The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

World Without End (1956)

Hard to mess up a good, old-fashioned time traveling story. When it's good, it can be great, a picture into the future we don't know or the past we do. What bizarre versions of our future can be presented? When it's bad....oh, it can be glorious and downright awful, often times in B-movies like 1956's World Without End. Where does this one end up?

It's 1957 and a crew of astronauts is orbiting Mars, transmitting what they see back to Earth before completing their mission and heading for home. Commanded by Dr. Eldon Galbraithe (Nelson Leigh), the crew includes John Borden (Hugh Marlowe), a scientist, Herb Ellis (Rod Taylor), the radioman, and an engineer, Henry Jaffe (Christopher Dark). Soon after beginning the return trip though, the spaceship begins to accelerate to dangerous speeds, eventually going so fast that all four members of the crew are knocked out. The spaceship crashes on a snow-covered mountain on a mysterious planet, but the entire crew survives. What do they find? They theorize the spaceship flew so fast that it flew forward in time. Dr. Galbraithe and his men surmise that they've actually crashed on Earth some 500 years into the future. The crew has found our future where a surviving band of slightly altered humans are fighting for their existence against mutant human beings. Can they make it out alive?

This 1956 sci-fi B-movie was aired on Turner Classic Movies recently as part of a time travel themed-night. And my goodness....was it cheesy, but in a good way! It comes from probably the strongest decade ever for science fiction movies (the 1950s) and has an interesting story, casting and some timely messages. It comes from director Edward Bernds (who also wrote the screenplay) and manages to rise above its B-movie status to be pretty damn entertaining, sometimes in a bad way but mostly in a fun, sit back and enjoy the ride kind of entertainment. This isn't a movie with a huge fan following or rave critical reviews, but it was a good flick in itself and also in how it was an influence on some major science fiction flicks still to be released in the coming years.

The most obvious influence? That would be 1968's Planet of the Apes. The first 30 minutes or so serves almost as a literal blueprint for that famous sci-fi classic that spawned a whole franchise that's still plugging along today. Astronauts on mission, something goes wrong, they land on a mysterious planet, and GO! Let the new planet hijinks begin! Obviously, if you've read this far you know the twist -- that they've landed on....future EARTH!!!! but it is in the build-up that the story works. What happened exactly? So if we know where they are, we now get to ask the infamous time travel question. WHEN are they? Yeah, it can be cheesy but if you've seen enough time travel sci-fi flicks, you know the moment is coming so sit back and appreciate it for all its cheesy glory. In the meantime, watch out for the giant spiders, mutated creatures and caveman-like residents of Earth.

No big names here and really only one future star in the cast. That would be Rod Taylor in an early role and rocking his heavy Aussie accent. The crew's radioman, Taylor's Herb (maybe the sexiest name ever) is the resident ladies man of the quartet. Taylor is clearly having some fun with the part as these future Earth women are completely undone by his muscles and physique. A good early part (albeit a supporting one) for Mr. Taylor. Marlowe was the most recognizable star of the time, and he's okay in a part that doesn't give him much to do other than be the stout, sturdy, resolute hero who's trying to overcome some past mission failures. Rounding out the four-man crew, Leigh is older and brainier as the crew's commander and scientist while Dark's Jaffe is the brilliant mathematician coping with the loss of his family, now long since dead know, the ship traveled forward in time.

One of the biggest selling points for me within the science fiction genre is how does said movie envision the future. In the meantime that vision is dated by budget and special effects limitations. So what does 'World' think the future will be like? Well, funny looking. The men are all crippled and saggy and withering away while the women wear tight clothing, are apparently really horny and fascinated by these new arrivals from Earth's past, these new specimens that represent all that is man. The sets and the wardrobes are hysterical once the crew finds some remnant of mankind, but they add that all-important cheesy charm to the proceedings. For the future babes of Earth, look for Nancy Gates and Lisa Montell while the future weaklings of men are led by Everett Glass' Timmek.

There is a muddled message somewhere in the story about the Cold War and nuclear destruction and embracing life and all that good stuff. It's not really an effective message, nothing as ominous or effective as like-minded messages from so many other classic 1950s sci-fi movies. This is a movie better suited to dumb entertainment without any messages getting in the way.

World Without End (1956): ** 1/2 /****

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