Science fiction films of the 1950s wonderfully illustrated the dangers of trips into outer space but in 1956 Allied Artists brought to the screen a movie that took that basic concept and put a little spin on it by making the coming home aspect of the journey the real jeopardy. Filmed in Cinemascope World Without End would pit American spacemen against threats right out of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine in a story fraught with both love and danger in an action pack cinema adventure that thrilled audiences of the late 50s, well maybe “thrilled” is overselling things a tad.
In the not too distant future of 1957, a survey mission to Mars runs into a little problem when after leaving their orbit of the Red Planet the ship and its crew of four brave astronauts are somehow accelerated to incredible velocities and sent hurtling through time and space. The crew consists of Commander Dr. Eldon Galbraithe (Nelson Leigh), navigator Henry Jaffe (Christopher Dark), radioman Herbert Ellis (Rod Taylor) and scientist John Borden (Hugh Marlowe) and when the ship crash lands on a snow-covered mountain they soon discover that they haven’t flown to some distant alien world but have, in fact, have returned to Earth. Turns out that their ship had encountered some form of they have become victims of time dilation and are now in the year 2508 and the lack of cities and heightened residual radiation indicates that centuries ago mankind must have gotten themselves into an atomic war. Needless to say, this revelation doesn’t boost anyone’s spirits but as true American heroes, they venture forth to explore their new surroundings.
Safety Tip: If you are a space explorer it’s best to avoid exploring caves as they are more likely than not to be inhabited by giant spiders.
After surviving an attack by a giant mutant cave spider our quartet is set upon by a group of cyclopean savages and though these mutates are easily repelled by the standard-issue firearms, that all astronauts are apparently issued, it’s clear that they’ll run out of ammunition long before they run out of adversaries. Lucky for them, while seeking shelter in a nearby cave, one that doesn’t house giant mutant spiders, our quartet discovers the entrance to an underground city, one whose residents are the descendants of those who fled there from the atomic war. The people of this city live in a high-tech and sophisticated culture but where the women are all gorgeous looking, attired in the perquisite mini-skirts found in these types of science fiction movies, the men are weak and anemic which leads to the women becoming instantly attracted to these new and very virile men.
Note: The women in this movie may provide a lot of cheesecake for the men to enjoy but Rod Taylor brings a little beefcake for the female members of the audience as well.
What makes this time travel story interesting is the dynamic of the culture that our heroes find themselves trapped; above is a savage race of murderous mutants while below we have a collection of spineless men who in the hopes of forgoing future wars have become complete pacifists and it doesn’t take Jaffe long to discover that fewer and fewer children are born each generation and the current generation is weak and sickly looking. So it’s up to our heroes to shake up this society and as Borden succinctly points out “The surface of the Earth was meant for man. He wasn’t meant to live in a hole in the ground.” Unfortunately, Mories (Booth Colman), a member of the council, becomes jealous when the leader’s daughter Garnet (Nancy Gates) falls in love with Borden and he poisons the mind of her father (Everett Glass) with lies about Borden and his men planning to overthrow and enslave them all. Eventually, things get all sorted out, Mories exposed as a liar and murderer and with the help of a servant girl named Deena (Lisa Montell), who was rescued from the surface as a child, they learn that not all the surface dwellers are mutates and that “normal” surface dwellers have been enslaved by the cyclopean savages and this could be the key to reclaiming the surface world.
• To save money on the production footage and costumes from the studio’s earlier film Flight to Mars was used and the giant spider they fight would later reappear in Queen of Outer Space and Valley of the Dragons.
• If they were travelling faster than the speed of light on their return flight from Mars, so as to experience Einstein’s time dilation theory, they would not only have been thrown into the far-flung future they’d also have overshot the Earth by several million miles.
• Their mission was to simply orbit Mars and return to Earth with their findings so it’s lucky for them that someone packed all that cold-weather gear on their ship so they could safely trudge through the snowy landing area of the future Earth.
• The headstones in the “ancient” cemetery that our heroes come across are clean and unblemished despite facing the ravages of the elements for over 500 years.
• It’s never explained why all the women are young and beautiful while the men became listless and weak. Did the women of this society have a secret stash of vitamins and beauty products?
• A few years later Rod Taylor would be fighting cave-dwelling mutants in George Pal’s The Time Machine but in this outing, he has it a little easier when it comes to repelling angry savages.
If time travellers finding a future world devastated by nuclear war sounds familiar, where there are two distinct societies, one a peaceful pacifist group and the other savage mutants, sounds a lot like the plot of the H.G. Wells story The Time Machine you are not alone as the H.G. Wells estate threatened to sue the producers for plagiarism, but to be fair, this film’s version of the pacifist inhabitants of the future is quite a bit different than the simple-minded Eloi from the Wells story and are more well defined, also the Morlocks are much cooler villains than either the sexually frustrated Mories or the one-eyed neanderthals. What’s fascinating is how often the plot of World Without End would later be repeated in such films as The Mole People (1956), The Time Travelers (1964) and, of course, the original Planet of the Apes, only in this film there’s no startling revelation at the end of the film, just dudes farming after our heroes have convinced humanity to return to the surface.
Overall, World Without End is your typical science fiction endeavour from the 50s but having Rod Taylor around is always a bonus and though some may find the hammy dialogue be a bit off-putting, like when Mories bemoans all the attention the women are giving these newcomers “Our women seem to have lagged behind in their evolution into reasonable creatures. They actually admire these reckless and brutal men” but that’s half the charm of these old science fiction classics and will provide more than a chuckle or two from modern viewers. So if you don’t mind goofy mutants and cheap sets, and find a shirtless Rod Taylor to be appealing, then I suggest you seek out this little cinematic gem.
World Without End (1956)
Movie Rank - 6.5/10
With this film, Allied Artists really tried to leave behind their low-budget stigma from their Monogram days and though this film would in no way rival the likes of Forbidden Planet it’s clear that the studio was moving in the right direction with its Cinemascope look and rather engaging story.