An intelligent underrated low budget science fiction film with a strong message
Produced by William Alland
Screenplay by Bernard C. Schoenfeld
Story by Tom Filer & based on The Egg by Tom Filer
Music by Van Cleave
Cinematography: Ernest Laszlo
Edited by Terry O. Morse
Production company: Paramount Pictures, William Alland Productions
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Running time: 69 minutes
Adam Williams: Dave Brewster
Peggy Webber: Anne Brewster
Johnny Washbrook: Tim Gamble
Jackie Coogan: Hank Johnson
Richard Shannon: Lieutenant Colonel Alan Manley
Raymond Bailey: Dr. Wahrman
Sandy Descher: Eadie Johnson
Larry Pennell: Major Thomas
Peter Baldwin: Security Officer James
Ty Hardin: Sentry
Russell Johnson: Joe Gamble
David Bair: Saul Wahrman
Johnny Crawford: Ken Brewster
Eilene Janssen: Phyllis Manley
A father takes up new job at a top-secret Air Force base in California.
A family apprehensive about this sudden upheaval in their lives.
What’s this - a strange light in the sky aimed at the beach?
Strange powerful telepathic communications from an unknown source!
An alien presence in the form of a growing brain within the cave near the beach!
A missile project, designed to place a hydrogen bomb in orbit, capable of being used on any target in the event the United States is threatened!
Children being used to persuade parents of the danger posed by the project!
Will the parents be prepared to listen?
What will the alien brain do if the children’s appeals are ignored?
“Is it much further?”
A station wagon races along a deserted road near the beach along the California coast. Inside the car we have electronics expert Dave Brewster, his wife Anne and their two sons, Bud and Ken. It’s apparent from each family member’s demeanor that they've been driving for hours since leaving San Francisco for the military base where Dave has been transferred to continue his company's work on “The Thunderer” --a six stage intercontinental missile at the Eagle Point Missile Project.
“Hey, Mom, listen” - “Listen to what?”
“Dad, don't you hear it?” - “Hear what, son?”
Anne appears to be apprehensive about the move when she ominously declares, “I feel as if I were in another world.” Suddenly the boys hear a strange sound and then see a peculiar beam of light slashing a luminous path from high in the sky and down to the ground. At that moment the car stalls and then just as suddenly starts back up again. Notice that it is the children who perceive the unusual phenomena while the parents seem to be oblivious with Dave resorting to a reassuring ‘rational’ explanation, “It's just a jet, Bud.” Too blind to see, too deaf to hear.
“Try to make the best of it.”
After checking in at the guard post the Brewster family is directed to their new home, a trailer. It appears that all the contractor families’ residences are trailers. Ah, no expense spared by the government for its employees! Dave and Anne move their belongings into trailer Unit 3 while the kids head off to explore the beach.
Anne is particularly disconcerted and disillusioned about their new abode with the prospect of “living on the beach,” of having sand drifting in and ruining everything and having to leave friends and family in San Francisco. Dave tries to placate his wife by telling her that it’s only temporary and that he’s too tired to discuss it having “driven over 500 miles today.”
“It's much more complicated than just an intercontinental missile.”
Dave is merely a cog keeping the accepted world view wheel turning. For Dave, the missile project has “gotta do a job better than theirs so if they start anything...” Here we have the kind of security-oriented mindset imposed on the world by the Power Elite which has given us concepts such as ‘mutually assured destruction’ and ensured the diversion of valuable human, financial and material resources toward insane military projects of mass destruction.
“It's the feeling of living so close to the end of the world.”
“First that thing in the sky and now this place.”
“It's the biggest one in the world! It's a six-stage rocket. It takes a satellite with a hydrogen warhead and the satellite will be hundreds of miles up in the air, and when it gets above any city you want all you gotta do is press a button and bang!”
“With pinpoint accuracy...”
“Send a satellite equipped with a hydrogen warhead into the ocean of space, where for years, if you wish, it can circle on a path known only to us. A satellite containing the means to bring retaliation by the pressing of a button.”
Yes, well some might say we certainly can be “proud” since over the last sixty years reality has caught up with fiction in terms of nuclear warfare capabilities. Despite treaties and international agreements to the contrary, it is also probably only a matter of time before such capabilities are extended into “the ocean of space” to become another accepted and normalized theatre of war.
Meanwhile back at the briefing the lights and power suddenly go off. When it is restored, Col. Manley remarks somewhat ironically, “it's nice to know we're no longer in the dark.” It appears that the strange object is responsible for the power outage and resumption at the briefing.
“The sky looks so innocent”
“Plenty more where these came from”
A perfectly reasonable question to ask and all that can be offered by way of answer is the logical conclusion or outcome of such an insane state of affairs – to trust and have faith in such destructive technology (”The Thunderer is to prevent war”) to strike pre-emptively (“And what are we waiting for?”) and risk blowing ourselves off the planet!
These days we often hear the old chestnut offered to us from the Power Elite that the presence of nuclear weapons has prevented the occurrence of another world war for the last 60 or 70 years. Gosh, I feel safer already! Just as safe as when I hear that ‘guns don’t kill people, people kill people!’ More nukes and more guns for a safer world! The lunatics are indeed in charge…..
“I think I had too many hot dogs, Daddy.”
“If I were that kid's real father”
“Dad, you've gotta believe me!”
“Believe what? Some crazy story you made up for an excuse!”
At this point we could assume that the film will follow the old Cold War line of young minds being brainwashed and influenced by evil Commie bastards with their alien notions and desire to take over the world. If only people would listen and believe the truth that’s in front of them!!! But wait – maybe there’s more to it!
Notice that Anne is worried about the kids being out till 9 o’clock! Noticed too how much the kids are allowed to roam around freely. It was a different world back then when kids could go off and play by themselves and explore without being tracked by apps or ferried off to organized activities by helicopter parents. On holidays my own mum would tell me to go off and play after breakfast when I would disappear all day with some neighbourhood friends and magically re-appear for dinner followed by time in front of the only screen in the house– the TV screen.
“I'll break your neck!
Come back here, you!
Come back here!
I'll teach you to run away from me!”
The boys lead Dave back to the beach, accompanied by young Eadie. Tim spots them and tries to sneak out of the trailer to join them but an inebriated Joe catches him in the act. Tim manages to escape, but Joe pursues him and eventually nabs the young absconder. Before Joe can lay a finger on Tim he is prevented by the power of the alien blob. When Joe recovers he has no option but to return to the trailer with his tail between his legs. Dave picks up the alien blob and conceals it inside his jacket before returning to the trailer park.
When Tim arrives back at the trailer he discovers Joe, sitting upright in a chair - dead. Peg then enters and sees Joe and eventually the fact of Joe’s death reaches Hank who has been demanding to know what had been going on.
At the Brewsters’ trailer Anne expresses her horror toward the presence of the blob creature: “I don't want this thing here. Take it back. Get rid of it, do you understand? Get rid of it this minute!”
“Why did it come here?”
The next morning, Anne and Dave demand answers from the boys about the alien blob: “What is this thing that's come into our lives? ….. What does it intend to do? What have you kids got to do with it?.....” All they get in reply to their answers is the response that they would not understand. This is the kind of response one might expect coming from an adult when confronted with a tricky question from a child!
The phone rings and Dave is informed by the major that the The Thunderer will launch that night. He then follows the boys who are carrying the alien creature over the embankment and back to the cave. Dave informs the boys about the missile launch but quickly realizes they knew all along (“You knew before I did, didn't you?”) and that it was the creature that told them.
“A matter for security.”
Dave’s meeting with Manley is interrupted by the colonel’s information session with the representatives of the media, “Wicks from the News, and Lloyd of the Sentinel.” Of course, they are on first name terms as if often the case with members of the Power Elite across various fields who like to rub shoulders with one another in some kind of symbiotic co-dependent relationship. Will the colonel’s mates in the media, Dan and Richard simply be conduits for the dissemination of a particular world view complete with authorized and official information and opinion?
“Will the new type of warhead be inside the satellite when it's launched?
“Yes. You see without such a specialized kind of warhead, we'd be merely launching one more satellite in space. There are already a dozen, as you know.”
“How high will the orbit be?”
“Approximately 1000 miles.”
“Can you tell us how many stages the rocket will have?”
“Yeah. Six. As it nears the orbit, the last stage will be the dropping off the nose cone.”
“Dr. Wahrman, do you believe that another country has already launched a satellite containing a warhead?”
“Well, we don't know. You see, in this race, we may be only a few hours ahead of another country.”
“What if the test is a dud?”
“Heh, we're not planning on it.”
"What if any enemy launches its own satellite with a warhead and it isn't a test?”
“Well, let us hope no country in the world would be paranoid enough to do what you suggest.”
“There are constant rumours. Not a newspaper in the country this week that hasn't had dozens of telephone calls. After all, you can understand, Colonel, years and years of cold war nerves.”
“Of course, I understand. But isn't it your job, gentlemen, to quiet rumours of that kind? “
“It isn't easy. Not when every hour is a zero hour.”
“Let us hope that the Thunderer will be launched in time to discourage anyone from attacking our country or our allies.”
The development of such technology as “The Thunderer” is seen as being part of a race – a race toward possible destruction with an enemy who may or may not but likely has developed an equivalent method of mass destruction. As the line of thinking goes, the possession of such a weapon is supposed to deter a potential enemy from launching a first strike.
Has the world view of the Power Elites in relation to such matters and our seeming acceptance of it really progressed all that much over the course of sixty years? Is it the media’s role just to quiet rumours and speculation, or should it strive to investigate, reveal, inform and encourage critical debate?
In 1962 with the Cuban Missile Crisis we came awfully close to the snapping of “Cold War nerves” and “zero hour.” Even now we can hear the clock ticking and feel the tension as opposing forces strain on the already taut elastic band that holds our world in place.
With the press conference over, Dave tells Dr. Wahrman and Col. Manley that the project is in danger. He declares his belief that “the Thunderer will never get off the ground” and that whatever they are thinking “it's beyond understanding.” Just as he is about to elaborate, Bud appears and Dave suddenly finds himself unable to speak. He is also unable to write out his warning as his hand is paralysed and then he collapses. By the time he recovers in the infirmary, Anne and the boys have come to see him.
“What's the matter?”
“There's something wrong with the steering wheel!”
“What were you doing in there
“Just playing, Daddy.”
“As you say, this may all be coincidence.”
“Like pebbles dropping one by one, ruffling the surface.”
The children by-pass a guard and enter the base by opening a locked gate. Dr. Wahrman spots them and confronts the guard about his inattentiveness. Wahrman then meets with Dave and informs him of his suspicions. For him being, “a man of science is like a deep-sea diver. He mustn't be afraid to walk down where it's dark and frightening, in the hopes of scooping up a handful of truth.” Wahrman is aware of the truth about the children and their strange powers: “But what I saw a group of children do a few minutes ago is something for which there is no name.”
In order to test a hypothesis he asks Dave, “Now, I wonder what would happen if I would try to tell someone else?” When Wahrman attempts to call someone, the phone malfunctions.
Wahrman demands to know where the alien creature is and what it looks like. Dave tells him that the creature is in the cave but that he can’t describe it. All that they can be sure of is that “it's making the children obey its every command, “that “the children are completely in its power” and that they themselves are “in the power of the children.”
“Is there no man on this Earth, who has the wisdom and innocence of a child?”
“Number 1 stage.
Primary fuel valve is locked.
Number 2 stage.
Primary fuel valve is locked.
Number 3 stage.
Primary fuel valve, locked.”
As preparations for the launch continue, the children exit the base and return to the cave. Dave and Wahrman arrive back at the base just in time for the launch.
“Sixty seconds to firing.
Standby to fire. Standby.
Ten, nine, eight, seven.
Four, three, two, one.
When the missile is launched, the warhead on the top suddenly and dramatically explodes on the pad as the children watch on from the beach.
“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew, Ch.18, v.3)
The children explain to the adults that “the children all over the world…did what we did in every country” as directed by the alien blob “because the world wasn't ready to do it.” Because of their actions, the world is having a second chance.
Points of Interest
The Space Children was producer William Alland's first picture with Paramount. The film was based on The Egg, an unpublished story by Tom Filer.
Daughter of a wildcat oil driller, Peggy Webber is the founder and executive director/producer of the California Artists Radio Theatre, She has worked with the likes of Basil Rathbone, Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, Henry Fonda, Lionel Barrymore, Kirk Douglas, Vincent Price, John Garfield, Mickey Rooney, Raymond Massey, Charles Laughton, Joseph Cotten, and Glen Ford.
We have seen Sandy Descher as the little girl who wanders out of the desert screaming in the film Them! We also know Jackie Coogan as Uncle Fester in The Adam’s Family series. And of course there’s Russell Johnson who played the Professor in the TV series, Gilligan’s Island as well as roles in It Came from Outer Space (1953) and This Island Earth (1955) and
The interior of the Brewster trailer - Unit #3 - is the set that had been built for the MGM movie The Long, Long Trailer (1954).
The alien brain was created by special effects artist Ivyl Burks using $3,300 of neon lights to create the glowing effect.
Along with The Space Children, Jack Arnold’s other classic sci-fi films include, It Came From Outer Space, Creature From The Black Lagoon, Tarantula, and The Incredible Shrinking Man, all of which are featured in this blog.
Although the film contains a strong anti-nuclear proliferation message which is still very relevant today, it also has relevance for us in terms of how generational change can come about should the current order of things show no signs of improvement. For instance, see how recent events have transpired in which many young people no longer feel safe in a society saturated with guns and violence. If they feel that the adult world isn’t ready to do it - to change the current state of affairs, then they may feel it is in their power to act by taking to the streets to voice their concerns and apply political pressure to achieve change, however that may seem to be a dangerously alien concept in the Power Elite’s world view. Perhaps there is cause for optimism if young people feel motivated enough to try and “make this world a better place. A world where…. Children…. can live in peace instead of fear.”
©Chris Christopoulos 2018