“Thru the Time Barrier, 552 years Ahead… Roaring To the Far Reaches of Titanic Terror, Crash-Landing Into the Nightmare Future!” … and as Daffy Duck says, “And it’s good, too!” Allied Artists sends CinemaScope and Technicolor on a far-out timewarp to a place where the men are silly and the women are… very female. Hugh Marlowe stars but the picture belongs to hunky Rod Taylor and leggy Nancy Gates.
World Without End
Warner Archive Collection
1956 / Color / 2:35 widescreen / 80 min. / Street Date March 28, 2017 / available through the WBshop / 21.99
Starring: Hugh Marlowe, Nancy Gates, Nelson Leigh, Rod Taylor, Shawn Smith, Lisa Montell, Christopher Dark, Booth Colman, Everett Glass.
Cinematography: Ellsworth Fredericks
Makeup: Emile LaVigne
Art Direction: Dave Milton
Film Editor: Eda Warren
Original Music: Leith Stevens
Produced by Richard V. Heermance
Written and Directed by Edward Bernds
“CinemaScope’s first science-fiction thriller.”
First, huh? What about MGM’s CinemaScope attraction Forbidden Planet, which seems to have beaten World Without End into theaters by a couple of weeks? And what about 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea?, another CinemaScope picture released over a year earlier? I guess the publicity flacks decided that Walt Disney’s film was a ‘literary adaptation,’ not science fiction.
World Without End’s Technicolor and ‘scope definitely raises it above the norm for sci-fi in 1956, a genre already being overrun by enterprising no-budget wonders by the likes of Herman Cohen, Roger Corman and Dan & Jack Milner. As the late Bill Warren pointed out, World Without End is in part an unauthorized reworking of an H.G. Wells classic, and I’ll get into the gossip of who copied who a little later into this discussion. But the movie also shares some special traits with 1955’s This Island Earth: its poetic title and interesting designs reflect the exciting, imaginative sci-fi pocketbook covers of the day. Allied Artists’ glorious posters go even further in appealing to fans of speculative space operas — a woman is menaced by a hairy savage, and a soldier with a ray gun appears to be blasting a group of people with blinding fire. A second poster style (below ↓) uses impressive abstract artwork to express the movie’s futuristic, time-warping theme.
Writer-director Edward Bernds’ screenplay isn’t all that imaginative, but it does have everything needed to thrill the weekend matinee- goers of 1956. It’s set just one year into a very optimistic future, when a space ship has been dispatched to circle the planet Mars. Explorers John Borden, Eldon Galbraithe, Herbert Ellis and Hank Jaffe (Hugh Marlowe, Nelson Leigh, Rod Taylor & Christopher Dark) undergo a freak acceleration on their trip home, and are catapulted through a dimensional portal. They awaken with their ship crashed but intact on a snowy peak. After a long hike it is determined that they have returned to Earth, but centuries into the future: it is now the year 2508 A.D. Mankind at first appears to be extinct, and their first encounter is a tangle with a monster spider in a cave.
The four eventually learn that civilization collapsed after an atomic apocalypse. Deformed ‘Mutates’ rule the earth’s surface while a dwindling population of cowardly men and oversexed women subsists in a cozy underground city. Smiling babe Elaine (Shawn Smith of The Land Unknown and It! The Terror from Beyond Space), the meek serving girl Deena (Polish beauty Lisa Montell) and the highborn Garnet (Nancy Gates) are bored by the sexless local males, such as the politically malevolent Mories (Booth Colman). They take an instant shine to the manly astronauts from the past. Our enterprising heroes propose to re-conquer the surface world above, but the jealous Mories connives against them, convincing the limp, defeatist council leader Timid Timmek (Everett Glass) that the astronauts just want to refresh humanity’s penchant for irresponsible violence. As insurance, the sniveling Mories also frames the newcomers for a murder, in a bid to see them banished to certain death above.
What’s the worst problem in a society under threat from without? Why, anemic, wishy-washy pacifists, of course.
World Without End is a real oddity. It was written and directed by jack-of-all trades journeyman Edward Bernds, a veteran of the B-picture industry. As that market imploded he fanned out into westerns, Sci-fi, teen exploitation and Three Stooges features. Bernds’ movie restages H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine in a rocket ship, but the screen time is mostly spent within colorful but skimpy interior sets. The main exterior location is the Iverson Ranch in the NW corner of the San Fernando Valley, turf previously covered a million times in Westerns and serials. When we see the characteristic large boulder formations, the astronauts ought to be asking, “Isn’t this where Roy Rogers saved the stagecoach?”
An opening view of a long corridor with triangular arches promises much (top image ↑), but the exotic future society on view isn’t much different from cardboard lost kingdoms in adventure tales, from the Arabian Knights to Tarzan movies. Bernds’ script also leans heavily on the ‘space babe’ notion established in Abbott and Costello Go to Mars and Cat-Women of the Moon, and perpetuated in groaners like Fire Maidens of Outer Space. Bernds is on record as complaining that he was given few resources beyond color film stock and anamorphic lenses, and that he researched Einstein to get his time-warp concept down pat. That doesn’t explain how the spaceship got back to Earth from Mars orbit. Any hope for scientific precision is dissipated as soon as we see the ship’s velocity meter — with a twisted indicator arrow to show that it has been pushed ‘off the scale.’
Unbilled supervisor Walter Mirisch was winding up his successful Allied Artists Bomba, the Jungle Boy series. By 1955 he was acting as an executive producer for almost all AA pictures, with the added mission to steer the studio in a more up-market direction. The same year’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, produced at AA by the prestigious Walter Wanger, is a real achiever in this regard; Mirisch had been instrumental in hiring Wanger when he was just coming out of prison, and unable to find a job elsewhere. A couple of years earlier Mirisch had been forced to economize by printing some movies in Cinecolor. But he also took a bold risk with a 3-D movie, The Maze.
Mirisch convinced the studio to shell out for Technicolor and CinemaScope, but World Without End is still a fairly modest Sci-fi thriller, almost as thin as Mirisch’s own Flight to Mars made five years before. In both movies astronauts find a strange civilization living underground, and the architecture of both buried cities favors similar modular plywood triangle designs. The first movie’s spaceship shots are re-used for the scenes in Mars orbit and the crash into a snowy mountain. Allied Artists would use the same footage one more time for their 1958 Zsa Zsa Gabor movie Queen of Outer Space. That space babe opus also re-purposes World’s rubber spider monster prop.
Both Flight to Mars and World without End bog down somewhat in weak court intrigues, but the second picture is offset by some amusing boy-girl sparks. Hugh Marlowe immediately hits it off with comely Nancy Gates, one of the most talented and attractive supporting actresses of the 1950s: Comanche Station, Some Came Running. Ms. Gates parades a stunning pair of legs in cutesy-pie miniskirt outfits designed by the famous pin-up artist Alberto Vargas (below ↓). Shawn Smith beams happily at the sight of Rod Taylor’s bare chest, and dark-haired Lisa Montell, playing a former slave girl of the Mutates, falls hopelessly in love with him as well. The rugged Taylor would play The Time Traveler in George Pal’s version of H.G. Wells’ original; we wonder if Taylor’s bright attitude in this show won him bigger roles in Giant and Raintree County. This is a genuine Salad Day movie for the actor from Australia.
The professor Nelson Leigh can be best appreciated as the ‘star’ of now-campy civil defense shorts treating atomic war as an inconvenience; he’s the guy in a clip in The Atomic Cafe who, after a bomb has hit, calmly tells his family to clean up the broken glass and keep listening to the radio for Civil Defense bulletins. Leigh’s professor stays on the sidelines instead of promoting some female companionship, as does Christopher Dark’s fourth astronaut Hank Jaffe. Hank has a pretty good excuse, as he’s gloomy over the loss of his family, left behind 500 years in the past. His buddies eventually adopt an, ‘Ahh, Hank will get over it’ attitude to this cosmic dilemma. The screenplay shows us Hank’s wife and kids waiting back in a general’s office, which sets us up emotionally for a reunion that never happens. The transition to this extraneous scene is a little awkward — it makes sense that the movie can cut to parallel action back on Earth, but this transition also bridges five hundred years.
The monster quotient in this show is better than acceptable. As it turns out, not all the surface-dwellers have grossly distorted facial features. The Mutates are an evil minority that have enslaved the normal, healthy primitives. The bizarre and disturbing Mutate make-ups designed by Emile LaVigne feature bulging eyes and rearranged facial features, but they are seen almost exclusively in wide shots. The MPAA could have warned Allied Artists away from horror close-ups, but it’s more likely that Bernds’ standoffish style and the use of CinemaScope lenses kept the camera further back. The movie hasn’t many single close-ups, even on the leading players. Sci-Fi chronicler Bill Bill Warren seemed fascinated by the Mutates. He wrote that one has a row of eyes running down the side of its face, but I haven’t spotted it yet.
Warren’s Keep Watching the Skies! is the first place where most of us learned of World Without End’s status as a thematic inversion of the classic novel The Time Machine. This version’s monstrous Morlock substitutes enjoy the sunshine while the effete Eloi hide in caves. H.G. Wells’ tale has an anti-war, humanistic message, whereas Bernds’ screenplay alters the formula to celebrate the macho territorial imperative. Our gutsy astronauts’ main impetus is to promote the aggressive stance of 1950s America. They express their eagerness to smite the ugly-mug Mutates, and hasten to teach the pacifist pansies of the 25th century how to get out there and kick ass.
To reestablish humanity topside and get us back in the real estate game, the four spacemen eventually fabricate a bazooka to serve as a ‘bigger stick’ while hunting Mutates. This cues the film’s action scenes, which amounts to tame hiking and rock- hopping amid fairly ordinary surroundings. Hugh Marlowe’s leader eventually calls out the Mutate head honcho ‘Gnaga’ for an old-fashioned knife fight. Getting the patriarchy back in control, with weapons in their hands, is the cure for all that ails mankind. For a finale, the conquerors smile at the spectacle of the kindergartners’ new playtime game: fighting in the dirt like savages. The overall message? We coddled Americans need to get tough and fight, if we want to keep our place in the sun.
Some sources say Author Tom Weaver confirms that Sam Peckinpah was a dialogue director on this picture, as he was for Invasion of the Body Snatchers. He frequently mentioned his input on the Don Siegel movie, but not this one. World Without End may not be a classic, but it could very well have been influential — it’s essentially the same story as Pierre Boulle’s Planet of the Apes but with Mutates instead of monkeys.
The Warner Archive Collection Blu-ray of World Without End is not a title we Sci-fi fans would have expected on HD at all, and is therefore a pleasant surprise. The pristine elements and fine HD scan may have had something to do with the decision, for the once hard-to-see Allied Artists picture looks immaculate, with strong colors. The opening shot is a high-quality widescreen view of an atomic explosion that reminds us of the first shot of Lawrence Woolsey’s “Mant!” in the nostalgic feature Matinee. Just how many ’50s sci-fi pictures opened with stock footage of atom blasts?
The added resolution of Blu-ray helps us to see those Mutate make-ups and masks more closely. The crystal-clear DTS-HD mono audio aids in our appreciation of Leith Stevens’ music score.
When I first reviewed a World Without End DVD on a 2008 double bill with Satellite in the Sky, I got immediate feedback from director Joe Dante. The show was clearly a formative childhood experience for him back in 1956 New Jersey:
Hey, I love ‘World Without End!’ I stayed to see it twice on a Sunday afternoon double bill with ‘Abbott & Costello Meet The Mummy,’ and when I got home my parents had called the police. If I could go back and relive one afternoon at the movies, it’d probably be that one. Let that be a reminder to all of us — if someone waxes enthusiastic about a movie first seen at age ten, believe them — they’re telling the truth.
The film’s futuristic Vargas- designed costumes aren’t quite this provocative.
World Without End
Movie: Good + / –
Deaf and Hearing Impaired Friendly? YES; Subtitles: English (feature only)
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: March 12, 2017
Text © Copyright 2017 Glenn Erickson