The Space Children (1958)
Hi, everybody, itís Pam, back with another movie thatís actually pretty good, for a change. Nate told me that Paramount had recently released some of its movies from its vault, and they were posted on Youtube. I looked them over to see if there was anything interesting. A few of the movies were science fiction, and one title caught my eye: The Space Children. I checked it out, and here is the review.
I guess in order to reassure us that the title isnít misleading, the movie opens with shots of several children peering into star-filled skies, but the real action begins with a shot of a late-1950s station wagon driving along a road that runs by a beach. The carís interior shows a family made up of a man, a woman, and two boys, one about 12 years old (Bud) and the other about 9 or 10 (Ken). There seems to be a little dissention between the parents. The mother isnít the glamorous type: sheís plain, her hairís scraped back tightly, there are frown lines between her eyebrows, and she speaks rather sharply to her husband, who of course is the one doing the driving, when she asks if he has enough gas. Oh, no, wasnít it illegal in the 1950s for a wife to be snippy with her husband? Further conversation suggests that the family is moving to someplace new and the wife isnít too happy about it.
Probably no air conditioning, either.
Spooky background music begins playing, which isnít unexpected in a science fiction movie. Whatís odd, though, is that Iím not the only one who hears it. The boys do, too. Not only that, the boys see a strange ray of light in the sky. Their parents are too busy bickering to notice anything.
Ken (L) and Bud (R).
As the drive progresses, we learn that the man is Dave Brewster, and heís some sort of scientist or engineer. He and his family are driving to his new job, which involves work being done on a missile site. Mrs. Brewster is even less pleased with her new home when she finds their living quarters consist of a trailer parked on the beach, which really doesnít seem like a very good place to live because, as Mrs. Brewster points out, sand is going to get into everything. The beach, by the way, seems to be in California. Although Mrs. Brewster does apologize to her husband for her grumpiness, so far she doesnít seem to be a very sympathetic character, but watching her really brings home to me how hard it was to be a woman in the 1950s. Either you married the first man who came along or you were stuck in a poorly-paid dead-end job, and if you did get married, you were totally dependent on your husband with little or no control over how your life went from then on.
Hopefully just temporary quarters?
More conversation between husband and wife establishes that Mr. Brewster is here to work on some kind of super-special missile, and itís very important that we develop it before the Other Side does. While Mr. and Mrs. Brewster are trying not to snap at each other, the boys, who are named Bud and Ken, are making friends with other children whose fathers are working on the project. The oldest boy tells them the object of the project is to launch a satellite with a hydrogen warhead. The satellite can be moved above any city you choose, and a simple press of a button will vaporize that city. As the movie goes on, conversations between various adults involved with the project show that most of them arenít particularly happy with the implications of having such a satellite.
I do love her short haircut.
The kids donít stay serious for very long, and they shortly break off their discussion of city annihilation with a game on the beach. Before too long, though, they spot the strange ray of light again, and this time a brighter spot of light sails down it and hits somewhere on the beach. This may or may not be the cause of the lights going out in the meeting room where Mr. Brewster, along with other newcomers to the project, is receiving a briefing from his boss, Colonel Manley. We canít hear anything but the background music, but Bud is smiling and nodding as though something is talking to him.
These kids need video games.
Later that night, the group of trailer-dwellers is all together for a wienie roast when the children hear something the adults donít and head for the beach. It appears that, although all the children hear something, Bud is the one whoís getting the detailed directions. He leads them to a glowing, pulsating egg-shaped object, probably the thing we saw coming down the beam of light earlier. Based on what the children say, the object confirms that Bud is the leader. Not all of the children are happy to see the object. The oldest child, a boy a couple of years older than Bud, picks up a big rock and tries to smash the object, which is when we learn the object has some ability to protect itself. The rock shatters in the boyís hand before he can hit the object with it, and he finds he canít move. Bud releases him, and the boy, along with the rest of the children, evidently feel the path of wisdom is to do whatever Bud says.
He has the Shining now.
Theyíre probably right. Bud and Ken get home late, and when they try to tell their parents what they found, their father yells at them and calls them liars. Mr. Brewster grabs Bud by one of his arms, only to find he now canít move. Bud then tells his parents to sit down and listen to him, and they do without saying a word. Tell me Bud isnít a Kenny, I canít stand it when children order all the adults around.
Any kid can be a Kenny if they believe in themselves.
Bud, Ken, and the other children seem to have received orders to show Mr. Brewster something, and they proceed to the beach, trailed by Tim, the oldest boy, and Timís drunken stepfather, whoís shouting threats at Tim. (Timís stepfather is played by Russell Johnson.) The glowing object may in fact be benevolent, because when Timís stepfather catches up to Tim and threatens him with a heavy tree branch, the object emits a flash of light and a crackling sound, sending Timís stepfather running away. Once thatís taken care of, Tim joins the others, who are presenting a bemused-looking Mr. Brewster with Ė something you canít see. I guess the movie wants to keep us in suspense.
Drunkass stepfather gets his dues.
Or maybe the glowing object isnít benevolent, because when Tim gets home, he finds his stepfather sitting in a chair, stone dead, a condition which seems to cause neither Tim nor his mother much grief. And we finally find out what Mr. Brewster found, which is a smaller version of the glowing object. He stashes the object under his bed, despite the strenuous objections of Mrs. Brewster, who has reverted to shrewdom and demands that the strange thing be removed immediately. Nobody pays any attention to her, except for Bud telling her the object wonít allow anybody to remove it.
Hiding it under the bed.
Comes the dawn, and the Brewster family is back staring at the glowing object. Mrs. Brewster is no happier with its presence than she was the night before, but Bud tells her they have to keep it safe until night. Even Bud doesnít know why, but just then Mr. Brewster gets a phone call telling him the satellite will be launched that night. HmmÖ
That thing is nothing but trouble.
While Mr. Brewster is chatting, Ken announces that they have to hide the object, who has apparently changed its mind about where it wants to be. So they pick it up and head back to the cave, with Mr. Brewster after them as soon as he hangs up the phone. Once they get there, the boys and Mr. Brewster all stare raptly at it. What is this thing and where did it come from? Why isnít Mr. Brewster reporting it to his bosses at the project?
The best monster is the one not seen.
In fact, once he gets to his office, he does try to tell Colonel Manley, but heís just getting started when he looks up and sees Bud standing there, staring at him. Bud is removed from the room pretty promptly and escorted outside, but even when heís gone, Mr. Brewster finds himself unable to speak, literally. All he can do is grunt and clutch his throat, and when he tries to write what he wants to say, he collapses.
He's had better days.
Mr. Brewster is taken to the infirmary, where he regains his ability to say at least a few words, but when he tells the doctor he has to leave so he can go to the cave, who should he look up to see but Bud, this time with Ken beside him. This time their appearance isnít so mysterious, since Mrs. Brewster comes in right after them. They leave the room when the doctor asks them to, but by this time Mr. Brewster is looking dazed and pretty well out of it.
Confessing to his doctor.
Weíll have to wait to see if Mr. Brewster finds himself able to spill the beans about the glowing object, because the next scene starts when Bud on the beach, staring at a passing truck marked ďDanger Ė Inflammable.Ē Bud is smiling and nodding, so Iím guessing the object is saying something to him. Just then, both the steering and the brakes fail, and the truck goes off the road onto the beach, where it stops, fortunately leaving the driver and his partner uninjured. Since this is 1958, nobody has a cell phone, and it seems the truck doesnít have a two-way radio. The two men are wondering what to do when Bud appears and helpfully informs them thereís a gas station with a phone about a mile away. One of the men goes there, only to find the phone isnít working. When he looks around, he sees two children standing outside the gas station, smiling and eating ice cream.
Man, these kids are creepy.
So far the glowing object and the children have had everything their own way, but now disaster almost strikes. Mr. Brewsterís neighbor, who is played by former child actor and future Uncle Fester Jackie Coogan, goes looking for his daughter, one of the gang of children that have been working with the glowing object. Sheís in the cave communing with the object, and she runs out just in time to stop her father from coming in. But he senses somethingís not right and goes in anyway, and he spots the object. It seems, though, that the object knows how to defend itself, since the man collapses, and when he revives, canít seem to remember anything, including his own daughter.
That's a really bright lamp.
By my count, the current score is one man dead, two men in bad shape, and several children who are completely dominated by the object. Is this thing supposed to be benevolent or evil? And what does it want? Also, whatever it is, itís growing pretty fast.
But all is not lost for the humans. Normally in B-movies, all the mysterious doings go unnoticed by the authorities until itís too late. Not so here. Dr. Wahrman, a scientist working on the satellite project, has read reports of the odd events and is beginning to put two and two together. (Dr. Wahrman is played by Raymond Bailey, the actor who played Mr. Drysdale in The Beverly Hillbillies.) Whatís more, heís observed that there always seem to be children around when the odd things happen. Better still, heís ignoring the B-movie tradition of keeping his observations to himself ďbecause people will think Iím crazy,Ē and is telling Colonel Manley all about what he suspects. Colonel Manley is a bit skeptical but isnít dismissing Dr. Wahrmanís observations out of hand.
He even has visual aids.
Dr. Wahrman soon gets the chance to make his own observations. Heís just getting in his car to go home when he spots the children hanging around a locked gate that leads into the area where the satellite was being built. He sees Bud effortlessly open a padlock on the gate, and he also sees that the sentry in a little building next to the gate didnít notice either the children or their entrance. A quick conversation with the sentry confirms that he indeed saw nothing, and a check of the padlock shows that itís locked.
Lots of good acting in this movie.
Further conversation with Mr. Brewster is not very helpful, although he hints to Dr. Wahrman that if he were to try to tell Dr. Wahrman anything about the object or the children, heíd lose his voice again. As an experiment, Dr. Wahrman picks up the phone and tries to call somebody to see if anything will happen to him if he tells what he suspects (although of course he did tell Colonel Manley recently and nothing happened to him then), but the phone is dead. Mr. Brewster finally manages to tell him the object is in a cave and is making the children do what it tells them to do. He also takes Dr. Wahrman to the cave, apparently with no opposition by the object.
One last chat before the cave.
Dr. Wahrman tries the direct approach and asks the object, which is now about the size of a car, what itís doing here and why itís controlling the children. The object doesnít say anything, but suddenly Dr. Wahrman decides he has to hurry back to see the satellite launched.
Hard to get a sense of scale but it's big.
The launch seems to be proceeding as scheduled, and the children are still scuttling around unobserved Ė mostly. Four of them try to get out of the gate, and they make the padlock unlock with no trouble, but this time theyíre spotted by the sentry. They play dumb, and all he does is chase them out. Wonder why their powers failed? Bud wasnít with them this time, and he and Ken are still inside. Is Bud the only one who can cloud othersí minds?
Maybe you should detain them?
Dr. Wahrman makes it back just as the launch area is being cleared for the launch, and he drives his car through the open gate the children just left by. The sentry does nothing, suggesting that security might not be quite as tight as it ought to be here. He gets to the control room just as the countdown is starting, accompanied by Mr. Brewster, who is still trailing along.
Huge cliffs that close to the beach? That's not California.
Bud and Ken had been wandering around the complex after the rest of the children had left, but now theyíre on the beach with the other children, waiting for the rocket to launch. The children are smiling. Whatís going to happen? Is the satellite going to blow up? In something of an anticlimax, nothing much happens. There's a flash of light, a loud sound, and some smoke, but when the smoke clears away, the satellite is still on the launch pad. A closer look shows that it appears to be damaged.
That's a lot of taxpayer dollars wasted.
Dr. Wahrman knows whoís to blame, and he seems to be the persuasive sort, because he, Colonel Manley, Mr. Brewster, and a bunch of soldiers arrive at the cave. Iím sorry the movie didnít show how Dr. Wahrman convinced Colonel Manley the children and the object were behind all this, because that must have been quite some conversation.
These 1950s men have seen it all.
The childrenís distraught parents also arrive on the scene in short order. Despite all the adultsí begging, the children stand in front of the cave and wonít let anybody in, but very shortly the object appears at the mouth of the cave. Itís now about the size of a bus, and it slides along with no visible means of propulsion. It could easily crush everybody, but instead it generates a flash of light, and we next see a glowing blob sliding up a column of light. Its mission obviously was over. However, Bud has a few last words, when he says that children all over the world did the same thing, and now there are no more nuclear warheads.
And away it goes.
We are now supposed to be able to live happily ever after, but I have some questions: First, how long will it take to build more warheads? Second, are those aliens planning to keep on coming back to destroy nuclear warheads as theyíre built? Third, what about chemical and biological weapons? And all the conventional weapons still left? Donít the aliens care about those? Fourth, whatís up with Bud? Heís still talking funny even after the alien left.
Yeah, these guys will just build more nukes.
I suppose in 1958, the audiences were supposed to rejoice that now war was an impossibility. Unfortunately, weíve seen in the years after 1958 that humans are still capable of having nasty wars even without nuclear weapons, so it seems the aliens were wasting their time. Personally, I think the idea that that there are aliens from outer space who can drop in and control human minds anytime they want is at least as frightening as nuclear war. Thereís no telling if a mind-controlled human can ever be normal again, and from Budís manner, it doesnít look hopeful.
Bud's going to need some therapy.
There really isnít much to snark on with this movie. It was neither too short nor too long, the actors were decent, and the plot was interesting. The one thing Iím wondering about is the main plot point, the launching of the killer satellite. Nate, is this something the United States ever actually tried to do?
Well, Pam, yes, the idea of having an atomic weapon in a geostationary orbit over your target and being able to nuke it with virtually zero warning was and is a real concept. The ability to do it is just an engineering problem and we as a species are remarkably adept at solving engineering problems. The real reason why there aren't any nukes orbiting over Moscow is that once the first such satellite is even designed, there's nothing left for the Russians to do but immediately start WWIII before they lose the ability to defend themselves. The same goes for America, of course, if the Rooskies were to render our Nuclear Deterrence moot with an orbital bomb, we'd most likely shoot first regardless of the consequences (glowing craters, mutant crocadinos, Mad Max, etc). The concept of Mutual Assured Destruction is what has kept the world safe for the last 60 years, best not to mess with that.
Need I remind you of the folly of splitting the atom?
Written in December 2016 by Pam Burda.
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