Two journalists, the American Mike Wilson (Paul Douglas) and the British Howard Meade (Leslie Phillips), are travelling to Salzburg by train, but while Howard is enjoying the scenery, Mike is impatient with the length of time the journey is taking, and filling the time by playing chess is not improving his temper. What they don't know is that their carriage, the one at the end, has broken away and rolling on its own; thanks to a couple of boys fixing the points, it goes into a disused track and through the border of totalitarian Gudavia, where there are dodgy dealings afoot...
The Gamma People was in many ways a silly little film, something the script and performances seemed to acknowledge in that they never settled on the tone they were aiming for, not able to make up their mind if it was a comedy or something more serious. It arrived just on the cusp of Hammer Horror, and shared some of the concerns that style would adopt, most notably the Eastern European setting and the isolated community labouring under the unspeakable evil plotting that informed many of the chillers that would be made by that studio, yet in other ways it was more like the dramatisation of a contemporary radio serial.
At this time Hammer were making their Quatermass adaptations, and this film was not really like those while not being much like the type of science fiction emerging from the United States during this decade either, leaving it not fitting an easy categorisation. What it most resembled perhaps was one of the spy thrillers that would happen along in the next decade, although that was not to say that James Bond drew all his big ideas from this little item, as our heroes, the burly Douglas and the frightfully posh Phillips, were far removed from many of the suave, two-fisted leading men who tended to populate those movies.
Although if they had been combined into one character, maybe the resemblance would have been more marked. This double act is actually quite winning for its very eccentricity, and offers what could have been a dutiful plod through the territory a spark of life as you cannot imagine what could possibly have drawn these two together, chalk and cheese as they are. Presumably they were intended to represent their countries of origin in the face of the new Communist threat, for there is an element of propaganda here, with the Reds apparently interchangeable with the Nazis of around ten years before, and the citizens of Gudavia needing to be liberated from oppression.
Needless to say, those citizens dress like something out of a Jeanette MacDonald operetta, with the regulation lederhosen for the men, so Gudavia could be anywhere between Switzerland and East Germany. They are ruled with an iron fist by a mad scientist, Boronski (Walter Rilla), who is able to keep them all in line due to there evidently being only one town in the whole, tiny nation, that and the fact that he has an army of goons created with his gamma ray experiments. Those tests also create geniuses such as the little girl who can play piano at prodigy level, and her counterpart, a little Hitler Youth brat who presents problems to our heroes. The sci-fi aspects are stronger than you might expect from the first half, which is mainly goofy mixed with sinister totalitarian regime business, but once Boronski makes his presence felt you have a not bad adventure yarn. Though really The Gamma People was an awkward, transitional effort. Music by George Melachrino.