Edward Bernds started his directing career knocking out Three Stooges films before graduating to B-features like Queen of Outer Space (1958), The Return of the Fly (1959) and Valley of the Dragons (1961). World Without End is notable for anticipating, to a degree, the plot of Planet of the Apes (1968) with a dash of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine thrown in for good measure, but little else.
In March 1957, astronauts Dr Eldon Galbraithe (Nelson Leigh), Henry Jaffe (Christopher Dark), Herbert Ellis (Rod Taylor) and John Borden (Hugh Marlowe) are returning from the first manned mission to Mars when they pass through a time warp, returning to Earth 500 years after a nuclear war devastated the planet (the film opens with the required atomic bomb test footage). They are attacked by a pair of over-sized spiders in a cave before stumbling upon the entrance to an underground world where survivors have built a new society led by Timmek (Everett Glass). The subterranean society seems peaceful and idyllic but the astronauts notice that there are no children and a trip to the surface brings them into contact with some mutated savages that had attacked them earlier. As undergrounder Elain (Shirley Patterson) falls for Ellis along with surface-born but unblemished Deena (Lisa Montell), the men decide to take back the surface world by force, against the wishes of Timmek and councillor Mories (Booth Colman). Timmek’s daughter Garnet (Nancy Gates) falls for Borden, causing an already hostile Mories to frame the astronauts for murder.
Producers Allied Artists seemed to have a rather muddled approach to World Without End. Bernds was afforded the luxury of relatively expensive Technicolor and Cinemascope but the film was still largely built around a desire to recycle props, costumes and footage from an earlier Allied Artists film, Flight to Mars (1951). As a result, the film looks good (cinematographer Ellsworth Fredricks makes good use of the widescreen) but which is still, at heart, a derivative and very obvious B-movie genre film with little new to add to the 50s science fiction boom that was already starting to slow down.
Allied may have been keen to splash out on the photography but skimped heavily on the effects which are mostly terrible. The wobbly spaceship passing through the time warp is a hoot (even the old Flash Gordon (1936) spaceships were more stable than poor old Rocketship XRM – not, of course, to be confused with Rocketship X-M (1950)) and the giant spiders are all sorts of terrible, one seemingly an oversized puppet the other a rubber prop thrown at the actors by an off camera by a production assistant. Art director David Milton does a decent job with the underground city given the budget. At times, the corridors look like early versions of the passageways of the Dalek city seen in the Doctor Who (1963-1989) television series and the subsequent big screen spin-offs.
Bit all their work goes for nought, sabotaged by a dreary script, also written by Bernds. For the first half hour, the charisma-free astronauts – a bland lot, distinguishable only by their accents and the degree of their sexism towards the women of the underground world – wander about the de rigeur scrubland and caves before stumbling on the subterranean society entirely by mistake. When Planet of the Apes pitched its astronauts into a future world and had them wander about a desert for some time, writers Michael Wilson and Rod Serling at least gave Charlton Heston, Robert Gunner and Jeff Burton interesting character quirks and dialogue worth listening to. Here we just have four anonymous men in castoff military costumes spouting technobabble that Bernds seems to have picked up from a handful of pulp science fiction magazines.
One of the crew is Rod Tylor, an early role for the actor who would be much better in Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963) and George Pal’s adaptation of Wells’ The Time Machine (1960). In the novel, the future world has been split in two rival camps, the peace-loving, surface-dwelling Eloi and the barbaric, subterranean Morlocks. Here, Bernds reverse the situation, having his pacifists retreat underground, leaving the radiation scarred surface to a breed of neanderthal-like brutes. It wasn’t enough of a change to satisfy the Wells’ estate who threatened to sue the producers. World Without End, in return, had its plot recycled in The Mole People (1956), The Time Travelers (1964) and, at least in part, Planet of the Apes.
World Without End is a very silly film, a dull as dishwater, run of the mill male fantasy about being told by beautiful young women how strong and wonderful they are – even the older man is delighted to be receiving so much attention from the women (make-up, hair product, gold high-heel shoes and low-cut dresses seem to have survived the apocalypse in abundance) and all of them are as patronising and sexist as it gets. They run around acting macho, firing off guns with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of bullets (why did they even need to take guns on a mission to Mars anyway?) and eventually become de facto rulers of the world, riding roughshod over any other male survivor along the way.
Was this meant to be some half-baked critique of American imperialism? The astronaut’s attempts to pacify the “natives” and their tendency to favour power and strength over the more intellectual and pacifist elders of the underground city seem to suggest that it is but Bernds doesn’t pursue the idea which might have made for a more interesting film.
World Without End wasn’t much interested in such lofty ideas. It was a good-looking cheapie knocked-off in a hurry to catch the 50s science fiction wave and make use of whatever Allied Artists had lying around in their prop bay at the time. As such it was just what they ordered, forgettable double-bill fodder (it opened in the States with Jack Pollexfen’s Indestructible Man (1956) starring Lon Chaney and also turned up with Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957)). An uncredited Sam Peckinpah worked on it as a dialogue director – a fact more interesting than anything in the film itself.