There’s enough cross-plot evidence to suggest that some ideas
woven into World Without End (Allied
Artists, 1956) were based in part on H.G. Wells’ classic 1895 novel The Time Machine.Wells’ immortal tale would, of course, soon follow
the less-celebrated World Without End
as a lavish, big-screen Hollywood feature of 1960.Though director-writer Edward Bernds readily admitted
to familiarity with Wells’ The Time
Machine, he insisted his screenplaywas
a wholly original creation.Though the
similarities between the two works cannot be discounted, Bernds refutation has
merit. Certainly modern science-fiction’s fascinations with time and space
travel were hardly of the abstract, and most certainly predated Wells’ own
literary musings on the subject.
That said, Bernds World
Without End is of its own time and primarily a stereotypical 1950s Cold
War-era vehicle. It’s a call for a
return to reason and détente in the decade following the game-changing horrors
of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The real
monsters in this film are neither the over-sized arachnids nor the ambling Cyclops-Neanderthals. Instead it’s the hawkish politicians, generals,
diplomats and scientists who recklessly helped dress the stage for earth’s inevitable
apocalypse. There’s little denying this
is a “message” film. Even before the
credits roll, the film opens dramatically with a grim, red-tinted vision of an
atomic mushroom cloud spiraling heavenward.
It is March of 1957, and the U.S. has sent a spacecraft on
mankind’s first ever flight to red planet Mars. Surprisingly, the four man crew is not scheduled to touch down on the
Martian surface; this flight is purely a reconnaissance mission in which they
are tasked to twice orbit Mars for photo-mapping. In Washington D.C., Pentagon officials,
members of the press, and distraught family members have become increasingly anxious
as contact with the spaceship has been lost. The astronauts onboard are less concerned. They realize this breakdown in communication is
merely temporary, likely the result of their spacecraft entering Mars’ magnetic
Unfortunately and unbeknownst to the crew, on the return
voyage home, the spaceship accidentally wanders into a time displacement vortex. The craft crashes into a snowy region that the
rattled astronauts – all of whom have miraculously survived – not unreasonably
assume is one of Mars’ famed polar icecaps. It’s not, as they soon recognize when exiting the craft without the
assistance of oxygen helmets or pressure suits. Journeying from the snow-capped mountain, they dimly recognize the
outline of the Rockies, believing they might have somehow landed on the border
of Idaho and Wyoming, or perhaps that of Colorado and New Mexico.
They quickly begin to have their doubts when they wander
into a cave and are attacked by giant spiders “as big as dogs!” Surviving that
sticky encounter with the assistance of their pistols, an overnight campout under
the stars is summarily ruined when they’re viciously attacked by – and barely
stave off - a gang of marauding Cyclops-Neanderthals who brandish primitive
hand weapons. Taking supposed safe harbor
in still another cave, the crew is trapped inside when a steel panel
mysteriously descends from above. Their
abductors are, to the great relief of all, friends.
They learn from a panel of paternal, subterranean elders
referred as “The Council,” that they are indeed back on earth. But it’s now the year 2508, some 551 years
since they had first been launched into orbit. They also learn that the earth was almost entirely destroyed in the
“Great Blow” of 2188. This was the year
of Armageddon when “man destroyed himself” through foolish use of atomic weaponry
and the absence of wisdom.
The crew learns that the survivors of this atomic annihilation were two-fold. Those more highly-functioning and intellectual have managed to create a sustainable safe haven for themselves in a well-ordered subterranean world. The radioactivity-poisoned Neanderthals who roam in the sunshine above are “reckless and brutal” mutants who survive as low cognition primitives. The horrors of war and their hatred of weaponry (“the curse of mankind”) - however reasonable - have turned these subterranean intellectuals into complete pacifists. While they’ve burrowed out a comfortable and secure place for themselves, they’ve all but ceded the sunshine and earth’s natural wonders - possibly even the future lineage of enlightened humankind - to the Neanderthals. The now enlightened space travelers hope to convince their technologically advanced friends to regain their courage. It’s only after being so emboldened that they can again enjoy the bountiful pleasures of topside earth… as well as assist in the repair of their spacecraft and possibly even reverse their unfortunate “time displacement.”
Existing somewhere between a genuine silver-age science-fiction classic and run-of-the-mill ‘50s space adventure, the preachy – but well intended - storyline of World Without End is occasionally reminiscent of a moralizing Rod Serling Twilight Zone episode. On more than one occasion, I couldn’t help but think Serling might have even lifted an idea or two from World Without End while drafting his adapted screenplay of Pierre Boulle’s Planet of the Apes (1968). The monsters and mutants (as they are) in World Without End are included mostly as exploitative movie poster dressing designed to help fill cinema seats. This isn’t really a monster movie but a thinking person’s motion picture - and the cast does a reasonable job on making the film work for its stretched 80 minute running time. The astronauts seem most happy to learn among the survivors on Planet Earth circa 2508 are a bevy of sultry, cheesecake pin-up gals with ample bosoms. These space goddesses seem more than happy to accommodate the visiting team of “real men” from 1957 instead of the band of pale, egg-shell cap wearing, wimpy pacifists they’ve become accustomed to.
Previously released on DVD in 2008 as one offering of Warner Home Video’s “Sci-Fi Double Feature Series” (where it was marketed alongside 1956’s Satellite in the Sky), World Without End makes its Blu Ray debut here as a BD-ROM. The film is presented in 1080p High Definition 16x9 2:35.1 Cinemascope with a DTH-HD Master Audio. The film arguably has never looked better, capturing the film’s rich, original Technicolor. Oddly, there are no special supplements included – not even a trailer. Though I wholeheartedly recommend this Blu edition for cerebral fans of silver-age sci-fi and those interested in cold war-era cinema, monster movie fans might find this weak tea.
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