A good way to bring in audiences for your low budget film is to time its release with that of a prestige film with a similar theme, this was the case with Edgar G. Ulmer Beyond the Time Barrier, a film that was quickly made and rushed into theatres to exploit the success of George Pal’s much more lavish The Time Machine. Obviously, one of those films has remained a classic of the genre while the other has been pretty much lost in time, but that is not to say that Ulmer’s film was without merit.
In 1947 when Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier no one was completely 100% sure as to what would happen to the man or the craft, lucky for history all we got was a sonic boom and a new speed record, but what if you travelled at great speeds outside of the Earth’s atmosphere, would the lack of resistance increase one’s speed beyond the quantifiable? This was the basic premise to Edgar G. Ulmer’s film Beyond the Time Barrier where U.S. Air Force test pilot Major Bill Allison (Robert Clarke) successfully flies his X-80 experimental aircraft into a sub-orbital spaceflight but when he returns to the airbase it appears abandoned, old and deserted and he soon learns that he is now stuck in the far-flung future of 2024. Like the time traveller in the H.G. Wells classic The Time Machine the hero finds himself in a world where all traces of civilization are in ruins but instead of childlike Eloi and the cannibalistic Morlocks, he finds an underground dystopian city known as the Citadel inhabited by deaf and mute citizens who are on the brink of extinction due to widespread sterility.
Allison is captured and taken into the Citadel and is accused of being a spy by a man simply known as The Captain (Boyd ‘Red’ Morgan), but he is saved from brutal interrogations by the beautiful deaf-mute and telepathic Princess Trirene (Darlene Tompkins) who desires him as her mate. She is able to convince her father (Vladimir Sokoloff ), The Supreme leader of this so-called civilization, that Allison should have a free run of the Citadel, which leads to him encountering three other residents who, like him, had arrived here via time travel accidents due to misadventures with light-speed travel. He meets up with Russian Captain Markova (Arianne Ulmer) who comes from 1973 and General Kruse (Stephen Bekassy) and Professor Bourman (John Van Dreelen) who arrived from colonies on other planets in 1994, and they explain to him the current state of the world is due to radiation from atomic bomb tests that had stripped away Earth’s natural shielding from the atmosphere, exposing the planet to cosmic radiation resulting in a devastating plague that wiped out most of humanity. The survivors became mute and sterile creatures – though for some unknown reason the Captain and the Supreme are neither deaf nor mute – and those who were not able to take shelter underground became bald and violent mutants who wander the wastelands.
In 1960 the idea of genetically pure humans up against hordes of mutants amid the ruins of civilization was certainly nothing new to the genre but with Beyond the Time Barrier producer Robert Clarke and director Edgar G. Ulmer were able to cobble together a fairly solid B-movie with a surprising amount of interesting characters. Sure, the villainous Captain is about as two-dimensional as they come and even with her ESP abilities Trirene has as much depth as a puddle in the Sahara Desert, but the three other “time displaced” residents of the Citadel really help sell this dystopian world and though their techno-babble about light speed and time travel makes little to no sense they do their best to make it convincing and their plan to send Allison back to his own time, so he can prevent the cosmic plague from ever happening, is solid sci-fi adventure material. That two of this particular trio have their own designs on Allison’s aircraft is probably the most plausible element of this story.
Note: This movie’s MVP is the character of Markova, who releases the mutant prisoners to cover their escape and basically causes the Citadel to fall, that she has her own duplicitous agenda is simply gravy to this film’s fun climax.
• The runway Allison lands on is in surprisingly good condition considering it had been out of commission for over a decade since the plague hit in 1971.
• Tossing a man into a cell full of murderous mutant prisoners seems like a rather questionable interrogation technique.
• Allison is told that once mankind reached the Moon the world’s countries put aside their differences and worked together to explore outer space, this is easily the least believable part of the movie.
• Bourman states that “Time is unaffected by the laws of gravity” which isn’t true as Einstein’s theory of relativity has proved that the higher the gravity the slower time passes, so anything Kruse says further should be taken with a grain of salt.
• Because Princess Trirene is the only inhabitant of this underground city who isn’t sterile she is considered “Their last hope” but even if she and Allison pumped out as many babies as possible that is one very shallow gene pool.
At 75-minutes in length Beyond the Time Barrier has a very Outer Limits or Twilight Zone feel to it, especially with the twist ending reveal that once returned to his own time Allison has aged drastically, but what makes this film work so well is that despite the limitations of the budget and short running time the story was able to stand above such the low budget issues, such as mutants who were basically people in pyjamas wearing ill-fitting bald caps, and they were really able to sell this take on a futuristic dystopian society in a clever and concise manner. This film may not compare favourably to George Pal’s release of The Time Machine but it has more under the hood than what you’d expect from a B-Movie quickie.
Beyond the Time Barrier (1960)
Movie Rank - 6/10
With a rushed schedule and very little money Edgar G. Ulmer still managed to pull together a solid little flick through a good helping of ingenuity and adaptability.