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  Space Children, The Hey!  Creature!  Leave those kids alone!
Year: 1958
Director: Jack Arnold
Stars: Michel Ray, Adam Williams, Peggy Webber, Johnny Washbrook, Jackie Coogan, Richard Shannon, Raymond Bailey, Sandy Descher, Larry Pennell, Peter Baldwin, Ty Hardin, Russell Johnson, David Bair, Johnny Crawford, Eilene Janssen
Genre: Science FictionBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Brothers Bud (Michel Ray) and Ken (Johnny Crawford) arrive in a small coastal town where their dad, Dave Brewster (Adam Williams) joins a team of scientists preparing to launch a new, top secret satellite weapon known as “The Thunderer.” While project leader Lieutenant Colonel Manley (Richard Shannon) and chief scientist Dr. Wahrman (Raymond Bailey) are anxiously counting down to launch day, Bud and Ken and the children of other scientists working on the project, including cheerful Edie (Sandy Descher), troubled Tim (Johnny Washbrook) and tykes Buster, George and Helen, stumble across a cave containing a glowing alien brain. The space creature forges a psychic link with its new young friends, enlisting them to sabotage the rocket launch for its own, ultimately altruistic ends.

Many directors contributed notable films to the Fifties science fiction boom, but few cared as much about their genre work as the great Jack Arnold. Working with producer William Alland, Arnold crafted a string of outstanding films throughout the decade, from classic monster movies Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) and Tarantula (1955) to his philosophical masterpiece The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957). The Space Children marked the end of that great run, sharing an uncommonly benevolent alien being in common with Arnold’s iconoclastic It Came from Outer Space (1953) and a gaggle of sweet but spooky kids foreshadowing the more sinister Village of the Damned (1960) based on the novel by John Wyndham. It also anticipates more positive psychic interaction between Earth kids and alien intelligences found in Wyndham’s Chocky novels (adapted in the mid-Eighties as a popular British children’s TV serial) and more recently, the excellent The Last Mimzy (2007). Nevertheless, there is something unsettling about the calm, rational manner in which the alien deploys its child minions or zaps the occasional interfering adult.

Although The Space Children ranks alongside Monster on Campus (1958) as one of Arnold’s weaker movies, unlike the latter it is at least ambitious. Eerie sound effects and moody black and white photography create a vivid sense of unease despite the low budget (the alien is just a glowing rock) and the redemptive, spiritual climax remains disarming, if abrupt. Commonly dismissed as heavy-handed, the film is admittedly rather dour, but coming from such a militaristic decade, its pacifist sentiments have worn well. Interestingly however, the film upholds a recurring, though presumably unintentional, subtext in Fifties science fiction by implying the average American citizen is psychologically unbalanced yet their government and military are thoughtful and sensible. All the grownups seem on edge even before the alien makes its presence felt. Bud and Ken’s mother Ann (Peggy Webber) is a hysterical wreck from the get-go, while poor Tim has an abusive alcoholic for a dad (Russell Johnson) and sweet little Edie’s papa (former child star Jackie Coogan) can’t wait to drop the bomb on those damn Russkies. Nobody mentions the then-Soviet Union by name but the script constantly refers to the escalating paranoia of “another country”, although we also learn aliens have enlisted children from other nations to help avert the apocalypse. Of the performers, it is the youngsters who have the most winning presence, particularly Sandy Descher who played the frightened little girl in big bug classic Them! (1954) and Michel Ray whose other films include The Brave One (1956) and a notable role as a Bedouin boy in Lawrence of Arabia (1962).

Barely feature length, the film builds ominously to a finale that while well-intentioned still proves something of a damp squib. Kids may derive some satisfaction from seeing the young heroes put pompous, patronising grownups in their place.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam


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