The first US time machine film from 1956 is a fun but clunky Technicolor adventure. Astronauts accidentally travel 500 years into the future, where the meek, pacifist human survivors hide from barbaric mutants in an underground civilisation. 5/10
World Without End. 1956, USA. Written & directed by Edward Bernds. Starring: Hugh Marlowe, Rod Taylor, Nancy Gates, Nelson Leigh, Shirley Patterson, Lisa Montell, Christopher Dark, Booth Colman, Everett Glass. Produced by Richard Heermance & Walter Mirisch. IMDb: 5.9/10. Rotten Tomatoes: N/A. Metacritic: N/A.
Four intrepid American astronauts in the year 1957 set off for a recognisance flight around Mars – but mid-flight they are hit by some mysterious force, which causes their rocket to accelerate through space in super-speed. Finally the team crash lands on an unidentified planet amidst icy landscapes. With their spaceship damaged, they venture out into this strange new world, having established breathable atmosphere and Earth-like gravity. Moving quickly from the Arctic surroundings to a brushy hill-scape which has a deceitful likeness to California, our four heroes have some time to further introduce themselves to the audience. We have Nelson Leigh as Dr. Galbraith, elderly egghead of the expedition, Hugh Marlowe as John Borden, the main hero and leader, Rod Taylor as Herbert Ellis, the beefcake, and Christopher Dark, the indispensable young genius who is the only family man aboard, reminding the audience of what the explorers have left behind.
During their trek they find and fight off dog-sized rubber spiders in a cave and a band of hideous-looking, humanoid cyclop barbarians. Finally they come upon a little collection of (surprisingly pristine-looking) grave monuments that are decidedly Earth-bound and decidedly American, listing dates up to the year 2188. After shaking off their initial shock, the crew deduct that when sent into their uncontrollable acceleration through space, they breached the time barrier and travelled forward in time. Putting one plus two plus three together, they come up with a theory that a devastating nuclear war has wiped out human civilisation in the year 2188, and the “mutates” they battled earlier are what remain of the human race. Plus, they are in Colorado.
But no time for mourning, as they are soon cornered by a large group of mutates, and take refuge in a cave. Turns out the cave is the entrance to an underground civilisation of “normal” human beings who have survived the nuclear holocaust but been driven underground by barbaric mutates. Here, humans live a life of pacifist peace and contemplation, devoid of physical hardships thanks to the wonderful technology of the future. However, our heroes soon realise that the utopian lifestyle with its live-and-let-live ethos and abhorrence of violence has not been without drawbacks. The men of the species have grown weak and effeminate and it is hinted that their lifestyle has had severe consequences for their ability to produce children. Those children who do exist are so weak that Ellis suspects most won’t survive into adulthood. Curiously, the women of the future seem to have not been affected at all, but are quite thrilled by the arrival of the muscular, primitive men of the past. Especially the sight of a bare-chested Ellis sends many an eyelid a-flutter. Our heroes try to convince the leader of the underground people, Timmek (Everett Glass), to return to them the guns that have been confiscated, build new weapons in their workshops and form a strike force whose mission it would be to mow its way through the barbarian horde and establish a base camp on the surface of the planet. The idea being that some fresh air, sunlight, a little warring and hard work would turn each man into “a goddamn sexual tyrannosaur”, to quote a character from another movie.
However, there’s a Wormtongue at the court in the shape of Mories (Booth Colman), who is the biggest pacifist of all, and in love with Timmek’s daughter Garnet (Nancy Gates) to boot. And he is not happy about Garnet courting hunky John Borden. In a plot to discredit the intruders he kills a man and frames the newcomers. But his plot is thwarted by Deena (Shirley Montell), one of the girls who have been eying Ellis’ pecs. Deena is in fact born on the surface, and a plot key, as she informs us that most children born to mutants are normal, but are cast out of their tribes, killed or put to slave labour. Deena has witnessed Morie’s betrayal and thus is able to save the crew from being thrown out into the cold. The four men from the past are instead hailed as the true American pioneers they are, and the future people help them build bazookas, with which they bazooka the stone-age mutates back to the … nevermind. In a flash-forward to the new future we see humans both old and new frolicking together in the sunshine, Hank teaching a school of both mutate and normal children, men hard at work putting up sheets of corrugated plate – and we know they are no longer effeminate, because they have taken off their silly shower cap hats. Humanity goes toward a bright future, now that American men have finally manned up and built bazookas.
World Without End (sometimes titled Flight to the Future) from 1956 is a perfect snapshot of the 50’s science fiction B movie. It has everything: a first mission to Mars, a wobbly, shiny rocketship, a macho American crew in surplus army fatigues, nuclear war, time travel, thinly veiled comments cold war foreign policy, praise of the American macho pioneer spirit spiced with a little misogyny, space babes in mini skirts, an underground civilisation of petty bureaucrats and radiation-scarred mutants. All shot in glorious Technicolor and CinemaScope.
The mid-50’s saw the last huzzah for the prestige science fiction movie in the US before it was consigned to B-movie status pretty much until the release of 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968. Of course, when we’re talking “prestige”, we don’t mean that they were intended as the big money-makers for their studios. In the fifties, the average budget for a Hollywood picture was around 1 million dollars. The science fiction films made in the decade that were given this kind of a budget can almost be counted on the fingers of one hand. Standouts are Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954, review) with a budget of 5 million dollars, The War of the Worlds (1953, review) with a budget of 2 million dollars and Forbidden Planet (1956, review), 2 million dollars. Still, SF movies had been making a decent profit. Universal’s 800,000 dollar “splash” This Island Earth (review) had made good on its production costs in 1955, encouraging MGM to make another costly CinemaScope EastmanColor production, Forbidden Planet, in 1956. Meanwhile, old Poverty Row studio Monogram was in the process of renewing itself after the final demise of the studio system in 1954. Monogram was the kind of studio that made 9 super-low-budget films starring Bela Lugosi between 1941 and 1944, and the studio’s average movie budget was around 90,000 dollars. With the demise of the studio system, which meant that studios were no longer allowed to run movie theatres, the road was now open for the smaller studios to compete with the majors for screenings, in theory, in all cinemas in the US. TV was also eating the low-budget studios out of the business. Studio head Walter Mirisch saw this as a chance for Monogram to compete in the big league, and in 1948 opened a new unit called Allied Artists (to mirror United Artists) and set its new standard as “B-Plus” pictures, and they made most of their films in colour. One exception was Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956, review), which Don Siegel deliberately made in black-and-white.
However, let’s make clear that World Without End was no prestige picture and no Invasion of the Body Snatchers. In fact, it seems to have partly been a way for producer Richard Heermance to re-use old props and footage from Monogram’s previous science fiction film in colour, Flight to Mars (1951, review). While filming in colour and CinemaScope was certainly not cheap, according to director Edwards Bernds, World Without End cost no more than around 400,000 dollars to make. While CinemaScope’s wide screen anamorphic lens required a little extra work from the set decorators and the lighting department, the actual technique was not very expensive, as it simply required a new kind of lens that could be fitted to normal movie cameras.
World Without End was written and directed by Edward Bernds, a Hollywood veteran and one of the few directors to have come up through the sound department. Bernds was best known for having written and directed Columbia’s later Three Stooges shorts in the forties, as well as three dozen or so feature films in different genres, mainly comedy. According an interview with Bernds in Tom Weaver’s book Return of the B Science Fiction and Horror Heroes, it was producer Heermance who sought Bernds up and asked him to write a story around a minute or so of stock footage from Flight to Mars — the wobbly space ship and its crash landing. Bernds thought it was crazy to make a 400,000 dollar picture just in order to reuse a couple of second-grade miniature shots that could be replicated for a couple of thousand, but he was happy for the opportunity to make the movie.
Bernds had no experience with science fiction, and says he “crammed” in order to get the script written. The similarities with H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine (1895) have been often noted, in fact the Wells estate even threatened to sue over plagiarism — although no-one seems to know or remembered the outcome. Certainly there are major similarities: both stories concern time travel into a future where mankind has evolved into two strands, one feeble and peaceful, the other deformed and brutal, one living underground and the other above. In Wells’ novel, the beautiful, emasculated Eloi live above ground in a sort of dazed existence of oblivious pleasure and ignorance, when in reality they are groomed and fed by the industrious underground Morlocks as livestock. Like in Bernds’ film, the time traveller needs to wake the dormant will for progress, learning and the fight for self-preservation in the “sleeping beauties”. But the setup is quite different in the movie, where the underground humans are the intellectually dominant species, who have built themselves a technological fortress underground in order to protect themselves from the barbaric “mutates”.
H.G. Wells was a socialist, and his novel was a satire on the class divide of the late Victorian era — he saw the upper classes distancing themselves more and more from “real life” and its hardships, while the working class toiled in ever worsening conditions in mines and factories. In time, satirised Wells, humanity would mutate along class divides and the upper classes would become so empty-headed that the working class would quite literally be able to “eat the rich” without the rich even realising it. Bernds’ script has nothing to do with class issues and everything to do with US foreign policy. Apparently Bernds was one of the many hawks on the right that believed that the US was taking too soft a stance on the Soviet Union and communism, and that the country needed to beef up its military and take the fight to the Commies overseas, “fight for their spot in the sun”, so to speak. The script’s averse attitude towards pacifism stems from the fact that there was a strong, global “peace movement” that opposed the arms race between the two blocs and advertised a live-and-let-live approach to the USSR. In the fifties numerous peace conferences and peace festivals were organised in Europe, most of which were financed by Kreml and local socialist and communist parties. This led to a demonising of pacifism and peace movements in the West, even when they had no connection to communism or the Soviet Union. In essence, World Without End is a pamphlet for the US to build bigger guns and tear the Commies a new one. One can understand why the estate of H.G. Wells was annoyed.
Edward Bernds vehemently denied that he took any inspiration from The Time Machine, which he tells Weaver he had read a long time ago, but didn’t realise the similarities before they were pointed out to him. I am almost ready to believe him. The reason the Wells estate took notice was probably that World Without End was actually the first US film that dealt with scientifically induced time travel — even if the film lacks an actual time machine. Wells’ idea of time travel was not far from Einstein’s later scientific theory of time as a fourth dimension. Wells, however, argued that once the key to this dimension was found, one could traverse in back and fourth very much like one might traverse the heavens, up and down and in a balloon. Bernds had the luxury of Einstein’s theory of relativity, which stated that when travelling at a sufficient speed, time acts differently from an immobile object — in essence, time passes more slowly for you, which means that you travel into the future. When Bernds says he “crammed” for the script, he refers to his reading of Einstein, which he seems very proud to mention to Weaver. But of course he would also have been influenced by his previous reading of Wells.
There is another possible inspiration for Bernds’ script that I haven’t seen mentioned anywhere, and that’s Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Pellucidar series, especially the first novel At the Earth’s Core (1914). The influence in seen, for example, in inclusion of Deena, the beautiful servant who was once herself a barbarian. Much has been made of the fact that the major female Eloi character in The Time Machine is called Weena, which is very close to Deena, but the character of Deena actually closer resembles the main female barbarian character in At the Earth’s Core — who is called Dian. In the book, the main character David unintentionally insults Dian because of his lack of understanding of the barbarian culture, and they spend a considerable amount of time as antagonists before forming a love relationship. In the film, Ellis deliberately insults Deena in order to suss out if she is feigning her ignorance of English, and they spend a good deal of time as antagonists before Deena decides to save the newcomers and expose Mories. This storyline seems directly inspired by At the Earth’s Core. In the book, David challenges and defeats a barbarian leader called Jubal the Ugly One in order to win the hand of Dian, and David soon becomes the leader of a group of barbarians who challenge their overlords and bring peace to Pellucidar. In the film, it is Deena who calls out the barbarian leader Naga to fight Borden, who becomes the leader of the new, united humanity. While not a direct parallel, two two plot lines share too many similarities for the possible influence to be ignored. Again, this may have been unintentional on Bernds‘ part — as he might have simply reproduced a half-remembered plot from a book he once read, imagining it was his original idea. And certainly, similar stories had cropped up in earlier books and films dealing with cave men, natives and barbarians long before World Without End. But the film and the book share a number of similarities in addition to those I have mentioned, and I surmise that Burroughs had just as strong an influence on Bernds as did Wells.
While there are similarities between the above mentioned books and the script, the Wells estate can’t have had grounds for a plagiarism case, and I suspect that the issue resolved itself to Bernds’ favour. This doesn’t mean that the movie was particularly inventive or original. The biggest similarities of all are namely with Monogram’s own, afore-mentioned, film Flight to Mars. The film looks, feels and plays like a rehash of the earlier movie, plus barbarians, which were lifted from Rocketship X-M (1950, review). In both films the four-person, all-male crew of an American rocketship crash land on an “alien” world (as stated, even the same footage of the landing is used), where they explore a harsh surface habitat and come upon an entrance to an underground civilisation. Here they are met by an advanced “race” dressed in “futuristic” clothing, ruled by a governing council. While welcoming, the council is reserved toward our heroes. The “alien” women admire the rugged Earth men, but things are complicated by a small jealousy drama. Both “alien” civilisations face an inevitable doom, which the Earth people can help them solve, if the “aliens” in turn assist the Earth men – however this requires trust on both parts. Things seem bleak when a villain emerges from the ruling council, who throws a spanner in the works of the newfound friendship. However, with the help of a beautiful “alien” lady, matters are rectified in the end, and with the help of the “alien’s” workshop, humanity prevails.
Even if the plot wouldn’t have been similar enough, almost everything else about World Without End also reminds of Flight to Mars. One important factor is that both films had the same art director, Dave Milton, who favours bold colours and triangles for the future/Martian design and does not like rectangular doors. Both films feature four square-jawed, middle-aged men as heroes, dressed in army fatigues and conferring in military jargon. One of them is an older scientist, one a no-nonsense leader, one a joking ladies man and one a softer and younger intellectual. The “alien” men wear spandex and over-sized, glittery coats, and the women high heels and little else, and always have perfectly coiffed hair. In both films, most of the “alien” civilisation seems to consist of three rooms and a corridor. Nothing in the future/on Mars looks particularly comfortable. Dialogue is spoken mainly matter-of-factly as exposition, with a whole lot of techno mumbo-jumbo picked up from pulp magazines, with the exception of mildly sexist jokes. And on top of this, there is the old “Mars needs men” trope as outlined in Untamed Women (1951, review) Cat-Women of the Moon (1953, review), and Devil Girl from Mars (1954, review).
So while this film has the distinction of being the first American movie involving what is essentially a time machine, to call it derivative would be an understatement. On the other hand, the premise of the movie is also very similar to many later films — indeed Edwards Bernds noted in his interview with Tom Weaver that if anyone should raise a plagiarism case, then he should raise one against the makers of the Planet of the Apes (1968), which opens more or less exactly in the same way as World Without End. Also, the underground-dwelling human cultists in the 1970 sequel Beneath the Planet of the Apes have a lot of similarities with the future humans in Bernds’ movie. But the main point here is perhaps that these were tropes and ideas that had been used time and again in SF novels, short stories, radio plays, movies and TV shows. Everybody “stole” from each other, reused ideas, put their own spin on tropes that had proven popular, etc. In the best of these cases, these re-imaginings gave birth to something new and unique, as in the case of Planet of the Apes. Not necessarily in World Without End.
Time travel, as a whole, was not a theme that had been explored in much of a serious manner in films by the fifties. When it was used, it was mostly in the old “man awakes from being frozen in a block of ice” trope, as in Harry Houdini’s The Man from Beyond (1922, review). Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion/live action movie The Ghost of Slumber Mountain (1918, review) and Czech Karel Zeman’s A Journey to the Beginning of Time (1955, review) travelled back in time in more of a fairy-tale-like, unexplained manner. Arch Oboler’s terrible adaptation of Lewis Padgett’s The Twonky (1953, review) did involve a time-travelling robot from the future, but the issue of time travel was just a throw-away in the movie. The fantastic German edutainment film Our Heavenly Bodies (1925, review) was probably the first movie to give a scientific demonstration of the sort of time dilation caused by high-speed space travel that occurs in World Without End, so for Bernds to claim that his was a movie first is an exaggeration by 30 years (although he can be forgiven for not being aware of the German movie). The British crime thriller Timeslip (1955, review) dealt with time travel in a manner, be it only 7,5 seconds. And then, of course, there had been numerous movies dealing with time travel in a more or less fantasy frame, inspired, no doubt, by Mark Twain’s seminal satire novel A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court. As far as scientifically explained time travel with actual time machines, I keep referring to World Without End as the first American movie to tackle the issue. In fact, Wells’ The Time Machine had already been adapted as a teleplay by BBC in 1949. When it comes to feature films, at least two European movies had been released involving time machines. The first was a little-known Hungarian comedy called Sziriusz (1942, review), and the second a British musical comedy called Time Flies (1944, review). In the first, the protagonists travel back to the Habsburgian empire of the 18th century, and the second takes us back to the days of William Shakespeare. So if World Without End should be bestowed with the honour of a genuine “first”, then it is actually the first feature film dealing with a time machine travelling into the future — inasfar as a space ship can be called a time machine.
The design and effects of the film rangers from the pulpy to the hilarious. As stated, the wobbly rocketship from Flight to Mars looks as bad in 1956 as it did in 1951. The giant spiders actually had motors that were supposed to move their legs and mandibles that could be operated, although Bernds tells Weaver that they didn’t quite work as intended, and the actors had to do most of the work to sell their mobility. Anyway, it matters little how well the legs move if the intended menace looks like a plush toy. Emile LaVigne has done a decent job with the “mutates”, giving all of them features distinct from each other. No masterpieces, but when covered with hair and shot mainly in wide shots, they do their trick. The interiors of the future underground city aren’t badly designed as much as they look cheap. It’s simply sheets of plywood cut into shape, painted and stuck together. Famed pinup artist Alberto Vargas is credited for “set sketches”, but I doubt he did more than sketch out some of the future women’s skimpy outfits (which actually don’t look anything like his illustrations that were used in promoting the movie).
However, the script moves the story along at a decent clip, and at 80 minutes, the movie never gets boring. There’s enough intrigue, twists and a little bit of action to make the film enjoyable, even if the “romantic” bits make you want to bury your face in the nearest pillow. Clearly romance wasn’t Bernds’ forte. The script is also so over-loaded with the worst sort of 50’s chauvinist jingoism that it is absolutely impossible to take seriously today, and I wonder if it didn’t play for cringes even back in the day. The acting is somewhat wooden, but that’s partly because of the stilted script. Hugh Marlowe is not a very interesting leading man, at least not for this picture, and Edward Bernds had originally wanted another actor for the role, but was overruled by producer Heermance. According to Bernds, Marlowe behaved unprofessionally on set — he would unload his gear during breaks and run off somewhere to find shade, and when the crew was about to start shooting again they had to fetch him and put all of the stuff back on, which cost time and money; “you can’t do that, not when you’re shooting on shoestring”, Bernds tells Weaver. Australian Rod Taylor is the standout, he comes to the film with a lot of energy and enthusiasm.
Edward Bernds thought the movie was good for what he had to work with, but was unhappy that he didn’t get the time and money he wanted to do things properly. Bernds wanted more resources for sets and special effects, while, on the other hand, he was happy the Heermance did allow him a small army of professional stuntmen for the fights with the mutates, which are well-staged.
In some areas, World Without End was actually top-billed at double features above the Lon Chaney, Jr. picture Indestructible Man (1956), which I have recently reviewed. I have not found any box-office numbers for the movie. Bernds says the movie made Allied Artists quite a bit of money, but in his book about Indestructible Man, Weaver hints that the film doesn’t seem to have been a great success. Considering its low production cost, it probably made back its budget, though. Variety wrote: “This science-fiction entry, although dressed up in CinemaScope and Technicolor, doesn’t figure as much of a space-spook thriller. Plenty corny, Edward Bernds’ writing and direction have an ad-lib quality throughout that’s reflected in slow-moving pace and performances. Richard Heermance production has several shock sequences, fairly imaginative settings and a plot that could have been intriguing, had it been put together better.” Harrison’s Reports echoed Variety’s notions, calling it “only a moderately interesting picture of its kind”. The Exhibitor, on the other hand, called World Without End “effective for its type, and fans who go for such entertainment should react in favourable fashion […] The cast is efficient, and the direction and production are good, with the story holding up fairly well.” Motion Picture Daily gave a good review, calling it “science fiction in good hands”. Critic William Weaver continued: [Edward Bernd’s] “story has freshness, substance and conviction. His screenplay keeps the narrative moving steadily ahead, save for useful changes of pace, and his direction makes the players appear plausibly occupied in the implausible activities and experiences that make up the tale. […] It’s science fiction of top calibre.”
World Without End has a 5.9/10 rating on IMDb based on over 2,000 audience votes, signalling it is not among the most obscure of 50’s SF films, however obscure enough not to have enough reviews for a Rotten Tomatoes consensus. Phil Hardy writes in his Encyclopedia of Science Fiction Movies: “Ironically the money spent on the film’s special effects only serves to highlight the weak melodramatics of Bernds’ script and the stodginess of his direction.” AllMovie, on the other hand, gives the film 3/5 stars, and critic Bruce Eder writes: “World Without End is […] strikingly refreshing, in its optimistic vision of the future — considering that most of the human race is wiped out in the timeline described by the four heroes, that’s saying something, but it’s true. This is a movie that depicts mankind starting to get things right the second time around, and it’s worth seeing on that basis alone.” Keith Phipps at the Onion AV Club takes the sensible middle-of-the-road approach: “Though not a good movie by any stretch […], World Without End never lulls and seldom fails to entertain, albeit not always in the way intended.” Film historian Bill Warren in his seminal tome Keep Watching the Skies writes: “While hardly in the first rank of 1950s SF films, World Without End is better than a curiosity piece and a good example of an above-average try by a minor company.” In the book Atomic Age Cinema, Barry Atkinson highlights the film’s musical score, noting that “Leith Stevens provided a cracking outer space soundtrack for World Without End, the equal of any in this decade”.
Today’s online critics seem somewhat divided on the merits of World Without End. Laura Grieve at Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings writes: “World Without End has lots of eye candy between the shirtless Taylor, the miniskirted Gates, and the fun and colorful underground sets. There’s also a thoughtful script which, like so many ’50s sci-fi films, reflects the fears of the atomic era.” Mitch Lovell at The Video Vacuum gives it a decent 2.5/5 star review, writing: “World Without End is a veritable buffet of the usual 50’s Sci-Fi movie clichés. And like a buffet, you can enjoy what you want to enjoy and ignore what you don’t.” Mark David Welsh is sort of on the same page: “What lets things down are a simplistic storyline and poor action scenes. […] However, on the bright side, the film brings us a hopeful, positive message, which is unusual for the time.”
The film seems to be popular in Germany, as there are unusually many German reviews. Interestingly enough, on the other side of the Atlantic, online critics seem to be quite sensitive to the movie’s right-wing politics. Christoph Hartung calls the film a “male fantasy” touting conservative American values, noting that the villainous councilman looks somewhat “foreign” and that the film has a “questionable image of women that was only slightly more backwards than the reality in 1956 […], but grotesque for a society in the year 2508”. Andreas Eckenfells at Die Nacht den lebenden Texte also notes the glaring sexism of the movie, and calls out the plot for its imperialist politics: the four Americans arrive at a new world only to kill the “beasts” and civilise the “natives” — by pointing guns at their heads. Frank Stegemann at In meinem Herzen habe vielen Filme Platz does like the movie and gives it 7/10 stars, but also writes that it presents a vision of the future that is as simple as it is compelling: “The fact that in the end the ugly mutants are banished with the help of a rocket launcher and the non-disfigured outsiders who are enslaved by them are reconciled with the former tunnel people is considered good. That the former are still slouching around unwashed and wrapped in bearskins, while their “cultivated” contemporaries are amused about it, a heralds the dawn of a new class society: slaves will remains slaves and labourers will remain labourers and there is nothing that five centuries of socio-economic trials and tribulations can do to change that.” And at Tofu Nerpunk Andy Giese writes: “the plot of the film is terribly reactionary and unsettling, even for the time. When it all comes down to it, the only thing the astronauts are are fighting for is to get the pure human race back to the surface. To do this, the inferior mutants must be murdered and driven into darkness. The Crusades, by comparison, were progressive political action. Add to this the sexism, which was crass even for the time […], and the film conveys an uncomfortable, self-contained world-view that, fortunately, doesn’t just seem outdated today.”
Reactionary world-views do not necessarily bad movies make, in fact some of the best SF films of the 50’s are quite nationalistic and conservative. And among its ilk, World Without End is not the most extreme of its kind, even if few are so gleefully chauvinistic and jingoistic as this one. It’s the naiveté and child-like enthusiasm with which the film delivers, in the words of Bruce Eder, its “strikingly refreshing […], optimistic vision of the future”, or to quote Mark David Welsh, its “hopeful, positive message”, that makes the movie, on the one hand, very uncomfortable to watch, but on the other hand endlessly hilarious. While the film ends on a note of happy cooperation, Bernds’ makes clear that the only way to this future utopia is letting the American man exercise what Glenn Erickson at DVD Savant poignantly refers to as his “macho territorial imperative”. What the film truly celebrates is aggression and machismo, as it puts forth the notion that the ultimate sin committed by future mankind is that it “grew soft”.
The CinemaScope and Technicolor also gives the illusion of the film being more visually elaborate than it actually is. There is one standout moment: the scene where the astronauts discover the hidden corridor to the underground work. The design and lighting of the corridor is stunning, and the scene is brilliantly filmed. The cockpit of the rocketship is also one of the best I’ve seen in a fifties movie, be it that it is really only filmed from one specific angle. Here Bernds again lamented the lack of time and resources he was provided to design the cockpit and film the scene. Reclining chairs have replaced the bunk beds that were so popular in these films and the controls are designed to actually be accessible when flying, as opposed to so many other movies in which one has to get up from the bunks in order to decelerate. But apart from these two standout moments, there is little that is visually interesting in the film, and the special effects are few and mostly second-grade. The characters are mere placeholders and the dialogue ghastly. Nonetheless, many of its shortcomings add to its enjoyability, and it is at its core a fun, harmless and unintentionally funny time capsule.
As stated, director Edward Bernds had a somewhat unusual path to becoming a movie director. Born in 1905, he became a ham radio operator in his teens, and was able to get a commercial broadcasting license in the early twenties. In 1923 he found employment as chief operator on one of the many radio stations that were popping up, and when the talking movies arrived, he was one of many radio operators who moved to Hollywood to work as sound technicians on movies in 1928. At Columbia he worked as a sound engineer until 1944, until he asked for the chance to direct — his first commission was a 1944 edutainment short for the war service, and his first entertainment films were short films featuring comedian El Brendel and The Three Stooges in 1945. He considered his second Three Stooges short The Bird in the Head (1946) his true crash course in directing. It was filmed shortly after Curly had his stroke, and Bernds quickly realised that the former star was in no shape to perform his old gags, so he had to think on his feet and rewrite the movie so it covered up Curly’s disability while still keeping him the main character. Apart from the dozens of short films he made with The Three Stooges, he also directed three feature films with them between 1951 and 1962.
In 1948 Edward Bernds got his first shot at directing a feature film, when he was contracted to take over the direction of Columbia’s hugely popular Blondie comedy film series about the Bumstead family. Between 1948 and 1950 he directed the five last films in the series. He was also commissioned to direct another comedy film series based on a comic strip, Gasoline Alley, which ended up being only two movies long. Moving to Allied Artists in 1953, he took over another hit series, The Bowery Boys, with whom he made eight movies with over three years, including the horror comedy cult classic The Bowery Boys Meet the Monsters (1955). At AA, he also branched out from comedy to other genres — straight westerns, melodramas, action thrillers, even a hockey movie. Apparently his contract with AA wasn’t exclusive, and on the side he branched out into TV and worked with other low-budget companies, particularly Regal Pictures and API, for whom he made a string of teensploitation movies. 1955–1960 was a mishmash of low-budget movies: comedies, teensploitation, crime dramas, action films and a couple of science fiction movies. In 1958 he directed the Quatermass ripoff Space Master X-7 for Regal and in 1958 Queen of Outer Space, starring Zsa Zsa Gabor, for AA. He is probably best known to genre fans as the director of the sequel Return of the Fly (1958), with Vincent Price returning as the co-lead. And in 1961 he directed the cult movie Valley of the Dragons for Al Zimbalist. Another milestone, or perhaps more a gravestone, for his career, was that he wrote the script for Elvis’ 1965 movie Tickle Me, which was his last official screen credit.
A funny anecdote is when Edward Bernds and the Bowery Boys were nominated for an Oscar. Ahead of the 1957 Academy Awards, the Academy wanted to nominate the 1956 Cole Porter musical High Society starring Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly and Frank Sinatra for Best Screenplay. However, due to a mix-up, the film that was officially nominated was the 1955 low-budget quickie comedy High Society, written by Ellwood Ullman and Edward Bernds, starring the Bowery Boys and directed by quickie legend William “One-Shot” Beaudine. The screenwriters had a good laugh and “graciously and voluntarily declined the nomination”, however, Bernds apparently got great enjoyment in his latter years showing off his framed nomination diploma (with the reduction on the back side). Bernds retired from the movie business in 1965, and passed away in the year 2000, at the respectable age of 94.
Hugh Marlowe played the meddling boyfriend in The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951, review), as well as Ginger Rogers’ ex in the SF screwball comedy Monkey Business (1952, review), alongside Gary Grant and Marilyn Monroe. He then went on to play the hero in yet another 50’s SF cult classic, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956, review). He had a supporting role in Castle of Evil (1966). Marlowe was a radio and stage actor who usually played second leads or supporting characters in movies. He was able to get steady employment up until the end of the sixties, when he got a starring role in the TV series Another World (non-sci-fi, despite the name), a position he held until his death in 1982.
I don’t think I have yet mentioned it, but it is one of the talking points for anyone writing about this movie; the fact that Rod Taylor in 1960 went on to play the time traveller in George Pal’s classic adaptation of The Time Machine. However, an obit in The Guardian takes him almost full circle, revealing he was one of the top contenders to play the time-travelling astronaut in The Planet of the Apes — the role that famously went to Charlton Heston.
The Guardian obit calls Taylor “a movie star of some magnitude who never achieved superstar status”. Australian by birth, Taylor started out as a radio actor, and participated in a couple of films Down Under, before he was awarded “Best Radio Actor” in 1955, an award which included a trip to Hollywood. Taylor stayed, and immediately started getting offers for small walk-on parts in movies and guest spots on TV. However, World Without End was his first featured part, and in 1986 he told Starlog Magazine about his feelings on getting the part: “‘I was so thrilled to have a sizable role in an American movie. It gave me the confidence to know that I could work with established Hollywood professionals and come out maybe equally as well. … I thought being in a American movie was the pinnacle of acting success. I would have doubled as the monster, just to get into the picture.’ Eager to please, Taylor bravely battled a pathetically phony giant spider nesting in a cave. ‘It was a ridiculous looking thing,’ he laughs. ‘But I dove into it, and wrestled with it for all I was worth. I even made a major creative contribution to that scene. I ad libbed that I was vomiting when I came out of the cave, because it was such a horrific experience with that bunch of rubber and felt.'”
Later in 1956 he was offered a supporting role in Giant, and in 1960 got his breakthrough in The Time Machine. The following year saw hin in the lead in another major motion picture — be it as the voice of an animated dog in Disney’s One Hundred and One Dalmatians. He is perhaps best known, outside of Time Machine, for playing the male lead opposite Tippi Hedren in Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963). Taylor spent the sixties alternating between romcoms, like Sunday in New York (1963) with Jane Fonda, Do Not Disturb (1963) and The Glass Bottom Boat (1966), both with Doris Day — and gritty action movies like The Liquidator (1965), Chuka (1967), The Mercenaries (1968) and The Train Robbers (1973), the latter with John Wayne. He also played in Italian low-budget clunkers Colossus and the Amazon Queen (1960) and Seven Seas to Calais (1962), which may have had nothing to do with Michelangelo Antonioni casting him in a featured role in the classic Zabriskie Point (1970). His roles diminished somewhat and in the eighties he started doing more TV, going into semi-retirement in the nineties. Apart from the afore-mention SF movies, he appeared in Sergio Gobbi’s Blondy (1976), opposite Bibi Andersson, had a starring role in the TV movie The Warlord: Battle for the Galaxy (1998) and played a featured part in the low-budget horror movie Kaw (2007). His last role was a cameo as Winston Churchill in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds (2009). Taylor passed away in 2015.
EDIT: A previous version of the article stated that Taylor had a cameo in The Warlord: Battle for the Galaxy. However, the film’s director Joe Dante(!!!) gracefully posted a comment below, correcting me. Dante wrote: “Rod Taylor’s role in Warlord, Battle for the Galaxy (the tv title for the pilot for the unsold series The Osirus Chronicles) was no “cameo”, it was a starring role in what was intended to be an alternate to the Star Trek approach. Rod was a total pro and I regret the series didn’t sell because I loved working with him, who I first saw in Long John Silver in 1956!”
Nelson Leigh, playing the egghead astronaut in World Without End was one of the many supporting actors specialising in military men and authority figures in film and TV, not unusually in uncredited bit-parts. Leigh was also a devout Christian and made a name for himself in religious circles for appearing in numerous Christian films, multiple times as Jesus Christ. In 1953 the National Evangelistic Film Foundation awarded him the “Christian Oscar” for his work in two religious TV series. Not that he shunned science fiction, though. He appeared as Superman’s father Jor-El in the 1948 Superman film serial (review) and as an uncredited scientist in Creature with the Atom Brain (1955, review). He was also uncredited in Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958) and The Silencers (1966). In the TV series The Time Tunnel (1966) he turned up as a preacher (again uncredited) in the episode “End of the World” — a cameo?
Nancy Gates, playing the underground woman who falls in love with Hugh Marlowe, was a B-movie and television actress whose career spanned from 1942 to 1969 — she is perhaps best known for playing the woman whose house is commandeered by Frank Sinatra in the crime thriller Suddenly (1954). According to Wikipedia she received “roles in mostly B-movies, many of which were westerns or sci-fi”, however, World Without End is the only SF movie on her resumé. Canadian Margaret Hathaway, playing the woman who so admires Rod Taylor’s muscles, had a similar career, acting in the small and large screen between 1942 and 1959. Wikipedia doesn’t mention her “many” SF movies, but she appeared in a lot more of them than Gates. In 1943 she played the heroine in the original film serial Batman (review), and at the end of her career she was second-billed in The Land Unknown (1957) and the cult classic It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958).
Lisa Montell was born Irena Ludmila Vladimirovna Augustynowic in Poland in 1933 before her family migrated to the US. Her family took the name Montwill upon arrival, which she further changed to Montell as her artist name. Montell became involved in acting at a young age, and appeared in a number of B-movies between 1955 and 1962, mainly westerns. Because of her “exotic” look, she was usually cast in “ethnic” roles — which ethnicity mattered little. According to Wikipedia, she played “Polynesian, Native American, Mexican, Burmese, French, Italian, Spanish, east Indian and Persian”. As well as a barbarian. In 1956 she adopted the holistic Bahá’í faith, and under her married name Lisa Janti she fairly quickly became a prominent member of the American Bahá’í church, prompting her to leave acting behind in the early sixties to focus on her religious work. Beside her role in World Without End she is perhaps best remembered for her appearance in the fantastically titled She Gods of the Shark Reef (1958).
Booth Colman plays Mories, the treacherous underground dweller who sets up the astronauts. Born in 1923, Colman entered the New York stage after serving in WWII, where he rubbed elbows with horror greats Basil Rathbone, and Boris Karloff, whom he befriended. He made his film debut in 1952, and played minor, often uncredited parts in films big and small. Blink and you’ll miss him as a citizen of Rome in Julius Caesar (1953) and as a reporter in the giant ant movie Them! (1954, review). In 1955 he appeared on the TV show Science Fiction Theatre. World Without End was one of his largest movie roles ever. Colman is interviewed in Tom Weaver’s book I Was a Monster Movie Maker, and says he can’t remember much about the making of the movie, that it was made in eight or ten days and that director Edward Bernds was a very nice man. Upon rewatching the movie, he says that he was still acting very “theatrically” in World Without End, something he later was able to de-learn for the movies. Beside his role in World Without End, Colman is probably best known for his recurring role as the ape Zaius in the short-lived Planet of the Apes TV show in 1974. The rest of Colman’s SF work was also done on TV. Modern audiences may have spotted him in the Star Trek: Voyager episode “Nemesis” where Chakotay goes native on a jungle planet and bonds with the tribal inhabitants — Colman plays a tribal elder. All in all Colman appeared in close to 200 films of TV shows between 1950 and 2007. He passed away in 2014.
Everett Glass as the council leader in World Without End is another one of those 50’s supporting players that you know you’ve seen but can’t remember where. World Without End was probably his biggest movie role as well. He was primarily a stage actor, but appeared in close to 100 films or TV shows between 1948 and 1962. He has uncredited bit-parts in a number of 50’s SF movies, including Destination Moon (1950, review), The Thing from Another World (1951, review), Flight to Mars and Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
Composer Leith Stevens may not be counted as among the greatest of the Hollywood composers, but he was Oscar nominated three times, and nominated for a Golden Globe for his work on Destination Moon. He is well known and beloved by friends of 50’s science fiction. Stevens was George Pal’s go-to composer, and made the scores for Destination Moon, When Worlds Collide (1951, review) and The War of the World (1953, review). After World Without End he went on to compose the music for The Werewolf (1956, review), Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956), The Night the World Exploded (1957), 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957), I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958), The Phantom Planet (1961), Mutiny in Outer Space (1965), The Human Duplicators (1965), Women of the Prehistoric Planet (1966) and The Navy vs. the Night Monsters (1966), as well as the music for TV shows kike The Time Tunnel, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Lost in Space.
Cinematographer Ellsworth Fredericks also shot Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and the special effects were handled by SF veterans Irving Block and Jack Rabin. Dialogue director on the movie was future demon director Sam Peckinpah.
World Without End. 1956, USA. Written & directed by Edward Bernds. Starring: Hugh Marlowe, Rod Taylor, Nancy Gates, Nelson Leigh, Shirley Patterson, Lisa Montell, Christopher Dark, Booth Colman, Everett Glass, Stanley Fraser. Music: Leith Stevens. Cinematography: Ellsworth Fredericks. Editing: Eda Warren. Art direction: Dave Milton. Makeup: Emile LaVigne. Sound editor: Del Harris. Special effects: Irving Block, Jack Rabin. Produced by Richard Heermance & Walter Mirisch for Allied Artists.