There is a science fiction movie out there which is already a cult movie to those who know it and it is called The Space Children (1958). Yet its innocence in this world sees it barely rate a four on the IMDb as it tells of a future on Earth perhaps saved from its own self-destruction by an intelligence from outer space! You could see the film as just another remnant of the Cold War when it was made… or as a happy prediction of future security in terms of our children’s future – and the entire world.
The Space Children has great credentials in terms of its director, as it is Jack Arnold (1916-92 heart disease), and the producer is William Alland (1916-97 heart disease). The pair are responsible for the science fiction classics It Came from Outer Space (1953), Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) and Tarantula (1955). Alland alone was responsible for helping to produce several more of Universal-International’s Golden Era of 1950s sci-fi movies including This Island Earth (1955), the two Black Lagoon sequels (1955 and 1956), The Mole People (1956), The Deadly Mantis (1957) and the compromised The Land Unknown (1957). Arnold also directed The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) without Alland.
It was probably the budget cuts by Universal on Alland’s The Land Unknown that reduced it to the lesser spectacle of a dinosaur world it turned out to be which may have led him to independently produce The Space Children (1958) and release it through Paramount Pictures and not Universal. I haven’t read Tom Weaver’s lengthy interview with Alland and it may reveal more. I’ll save up and buy it later.
The budget is low on The Space Children as a result and so the cast doesn’t contain names you’d recognise today with the possible exception of the adult performer Jackie Coogan (1914-84 heart failure) who was Charlie Chaplin’s (1889-1977 stroke) The Kid (1921) and Uncle Fester in the tv show The Addams Family (1964-66). It is ironic as it is the children of the seven kids in the movie which make up half of the main cast. And Bob’s your uncle!
The main children in the movie are two brothers who are played by Michel Ray (1944-), who would retire from movies and go to university. Ray would later marry one of Europe’s richest heiresses, Charlene de Carvalho-Heineken (1954-) … So, next time you have a Heineken think of The Space Children. Ray also was a British Olympic skier.
Ray is Bud Brewster while his younger brother Ken Brewster is played by Johnny Crawford (1946-2021 Alzheimer’s disease) from the hit series The Rifleman (1958-63). Their parents are actors Adam Williams (1922-2006 lymphoma), who was a baddie of note in Hitchcock’s North by Northwest (1959), and Peggy Webber (1925-) who was in Hitchcock’s The Wrong Man (1956).
The only other children also of note of the core seven which make up The Space Children are Johnny Washbrook (1944-) from the tv series My Friend Flicka (1955-56) who went on to become a bank vice president in Martha’s Vineyard where he raised a family, and Sandy Descher (1945-), who was immortalised in the giant ant movie Them! (1954) for being so terrified and only being able to utter the word: “Them!” She retired in 1969 to concentrate on family and a business in Palm Springs. The three other children don’t really speak. Just a note that children’s author Enid Blyton (1897-1968 Alzheimer’s disease) wrote a series of stories about a group called The Secret Seven which began with the story At Seaside Cottage. I kind of wished the cast of kid’s would reunite like the Sound of Music children for a chat but instead they remain forgotten along with this movie and now that Johnny Crawford has passed away…
Then in terms of the cast, there’s Washbrook’s father who is played by Russell Johnson (1924-2014 kidney failure) from This Island Earth and who was The Professor in Gilligan’s Island (1964-67). I’ll note him again later…
The Space Children is set in a trailer park on the foreshore within a secured army or air force base where the essential workers and their families live. The trailer units and the base itself are central to the plot of the film. Work and play in terms of the beach and cutting-edge Cold War technology in the actual secret rocket complex meet in terms of children and adults… and children as a possible security risk even if it is their future which is at risk in the first place by the existence of what we will learn is called The Thunderer. It’s an interesting dynamic which I don’t think was ever tackled on this level before.
The military brass in the movie appear in the form of Raymond Bailey (1904-80 heart attack) who is the professor in charge at the base… Bailey was also in Universal’s Tarantula and The Incredible Shrinking Man and was the hero’s doctor in Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) which was made by Paramount and the actor was a regular on Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955-62). Bailey was also Milburn Drysdale in The Beverley Hillbillies (1962-71). So, there was a crossover there, studio-wise of in terms of the adult actors in The Space Children as well as in terms of sci-fi movies and Hitchcock. It also suggests at the independence of the cast and its production which managed in seeding a cult classic. Furthermore, a Lieutenant Colonel on the rocket base is played by Richard Shannon (1920-89) who was in an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (1962) and both Bailey and Shannon wear moustaches as if they are possibly cynical through experience or are hiding something at the base. The scientific male drone scentists who live in the trailer park are all clean shaven…
The thing is that when Bud and Ken arrive at the beach-side and sand strewn trailer park, they hear some sort of strange sound which their parents do not hear as they drive their car along a deserted road to their new home, which suddenly starts to encounter gremlins.
It is later that Bud and Ken explore the cliffs and dunes with their football and encounter and empty cave where the other five children introduce themselves as they also reveal the secrets of their fathers’ work. Washbrook’s father is an alcoholic and we wonder if it is his conscience of having to help create a hydrogen bomb for a missile which will be attached to a satellite as the real reason he drinks. Russell, as the drunken step-father who threatens to kill the slightly effeminate Washbrook, echoes his real-life son, the prominent AIDS activist David Johnson (1955-94 AIDS) whose partner had succumbed of the disease in 1986… Johnson’s love for his son saw him carry on his AIDS charity work after his death. A further word on Johnson is that he wanted to appear on Star Trek but was dealt Gilligan’s Island, which was cancelled the day before my birth, instead. He also appeared in two time-travel episodes of original Twilight Zone series…
The first sign of the alien or heavenly presence in The Space Children is the appearance of a white dot, just like those in The Cape Canaveral Monsters (1960) and the ones you may see in the corner of your eye… just don’t tell anyone there’s an alien inside you! If you know!! Perhaps you are happily possessed like the cast of director Don Siegel’s (1912-91 cancer) movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). It was that Covid shot I tell you!! This dot in The Space Children seems to descend to Earth as if carried by some force… You could say it was angel,s or you could say it was some sort of alien reverse jet propulsion as it comes in for a perfect landing.
“Could it be the Earth?,” asks Descher later on when some kind of earthquake occurs as the result of Washbrook picking up a large rock as he hopes to splatter the small gelatine-like mass which has arrived from outer space upon the children’s first encounter with ‘it’.
“I’m getting out of here,” Washbrook had said, but his attempt to kill causes his body to become frozen and petrified he cries out: “I can’t move.” Of the children, Washbrook is the most gangly and pubescent of the bunch and thus the most dangerous in terms of snap judgment and unprovoked anger. Otherwise, there are no Bad Seeds among this collection. The rock that Washbrook holds above his head explodes and then Bud says about this potential killer’s inability to move: “You can now.”
It is Bud who seems to have the strongest connection with this intelligence from outer space or the heavens. He is even silly enough to naively tell the adult world that the thing exists and that it gives him feelings and thoughts – impressions really. His father’s reaction is that for telling such tales he would kill him “for two cents” … But it is not a lie and the same enforced feeling of panic-stricken passivity suddenly grips his father…
It is a community where violence among the male father figures is ingrained and possibly taught by their previous generation. Perhaps they will learn from this otherworldly experience to never raise a hand again! This metaphor is used later on an epic scale in terms of The Thunderer. Yet, you get the feeling that Bud hasn’t been given the strap just yet by his father, and even if he has, he shows no feeling of hatred in return. His emotional an intellectual quotient is high for someone so young. There is an almost dream-like essence to his personality and he almost slurs his words as if drunk on intelligence and love. Certainly, the super intelligence which contacts him in a dream-like way knows there is something special about this boy. He knows there is more to the planet and space thanks to the revelation he and the others experience…
The Space Children is not a movie about ‘things’ or ‘monsters’, which is possibly why it is not regarded as essential viewing. It is about an intelligence which will possibly kill those who cross the line of violence upon children and women… Johnson’s character possibly dies of heart failure after one too many beers, but he sits in his chair wide-eyed and dead nonetheless after he tries to kill adolescent Johnny Washbrook. I’m sure he wasn’t the only one! Russell, like the other adults, are affected by the intelligence, but in a different way when compared to the innocent children. It is still a question of morals, as Washbrook’s crossing of the line was momentarily punished as well. Meanwhile older and sexualised teenagers, who appear fleetingly in the film, haven’t an inkling of what’s going on, or possibly don’t care or have forgotten about the future of the world.
The central plot element is that the satellite with the hydrogen bomb is about to be launched and this hopes to bring further peace and freedom in terms of the balance of power between Russia and the United States in 1958 when the Cold War was raging. Today, it is still a kind of race to get the latest and fastest missiles by competing nations and so this movie is just as relevant in terms of the ongoing Cold War balance of power in terms of stockpiled firepower as a self-imposed form of resistance to press the ‘button’. We don’t want anyone to let them all go off at once. Invest in munitions if you want to get rich as they remain there and are constantly upgraded for any crackpot to press the button… But will a piece of glowing abandoned radioactive piece of chewing gum spat onto the Earth from outer space… end this ever-growing arsenal of weapons throughout the world?
“Don’t worry mother,” says Bud when he brings the plastic or rubber blob back to the trailer: “We can’t take it out of the house tonight, it won’t let us.” Mother, with her short and brylcreemed hair, would rather be back in San Francisco than live in a beachside unit with a strange glowing blob, even if she begrudgingly accepts her son’s predicament of hearing voices and high-pitched sounds and ‘their’ impressions.
The alien is homeless on Earth, as the homeless and the possibly insane are seen as alien, as well. There’s a Steven Spielberg movie in there somewhere… Anything homeless is seen as a threat and the protest of the parents is possibly a metaphor of nationalism against foreigners and this xenophobia must be reacted automatically through a knee-jerk reaction.
“What does it intend to do?” is perhaps a foregone conclusion to those who have seen the movie over and over again. One key to The Space Children is the acceptance or rejection of another human or even an animal/alien living at close quarters despite their differences in a world which is split into fragments of neighbouring nations after the Biblically reported destruction of the Tower of Babel left us all speak different languages… People don’t care about their own family if they get too close, let alone their neighbour both in terms of people and nations and that seed of xenophobia starts within the home and those who live next door. It’s possibly the end of the world as we know it as the community ignores and instead abuses its children! Then breaks their will and then their hearts…
“We have to keep it safe and warm until tonight…” says Bud, and it seems like there’s a time machine element as his character is named after another beer, or a Budweiser, as opposed to a Heineken. Is there a conspiracy there or something to unite all men who slurp the amber fluid? Let’s get all the world leaders drunk in one room and maybe the world would be a happier place!
“I don’t think you’ll understand” Bud tells his mother about the creature which haunts his mind and the psychic connection he has with this creature… It is only natural that anything strange or you don’t understand should be seen as malevolent by the adults and yet Bud’s father understands there is something special about to occur when he remarks to his son: “You knew before I, didn’t you?” as he realises that Bud knew The Thunderer would be launched that very night and security and the top brass hadn’t even announced it to the scientists or minions themselves.
This future weapon, which will forever orbit the Earth like a cocked shotgun of mass destruction, is only business as usual for the superpowers and they give a press conference where they admit: “We may only be a few hours ahead of another country.” Man creates and then perpetuates his worst fears through the further creation of weapons of mass destruction, when it is only natural that, as good kids, we only wanted peace and play and for all that nonsense to go away. The children in this movie are like alien foster children in a way to a new way of thinking which separates them from the adults into a bond of peaceful existence… Yet, they too may soon be conditioned to accept the world as an on-going war between man, his nations and even between the sexes… The Cold War at the heart of this planet will not necessarily end, perhaps it is meant to simmer forever like some sort of hellish limbo. It is perhaps an inferno already without destroying it with atomic bombs.
Meanwhile, the children know there is something in the air as they eat their chocolate covered ice creams and gremlins start to happen in and around the missile base in terms of rocket fuel trucks crashing and locks mysteriously unlocking.
The Space Children was said to be one of director Jack Arnold’s favourites. The music is the mysterious sound of the Theremin which highly influences this score by Van Cleave (1910-70 heart attack while mowing the lawn) and his work can be contrasted with the piano influenced score he wrote for The Colossus of New York (1958) which was released on a double bill with The Space Children upon their debut in US cinemas. Cleave’s Theremin scores were later used on shows such as The Twilight Zone and he wrote the original fanfare which accompanied Paramount’s VistaVision widescreen logo. The Theremin, of course, had a starring role on the soundtrack of It Came from Outer Space…
The original story was said to be based on something called The Egg by Tom Filer (1925-2013) who used to supplement his income to continue writing by crayfishing. The screenplay based on Filer’s story was written by Bernard C. Schoenfeld (1907-90). It should be noted that Schoenfeld wrote The Twilight Zone episode entitled From Agnes – With Love starring Wally Cox (1924-73 heart attack from coronary occlusion) as a sexually inexperienced computer technician who helps keep a super computer he’s nicknamed Agnes in working order. The computer has already driven those who don’t respect it to the brink of insanity with gremlins and Wally’s character has a wandering eye for a girl in the office but fails to see it is the computer that is the only thing that really loves him… with possible madness inducing consequences.
This episode also ponders whether a sentient super computer can become sexualised and the problems which could possibly arise… And if you put The Space Children and From Agnes together, you have the possibility that God has returned to Earth, not in human form but as some kind of alien sentient super computer intelligence! Or something like that!! Who said he has to appear as Christ?
The credit sequence at the beginning of The Space Children has the titles in a kind of boomerang or angled effect as though this film will come back to haunt you again and again, while the children’s faces are shown under the credits – first Drescher, then all the kids through to Crawford.
“Don’t daddy…. Please! Please!” says Drescher to her father played by Coogan and he’s wearing some nice board shorts… In fact, Crawford’s shorts and shirt look great too in terms of their patterns even though this movie is in black and white. But this is all cosmetic… but it will resonate with those brought up in coastal towns and seaside trailer or caravan parks as bodysurfer children… as well as those who were brought up watching the stars at night in the sky. The wonder of space is a part of the ongoing innocence within ourselves and this movie.
I remember as a kid, at the peak of President Ronald Reagan’s Cold War with Russia, my younger sister would go into her bedroom and cry in hope they wouldn’t drop the bomb. I’d joke with friends that if they ever did drop the bomb all that would happen would be that the sky would erupt with flowers which would shower us from the sky. I said that with a touch of cynicism – I had never seen or heard of The Space Children – as it was a faux hippie type of dismissal of something which I couldn’t do anything about and would destroy me in an instant if it did happen anyway… So, why worry?
In today’s world of The Invisible Man (2020) type touted technology, or the possibility of an invisible alien or angel living with you at close quarters… and The Space Children shakes the foundations of secret intelligence and the adult establishment with a new concept of “a spy in our midst” or “some force still unknown to man”.
Ultimately, it is the general or the professor who says: “We’re in the power of the children” and it could be the scriptwriter speaking as The Space Children is a movie which was perhaps seen as comfort for the generation of kids who practised how to brace for an on-coming nuclear blast as a part of their weekly school curriculum. It also reassures them, just like Spielberg, that not all aliens from outer space kill you.
And we are also under the power of children in that our respect for their future keeps this planet for erupting into all-out war and self-destruction. Remember Adolf Hitler had not children and so he pushed the button so to speak… We protect children from what is the reality of bullying autocratic states and so-called statesmen in a world where murder and strife and poverty still plagues us at every turn of the news channel.
“Is there no man on Earth who has the wisdom and innocence of a child?” the professor played by Bailey pleads with the gelatine mass which has grown so big it will only fit in the cave where it remains hidden along with its motive on Earth. The professor seems to have a bad case of crocodile tears as the countdown for The Thunderer launch continues… And so, the monstrosity reveals its plan, when upon the launch of The Thunderer, this rocket self-destructs on the launching pad.
Has this event already happened, or will it happen in the future, as it is revealed that all around the world in several locations the same thing has happened in unison to similarly planned weapons of mass destruction? Did aliens leave the dead sea scrolls? And the works of Shakespeare? Just kidding. Or am I? Has this occurrence been hushed up like Roswell? Or was the alien in The Space Children just a manifestation of paranoia in one child which was contagious? Or was there no alien at all and the rocket was just sabotaged by children of all ages who dared to dream there was a way to stop weapons such as The Thunderer from taking away our future?
“Don’t come any closer,” says Bud as the children protect the opening of the cave from the corrupt group of adults that edge themselves nearer like some sort of posse to destroy the alien creature for destroying The Thunderer.
“Why are you siding with it against us? We’re your parents, we love you!” is Bud’s mother’s shrill cry as well as question or denial that it is not some equal or benevolent God. Come home and let your father murder you! It’s far beyond just voices in his head by now!
When the adults go in for the kill, the kids stand firm together in unison and they are in a boomerang or phalanx type formation. The Space Children then put their arms out as if signifying the peace sign, each one a protester of the present and the future against more killing… it is then the alien comes forth from the cave and ascends into the heavens on an early morning sunbeam or a late-night moonbeam… or God’s very own heavenly wings! It could even be that the creature itself is a futuristic planet-hopping spaceship.
“Why did it destroy The Thunderer” asks a seemingly clueless colonel of Bud who tells him: “It had to… the world wasn’t ready to do it… The children all over the world. They did what we did in every country.” And so, all over the world there is a “second chance” as the hydrogen bombs which would possibly crowd the skies were briefly stopped… So, it departs just like it arrived and we are reminded of the ending of It Came from Outer Space with the Earth left pondering its future… At least it is a less selfish one in The Space Children.
Then there’s a good quote from the Bible: “Verily, I say unto you… except ye become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
Perhaps this quote hints that the alien was heaven sent and only those not irreversibly corrupted and evil may be the vessels which can help communicate its meaning to those who don’t or don’t want to respond to its good intentions, as it drops in kind of Christ-like – God movies/moves in mysterious ways – from that place called space. World without end…
This early entry in the space race and nuclear war genre tells us we are all Space Children at heart, who dreamed not only of astronauts but also transcending the confines of the adult world as we seemed to already know instinctively about the universe and God itself as a part of it. This is the ingeniousness of The Space Children as we hope something which we will not recognise will come and save us yet again and still from the predicament ‘adults’ have put themselves in…
If there is an alien presence on Earth, maybe, as the script hints, it is God himself breaking with the conventional wisdom of the closed-minded adult and not appearing in human form… as it promises to the open minded ‘child’ within that heaven on Earth is still possible if they get their chance … and that the planet will get by with a little help from its friends. It almost makes you want to believe in the recorded miracles of that urban legend named Jesus Christ!