Director – Jack Arnold, Screenplay – Bernard C. Schoenfeld, Story – Tom Filer, Producer – William Alland, Photography (b&w) – Ernest Laszlo, Music – Van Cleave, Photographic Effects – John P. Fulton, Process Photography – Farciot Edouard, Makeup – Wally Westmore, Art Direction – Roland Anderson & Hal Pereira. Production Company – William Alland Productions/Paramount.
Adam Williams (Dave Brewster), Michel Ray (Bud Brewster), Raymond Bailey (Dr Wahrman), Peggy Webber (Anne Brewster), Johnny Crawford (Ken Brewster), Sandy Descher (Eadie Johnson), Jackie Coogan (Hank Johnson), Richard Shannon (Lieutenant-Colonel Manley), John Washbrook (Tim Gamble), Russell D. Johnson (Joe Gamble)
Electronics engineer Dave Brewster and his family move to an Air Force base on the California coast so that Dave can work on ICBMs. He is assigned to work on The Thunderer, a rocket that will place an H-bomb warhead into orbit from where the military can fire it down on any target they choose. Dave’s two sons and the children of the other stationed scientists are drawn to a cave on the beach. In the cave, the children discover a glowing extraterrestrial blob that grants them special powers. As Dave tries to understand what is happening, he realises that the alien is intending to sabotage the launch of The Thunderer.
Jack Arnold was the foremost director among the 1950s Golden Age of Science-Fiction. Arnold first appeared with It Came from Outer Space (1953) and went onto classics like The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), Revenge of the Creature (1955), Tarantula (1955) and The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957). Arnold’s works always stood head and shoulders above the B films of his contemporaries and contained a superb sense of atmosphere and place. In particular, Arnold’s films of the 1950s have a haunting sense running through them of man allegorically alienated amidst the landscapes of the Earth. The Space Children was Arnold’s last worthwhile venture into science-fiction. He subsequently made Monster on the Campus (1958) but even the most ardent fan of Arnold’s work is hard-pressed to defend that.
The Space Children is a modestly enjoyable, if minor entry from Arnold. It is certainly the most overlooked films in Jack Arnold’s oeuvre and in recent years has attained an unjustified bad reputation – even being screened on Mystery Science Theater 3000 (1988-99, 2017-8). In most regards, The Space Children is a perfect little 1950s B-picture. For all that it attempts, the film achieves it with modesty. The performances from the kids, which include a young Jackie Coogan among their number, are not too bad.
The Space Children is not another Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) or even Arnold’s own It Came from Outer Space in terms of paranoia – perhaps the idea of possessed children and the violation of traditional family had more chill impact back then. Some of this is also due to Arnold’s prosaic handling – rather than dealing with the horror of takeover, Arnold gives us scenes down at the level of the blob killing a drunken father as he attempts to beat one of the children. The story descends into much running around between the beach and the missile base.
Nevertheless, Arnold creates moments of undeniably eerie atmosphere with the children entering into the cave. Once again, Arnold uses desert locations with haunting effect – “all this ocean and sand,” Mikel Ray says at one point, “it seems like another world” – a line that could sum up the recurrent theme that runs through the body of Jack Arnold’s work.
As with It Came from Outer Space, Arnold liked to subvert expectations of the alien threat – the alien is not a malevolent invader but is eventually shown – akin to Michael Rennie in The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) – to have come to hold humanity back from its more warlike tendencies. For a work of 1950s science-fiction, The Space Children is unusually optimistic, sitting as it does astride Cold War anxiety while holding an unusually determined pacifist position.