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World Without End (Blu-ray Review)

17 Apr, 2017 By: Mike Clark



Available via Warner Archive
Warner
Sci-Fi
$21.99 Blu-ray
Not rated.
Stars Hugh Marlowe, Nancy Gates, Rod Taylor.

In the end, I suppose it comes down to the prop-department spiders when it comes to 1956’s World Without End, assuming we’re talking “ethos.” And this despite the fact that we also get more CinemaScoped celestial maidens here (complete with ’50s hair and makeup) than in any other movie this side of Queen of Outer Space, which World’s Edward Bernds directed as well for Allied Artists just two years later to establish his Auteur Antics credentials. World’s cave-dwelling creatures, which attack Hugh Marlowe and crew in a futuristic society full of mutants that obviously include arachnids, look like something that flunked Ed Wood’s always-stringent quality-control specifications, sporting a Halloween-store look that the Scope and Technicolor only accentuate.

The result is all rather charming unless your eyes get stuck rolling back into their sockets, with the upgrade in production values serving to emphasize the short-lived ambitions of Allied Artists in the ’50s (though over a long subsequent period, the corporation somehow managed to distribute El Cid, Cabaret, Papillion and The Man Who Would Be King, which is hardly unimpressive). Born of Monogram Pictures, whose biggest stars were the Bowery Boys, newly reconstituted AA tried to upgrade its standing in mid-decade by putting out William Wyler’s Friendly Persuasion and Billy Wilder’s Love in the Afternoon (both of which underperformed at the box office) and by giving their Bs a goose with upgraded cosmetics. Bernds was probably happy to get away from the Bowery Boys (his immediate credit before World was for Dig That Uranium), though I do remember laughing hysterically as my family sat stone-faced when Huntz Hall chewed some upper-cruster’s monocle that had just fallen into some chip-dip in the director’s Loose in London from 1953. But I digress.

As it turns out, World shares so many similarities with H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine that both the AFI Catalog for the 1950s and IMDb.com cite a lawsuit for the Wells estate over plagiarism (though the former’s researchers couldn’t determine how the case ended). What makes this interesting is World’s casting of future Time Machine movie lead Rod Taylor in his first Hollywood role of note — as one of a crew whose journey to Mars gets more than a little sidetracked when the rocket ship time-warps itself onto the Earth of 2508 when there’s no longer even a movie industry around to make the latest “Fast and Furious” sequel. Instead, the space travelers find the spiders (a web that looks as big as a baseball field backstop should have been the tip) and a band of p.o.’d Cyclops who look not a little like the primitive heavies in that 1960 Taylor version (for George Pal) of Machine. I kept wondering what Taylor thought of doing the same thing over again for MGM and a better budget just four years later, even if the effects were a lot better for their day. And, of course, there was always the possibility that Machine co-star Yvette Mimieux might walk into the studio commissary in flip-flops and ask Rod to sand her surfboard.

Any such thoughts, of course, come from “outside the frame” in “Mystery Science Theater” style, which happens a lot here because World isn’t exactly boundless in narrative clout. I kept thinking throughout of poor Hugh Marlowe, who looks mighty tired here in the lead, doing World and the cheaper Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (a Big One of my childhood redeemed by Ray Harryhausen effects) in the same year. No one will ever be able to take Twelve O’Clock High away from Marlowe (who suffers the greatest screen chew-out in screen history at the hands of Gregory Peck), and he’s also mighty good as the urbane villain in Henry Hathaway’s Rawhide. Maybe it’s just that he never got over the indignity of getting a scalped buzz-cut in Howard Hawks’s Monkey Business — but by the time of World, his name became synonymous with neighborhood-theater cheese to me and my cronies when we were merely smart-assed fourth-graders.

Of course, that’s part of the fun: seeing these fatigued-looking males (Taylor aside) being paired with the provocatively garbed non-mutant space babes they eventually encounter — all of whom look as if they could be in Frank Sinatra’s Vegas stable. In fact, femme lead Nancy Gates was actually in a couple Sinatra pics (Suddenly! and Some Came Running), though she eventually retired prematurely to raise a family, so Frank probably behaved himself. The others include Shirley Patterson (aka Shawn Smith), who one year later would land the female lead in Universal-International’s The Land Unknown — a “shaky-A” whose dinosaur, come to think, looked as “junior high art class” as the spiders here. If you’re wondering why honeys this comely take up with the World crew of displaced males, the only other choices they have are mutants and the honchos who run the ruling underground society, some of whom look old enough to have been cap-and-gown contemporaries of the High Lama played by H.B. Warner in Frank Capra’s Lost Horizon.

Allied Artists put World out in a national double bill with Lon Chaney Jr. and Max Showalter in The Indestructible Man (now, there’s an actor teaming), though I’m pretty sure it eventually got some second-run engagements with Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which AA had opened about six weeks earlier. The latter pairing would have been a good time at the drive-in (which is presumably what Warner Archive has going for with this clean World transfer), though I’m fairly amazed at the nonchalant treatment the initial blast-off gets early in the film. There’s none of that NASA chaos that Tom Wolfe and Norman Mailer later wrote about: The one married astronaut’s wife and kids get shunted off to the side, and press-wise, there are only four or five hack reporters out of The Front Page looking for a scoop at Mission Central (which, actually, is just a room).

But then, if I’m remembering 1951’s Flight to Mars (from Monogram) correctly, at least one or some of the gents who’ll be blasting off the next morning attends a cocktail party, which presumably would do wonders for, say, the crew navigator’s professional finesse.


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