Two journalists find themselves stranded in the tiny Eastern European republic of Godavia where a Professor is carrying out strange experiments on the local children.
U.K. Science Fiction was not exactly booming in the 1950s but the success of TV serial ‘The Quatermass Experiment’ – and the subsequent movie – did inspire a handful of projects, probably none more curious than this one; a strange mixture of comedy, politics and horror.
The first point of interest is the presence of star Paul Douglas, a nationally famous American sportscaster until he switched to acting in middle age. Importing a ‘name’ to ensure sales abroad was standard practice for British films of the time but Douglas had been 3rd billed behind Grace Kelly and Stewart Granger in ‘Green Fire’ (1954) less than 2 years earlier so why did he agree to appear in this? The other journalist is played in his usual fashion by Leslie Phillips (yes, the ‘Carry On’ and ‘Doctor in Love’ guy) and the idea that he’s best friends with the dour Douglas is simply impossible to swallow. Phillips is prominent in the movie early on (for the comedy) but gets a bit lost later on (when things get serious).
The only convincing notes in the movie are supplied by the locations (Hertfordshire standing in surprisingly well for Eastern Europe!) and the performance of Walter Rilla as the villain; cool, suave and ruthless. He is experimenting to create a super race – intelligent, emotionless and obedient. Apparently, he aims to achieve this by a cunning use of modelling classes and hair driers. It’s working too – local moppet Hedda is well on her way to being a concert pianist and headboy Hugo is a right superior little shit. Sadly, the process is not always successful and Rilla’s rejects are a goon squad that display a worrying tendency toward violence and out of control eyebrows.
What really scuppers proceedings here is the uncertainty of tone. At first it seems like a bit of a lark – Phillips smirks and tries to chat up ‘birds’, the local police chief blusters in a silly hat and the telegraph officer channels Monty Python. But then it all gets a bit heavy with robotic kids and the oppression of the local populace. Eventually, the natives get restless when their carnival is cancelled, go into open revolt and our heroes take on the good professor in his Science Fiction lab. It’s a mix that just doesn’t gel.
But there are some interesting ideas here. In the opening sequence, the journalists end up in Gorovia when their carriage becomes uncoupled from a train. We see the coupling bend and then cut to two of the children sitting by the side of the track. After the train separates, they rush to throw a switch and divert our heroes on to another track. It all looks planned. Similarly, subsequent event infer that they are something more than ‘ordinary’ children but this line of the plot never really goes anywhere. A year after the film’s release, John Wyndham published his novel of super intelligent, alien children called ‘The Midwich Cuckoos.’ Three years after that it was turned into the creepy classic ‘Village of the Damned’ (1960) with George Sanders. And who directed that movie? Walter Rilla’s son, Wolf! It’s probably just a co-incidence but it’s curious just the same…