World Without End
Warner Bros. // Unrated // $21.99 // March 28, 2017
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted March 22, 2017
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Recommended
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R E V I E W S
Graphical Version
Though highly derivative, World Without End (1956) is an interesting ‘50s sci-fi picture. Allied Artists, the studio that produced it, began as lowly Monogram, a Poverty Row company known for the cheapest of cheap Westerns, comedies starring the East Side Kids (later known as the Bowery Boys) and extraordinarily silly horror films with Béla Lugosi and other down-on-their-luck genre stars.

By 1956, however, Monogram had evolved into the more ambitious Allied Artists. It was around this time they began distributing major films occasionally, notably William Wyler's Friendly Persuasion (1956) and Billy Wilder's Love in the Afternoon (1957). Meanwhile, the sci-fi genre was itself briefly a bit tonier, with 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), This Island Earth (1955), and Forbidden Planet (1956), among others, aiming for somewhat wider general audiences. World Without End is nowhere near the budget or class level of those films, but by their usual cheap standards, it exhibits more production values than audiences had come to expect.

Produced in both color and CinemaScope, it was also one of the more difficult ‘50s sci-fi films to see for a number of years, until it began turning up, initially panned-and-scanned, on TNT's "MonsterVision" series in the early 1990s. Warner Home Video eventually released it to DVD, and now it looks even better, if without frills, as a Warner Archive Blu-ray.


Beginning in the near future of March 1957, Dr. Eldon Galbraithe (no relation), played by Nelson Leigh, leads a reconnaissance mission to Mars. Also aboard are scientist John Borden (Hugh Marlowe), young engineer Henry Jaffe (Christopher Dark), and radio operator Herbert Ellis (Rod Taylor). Laying a course back to earth, their spaceship inexplicably accelerates to near light speed, crash-landing on a snowy peak.

Working their way down the mountain, they find a long-unattended graveyard and realize they've returned to earth in the distant future. The latest tombstones reads 2188, and the men surmise that mankind was decimated following an atomic war. After briefly being attacked by dog-sized spiders in a cave (these unconvincing, stiff props turn up in several other cheap sci-fi pictures), and a battle with "mutates," primitive human survivors of the Last War with features distorted by radioactive fallout. Fleeing, the foursome stumbles upon the last remnants of civilization, now living underground.

The higher-tech, isolationist society confirms that the precise year to be 2508, and is initially suspicious of the visitors, though they instantly accept that they come from Earth's past. The astronauts soon learn that the society, fearful of the mutates above, have no intention to reclaim the decontaminated land above, despite the fact that their men are listless (coded for sterile) while the women, naturally all gorgeous, are immediately attracted to the more virile, proactive men. Just as they are on the verge of convincing the Underground People's leader, Timmiek (Everett Glass), to allow them to wage a final war against the mutates, ambitious and fearful lieutenant Mories (Booth Colman) plots to frame them for a murder he committed.

Edward Bernds wrote and directed World Without End. He had been a sound engineer at Columbia in the 1930s but had ambitions to write and direct. He was reassigned to Columbia's short subjects department in that capacity in 1945, helming many superior Three Stooges shorts there. He graduated to features in 1949, and eventually wound up at Monogram/Allied Artists, where he directed low-budget comedies, Westerns, action films and, occasionally, sci-fi pictures.

Bernds was competent and workmanlike, but as a writer he was anything but original. Though World Without End has the distinction of being the first movie to dramatize scientific time travel, its story clearly derives from H.G. Wells's novel The Time Machine, as many other reviewers noted then and now. The fragile, listless Eloi living above ground and the savage Morlocks, underground dwellers, merely change places in what is essentially the same post-apocalyptic distant future. In an amusing coincidence, four years later Rod Taylor would himself star as the Time Traveler in George Pal's superior film of The Time Machine. Taylor's impending stardom is obvious as he's by far the most appealing among the male cast.

But World Without End borrows from a number of sources. Allied Artists' earlier Flight to Mars (1951) had been a success, and according to Bernds recycling that picture's special effects shots was the impetus for the new film. Further, Flight to Mars likewise featured an advanced underground civilization and similar palace intrigue plotting. Flight to Mars utilized props and set components from the earlier Rocketship X-M (1950), about a rocket flight to Mars aboard a spaceship called the RXM. In World Without End, the ship is called the MRX.

Though the set decoration of the underground civilization is drab and the costumes (designed by Alberto Vargas, of "Vargas Girls" fame) are outrageous, it's also in keeping with the look established by E.C. Comics like Weird Science, another influence. Stiff, top-billed Hugh Marlowe had appeared in both The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) and Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, while composer Leith Stevens had written music for producer George Pal's early successes: Destination Moon (1950), When Worlds Collide (1951), and The War of the Worlds (1953). His work here is highly reminiscent of his score for Destination Moon.

Monogram's features rarely cost more than $100,000. At a guess, World Without End was probably in the $350,000-$400,000 range, still cheap by major studio standards but comparatively lavish by Allied Artists' standards. Bernds felt the budget was still too tight and the shooting schedule too short, but the film is clearly done with more care than the usual cheap ‘50s sci-fi picture. The cabin of the spaceship is somewhat more imaginative. (Suspension of disbelief goes out the window, or rather comes through the window, when during the acceleration scene flames briefly burst through a porthole with no glass separating the men from the vacuum of space.)

Video & Audio

Presented in its original CinemaScope aspect ratio of 2.35:1, World Without End is a tad grainy and color-drained at times, but generally looks very good. Unlike most CinemaScope titles of the period, this was probably released mono only, though possibly in Perspecta. Regardless, the DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono is more than adequate. No Extra Features, not even a trailer. Too bad, as this title has Tom Weaver written all over it.

Parting Thoughts

Above average for its type, World Without End is a lot of fun, despite its derivative script, variable performances, and limited budget. Recommended.






Stuart Galbraith IV is the Kyoto-based film historian largely absent from reviewing these days while he restores a 200-year-old Japanese farmhouse.



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