. The government assures the public it is not the end of the world and it is premature to assume the atomic tests had anything to do with the shifts. There are massive fires. There is a severe water shortage so the government shuts off the water. People have to get their water from community washing centers. Then word comes from Moscow the atomic explosions also knocked the earth off its orbit by 11 degrees towards the sun. The government knew the whole story all along but withheld the information until they could devise a course of action. The plan is to launch a series of atomic explosions in an attempt to set the world back into its normal orbit. This brings the movie to where it began. Peter finishes dictating his story by pointing out the two possible outcomes, the end of the world or a second chance. The movie stops without showing “The End” or giving any closing credits.
The Day the Earth Caught Fire is a great time and geographic capsule movie. The British Board of Film Censors certified this for exhibition when no child under 16 is present. The seduction scene is roughly equivalent to that in Dr. No (1962). A few swear words are used. There is a little violence, none is graphic. The nuclear disarmament protest is massive. There is a small counter demonstration and some scuffling. The demonstrators and counter demonstrators looked alike. Many demonstrators carried signs with peace symbols. One sign read “March for Life”. In the United States massive peace demonstrations and the peace symbol didn’t become prominent until the later part of the 1960s. In the United States the “March for Life” is an annual march against the 1973 Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision. The movie shows how much changed socially during the 1960s.
Peter Stenning is an antihero. He is divorced and isn’t happy his ex-wife and new husband are raising his son to be a successful man. There is frequent talk about him being an alcoholic and he does drink but he is not depicted as being drunk in the movie. He, and the other reporters, is a cynic. His motivation throughout most of the movie is to get the story and become a respected reporter again. His seduction of Jeannie Craig could serve as a good object lesson for girls and young women; if you put yourself in a compromising situation you stand a good chance of getting compromised. His seduction and betrayal of Jeannie is similar to Guy Hamilton’s seduction and betrayal of Jill Bryant in The Year of Living Dangerously (1982)[i] Peter served as a knowledgeable observer. He could report and comment on the situation but was incapable of doing anything about it.
The Day the Earth Caught Fire gave out information in small pieces and the extent of the catastrophe wasn’t revealed until the movie was almost over. This keeps the audience wondering what will happen next and how bad will it get. Interestingly this movie warned about the dangers of nuclear testing as opposed to the dangers of nuclear war.[ii]
[i] Mel Gibson and Sigourney Weaver played the roles of Guy and Jill. The Year of Living Dangerously was set in 1965.
[ii] Movies that approached the subject of nuclear testing normally involved something becoming huge.