DATELINE: 1958 Gem
Playing brothers: Johnny Crawford & Michel Ray
One of the great under-appreciated directors of the 1950s is largely forgotten now, Jack Arnold. Among his best known films are Creature from the Black Lagoon, It Came from Outer Space, The Incredible Shrinking Man and No Name on the Bullet. He transcended genre.
In 1958 he tried another science fiction flick that didn’t quite win the cult following of his earlier movies. That was his interesting examination of a space alien that puts mind control on kids in The Space Children.
Mind you: this was way before sweet E.T. and monstrous Children of the Damned took over the minds of juveniles.
It helped that Arnold was fearless with child actors. He simply found the best and let them play it. In this case he used Johnny Crawford, before the Rifleman, and Michel Ray, before Lawrence of Arabia. As brothers, they are as good as the Hardy Boys.
He also cast some of the well-known character actors of the era: Raymond Bailey (of Beverly Hillbillies), Jackie Coogan (of Addams Family), and Russell Johnson (of Gilligan’s Island), as his adult problems for the kids.
Michel Ray is particularly effective with eyes that seem to presage Nick Hoult 60 years later. It’s Ray who has the ray-beam power to paralyze adults, through his alien host.
These kids are children of rocket scientists—and their mission is to sabotage their fathers’ prototype Star Wars missile program. Yes, this movie is a tad ahead of its time.
The film is subtle and not given over to the histrionics we have come to expect from puerile space movies.
Perhaps the title misled audiences: this was clearly a movie for adults to ponder, not to titillate the popcorn set.
This lost gem can be streamed on your viewing device and clocks in at 68 minutes: it’s a dreamy entertainment.