Thursday, December 27, 2018

Let's Do the Time Warp Again: World Without End (1956)

By Hank Parmer

At first glance World Without End has a few things going for it: By far the trippiest poster of any of the movies I've reviewed to date, and one of my favorite actors, in an early role. Plus it can legitimately claim to be the first SF thriller filmed in Cinemascope, with a release date five months prior to Forbidden Planet.

Unfortunately, Allied Artists was no MGM, Nancy Gates was no Ann Francis, and a cheesy giant spider puppet was in no way a substitute for an Id Monster.

The movie opens with stock footage of an A-Bomb test, then a quick dissolve from the atomic fireball to a Moon's-eye view of the Earth set against a starry background, with the title blazoned in scarlet slash-script across the face of our cloudless, paper-mache globe. This Bernds guy sure isn't pulling his punches.

According to the credits, Hugh Marlowe is our lead. Not the best choice, if you ask me. Nowhere near as bad as John Agar, sure, but he does better as a supporting character. Especially when he's playing something of a dick, like in The Day the Earth Stood Still or Twelve O'Clock High.

In fact, writer/director Bernds is said to have described Marlowe as "often lazy and unprepared". Although that may be an understandable if not particularly praiseworthy reaction to the material, or sour grapes because he was consistently upstaged by far more charismatic Rod Taylor. Fun fact: The IMDB trivia page also claims the lead was first offered to Sterling Hayden, which would have been ... different, to say the very least. Then to square-jawed character actor Frank Lovejoy, before Hugh snagged it.

Nancy Gates shares the top billing. She's probably best remembered for her turn as "Ellen Benson", whose happy home is commandeered by would-be presidential assassin Frank Sinatra in the 1954 thriller Suddenly. Snark aside, she was pretty good in that one. But in today's nitwit narrative the actor is little more than eye candy slated for the "Princess Who Speaks Up for the Handsome Stranger" role.

Leith Stevens wrote the score, which will be the typical cut-and-paste of themes he composed several years earlier for George Pal's science fiction films Destination Moon, When Worlds Collide and War of the Worlds. By this point, Stevens really seems to have just given up trying. Though again, I can see why he didn't exert himself for this one.

Screenplay by Edward Bernds, from a story by Edward Bernds. Directed by -- wait for it -- Edward Bernds. (I'm getting a bad feeling about this ...)

After the credits, the movie whisks us to the not-too-distant future of [cue reverb] 1957, with an establishing shot of a towering radio aerial, which segues to the communications shack at an arctic outpost. They've lost contact with the XRM, in mid-message! At the Pentagon, a P.R. flack breaks the worrisome news to a handful of reporters, then to the wife and golden-haired children (a girl and a boy, natch) of one of the astronauts.

Oh FFS, is this a widescreen, Technicolor remake of Rocketship X-M? The fiends!

Cut to Mars, where the crew of the spaceship XRM are finishing up the first reconnaissance of the Red Planet with a polar orbit.

These intrepid explorers aren't concerned about losing contact with Earth: It's only Mars' magnetic field temporarily messing with the reception. Pilot John Borden (Hugh Marlowe) is disappointed they won't be landing on Mars this trip, but Pontificator and Commander Dr. Eldon Galbraith (Nelson Leigh) isn't willing to risk losing all the valuable data they've gathered, if they were to make the attempt and crash.

Their pole-to-pole circuit completed, Borden decides it's time to set the gyros for good ol' Terra. Flight Engineer Herbert Ellis (Rod Taylor) and Navigator Henry 'Hank' Jaffe (Christopher Dark) heartily approve. Aussie Taylor, taking his posh accent for a trial spin before he played H. G. Wells, in The Time Machine (1960), wryly jokes that it will make his creditors happy.

They blast out of orbit. Sorry, but I have to pause here to question a few things about this arrangement: The astronauts don't have safety harnesses, not even so much as a seat belt. Although their chairs recline, since the compartment clearly runs fore-and-aft, they're lying flat, parallel to the rocket's thrust with their feet pointing toward the nose. Which means once the engines fire up not only will the blood rush to their heads, they should start sliding off those slick, vinyl-upholstered cushions, to pitch headfirst onto the rear bulkhead.

It certainly must make those vertical takeoffs and landings rather tricky. Maybe their flying togs have Velcro butts.

As the XRM speeds away from Mars, the astronauts somehow adhering to their recliners, the ship unexpectedly encounters a flame hurricane.

"You should never have said Picard was a better captain than Kirk!"

(Aficionados of '50s space epics will of course recognize this iconic rocket miniature, which made its first appearance in Flight to Mars (1951) and would be trotted out more than once afterwards, most notably in the film that was one of the major inspirations for Alien: 1958's It! The Terror from Beyond Space.)

The XRM bucks like an emphatically goosed bronco. Considering they're not strapped in, that ought to have our helmetless astronauts ricocheting around the inside of that compartment like ball bearings in a tin can -- except, much, much gorier. And it's a wonder the actors didn't get singed by the real-life flames billowing through those portholes the production was too cheap to glaze. 

"Alright: Who left those open?" 

The spaceship accelerates uncontrollably, even though Borden commands Ellis to reverse the rockets! (He must have seen that Duck Dodgers cartoon, and thought this was a real thing.)

The hull temperature hits the danger zone as their velocity rapidly increases to an astonishing 81 miles per second. The crew blacks out.

While they're all unconscious, the space storm flames out. The XRM plunges into a planet's atmosphere. Of course, the friction heat when they hit even the most tenuous layer of the stratosphere at almost 300,000 miles per hour should vaporize their craft in milliseconds, but sure ...

After all, who am I to nitpick? We're the audience. Bernds is the director and the author: He outranks us! (Mel Brooks? Never heard of the guy.)

With no hand at the controls, the XRM glides in for an amazingly gentle crash landing in mountainous, snow-covered terrain. I think they recycled this miniature set from Flight to Mars, too.

Everybody wakes up, having sustained not so much as a bloody nose or Band-Aid-worthy boo-boo from their ordeal. The speedometer needle is jammed at the far end of the scale, so at one point they must have been going even faster than 100 miles per second! Borden switches off the "magnetic gravity" -- which still doesn't explain why they weren't homogenized into people pulp by the G-forces they would have experienced.

Dr. Galbraith is perplexed: They were near Mars when the rocket went haywire, but it's obvious they haven't landed on one of its icecaps -- the conditions are too Earth-like. Chemical analysis is for nerds, so after a quick check of the outside pressure they pop the hatch. Good thing for them the air is bracingly breathable.

Borden suggests they should look for help down below the snow line. Before they depart, two more ominous facts are revealed: The background radiation is three times higher than Earth normal, and there's nothing but static on the radio. Oh no: How are they going to keep up with Amos 'n' Andy?

Leaving their snow-bound spaceship for the lower altitudes, they soon discover they've landed on Planet Iverson Ranch. Jaffe has been more than a bit of a buzzkill all during their march. While he's momentarily out of earshot, Dr. Galbraith reminds Ellis and Borden it's because the navigator is worried about his wife and kids. The scientist admits he would have preferred recruiting another bachelor for this dangerous mission, but Jaffe was just too darned handy at that thar navvygatin'.

After this short back story break, they chance upon a narrow cleft leading to a cave. The astronauts waltz right in to this surprisingly well-lit subterranean lair. They find a very large web. Like, one that's obviously been spun by a honkin' huge arachnid. So what does Ellis do but step right up to the web for a closer look.

He's immediately pounced upon by a St. Bernard-sized spider. Okay, not so much "pounced upon" as "having a couple of stage hands toss an oversize plush toy spider at him from off-camera".

(I was mistaken earlier: It's not even the feeblest attempt at a puppet or marionette. And Bernds was so proud of this ludicrous prop that, just like the rocket miniature, two years later he would re-use it in his next film, the immortal, so-awful-it-must-be-parody Queen of Outer Space.)

Borden and Dr. Galbraith help Ellis pretend-wrestle with the spider. Naturally, Jaffe is shoved to the side and gets tangled in the web. Borden manages to draw his pistol and pump several blanks into the creature's head, while Ellis somehow fends off the snuggle toy's laughable -- I mean, lethal nippers.

"Sing, damn you: Itsy bitsy spider ..."

In fact, afterwards, he appears barely fazed by the encounter. I'm less of an arachnophobe than most, but if a spider that big landed on top of me, at the very least I'd have needed a change of underwear. And most likely heavy sedation and more than a few therapy sessions afterwards for the cold sweats, recurring nightmares and shrieking fits. But Ellis must be made of sterner stuff.

Once they've put some distance between themselves and the spider lair, the thoroughly bushed explorers decide it's time to make camp. In a nice open area, with plenty of boulders scattered around to provide cover for anything or anyone that wants to steal up on them. This, mind you, after running into an enormous spider, which might possibly suggest there are other oversize bugs roaming about. Yep. Sounds about right for this bunch.

Sure enough, later that night, as Jaffe keeps watch while the others snooze, they're attacked. But this time it's by three cavemen -- with a difference.

"I'm Popeye the mutant caveman ..."

Jaffe, who has been firmly established as almost totally useless when he's not navigating, is tending their campfire. He doesn't see these hideously malformed Stone Age savages coming, but luckily some smoke blows in his face. His coughing fit wakes Dr. Galbraith. Just in the nick of time, the Prof. alerts the others to their danger.

It should come as no surprise that Jaffe is knocked out at the beginning of the fight. It looks pretty dire for the other astronauts, too, as their attackers toss them around like 90 lb weaklings, until Ellis retrieves his pistol and shoots two of the cavemen, wounding one and killing the other. The surviving cavemen wisely make themselves scarce.

Next morning, the astronauts bury the mutant caveman, even taking the trouble to place stones over his grave. Which I have to say is remarkably decent of them.

Continuing their ramble, they discover an overgrown graveyard surrounded by a crumbling wall. The inscriptions on the tombstones and obelisks are all in English, and the latest date on them is 2188! Professor Know-It-All claims he's suspected it all along: While they were unconscious, their spaceship flew so fast that the time dilation effect kicked in, and centuries passed in what would have seemed only moments to them.

(And it took several hundred years, traveling at over 360,000 miles per hour, to fly from Mars to the Earth. 'Kay ... I suppose I should give Bernds some props for trying to work a bit of Relativity Theory into this plot, in what I'm fairly certain is a sci-fi film first, but I'll skip the pedantry this time and cut straight to the "No feckin' way!")

Noting that quite a few of the grave markers show 2188 as the year of death, the Prof. speculates there must have been some catastrophe then, almost certainly a nuclear war. (Sure, it may have obliterated civilization, but it must have been a real shot in the arm for the monument and tombstone sector.) It would have taken at least a couple hundred years for the radiation to subside to its current level, so everyone and everything they knew must be over four hundred years in the past.

Which, if nothing else, neatly solves Ellis' financial woes.

Dr. Galbraith believes they've crashed somewhere in the Rockies, probably Colorado, or northern New Mexico. The mutant cavemen (he calls them "Mutates" -- the Prof. has a little trouble sometimes distinguishing between his nouns and verbs) must be the descendants of the handful of irradiated survivors of that devastating war. (Kind of strange, though, how their mutations seem to have confined themselves exclusively to the guys' heads.) But are there any other humans left, preferably not of the homicidal-and-grotesquely-mutated type?

Searching for some remnant of civilization -- at this point they'd even settle for a Jack-in-the-Box -- they spy a thin column of smoke in the distance. Borden orders the others to stay back and cover him while he scouts it out. Providing the perfect occasion for more back story, as Galbraith explains to the others why Borden seems so careless of his life: He was married once, too, but his wife and child perished in a mid-Pacific airliner accident.

Borden is promptly set upon by "Mutates". Despite the script's telling us earlier that these guys are abnormally strong, he acquits himself fairly well against his repulsive, fur-clad foes. But there are just too many of them. His companions blaze away with their pistols, not only at the cavemen rushing in to dogpile Borden, but also at the mutants he's currently grappling with. At a distance where they have about as good a chance of hitting their crewmate as his attackers.
They run up and try shooting the mutants at close range, which turns out to be a somewhat more successful tactic. Ellis plugs the mutant who's knocked Borden down and is about to brain him with a club. They rescue Borden, but now they're low on ammo, while more and more mutants keep popping up. Supporting their half-conscious friend, the astronauts retreat to some nearby rocks, where they find yet another cave entrance.

Inside the cave -- which for the moment at least appears free of venomous plush toys -- Ellis discovers a slab of stainless steel set in the wall at the back of the chamber. Suddenly, another metal slab slides across the entrance, and they're trapped, like rats! (Yes, the script actually has one of the characters say that.)

They better hope they haven't run into more giant mutated spiders -- who've also developed modern technology. Because if there's one thing these movies have shown, it's that you never can tell what kind of wackiness will result when there's atomic radiation in the mix.

As luck would have it, they've stumbled upon the "normal" humans. They're greeted by prolific character actor Booth Coleman, as "Mories". (Because he speaks with the pompatus of love.) Judging by his tunic and hose and goofy skullcap, the explorers have arrived just in time for the normals' Renaissance Faire.
"Welcome, noble sirs! Prithee, hoist a leathern mug with us!" 

Mories, who's plainly not taken with these newcomers, escorts the astronauts to a meet-up with the humans' governing body. However, the elders of the Council, headed by their President, "Timmek" (Everett Glass), are friendly enough. Since their chief scientist is well acquainted with that time dilation thingy, they readily accept Dr. Galbraith's explanation that he and his friends are astronauts from the year 1957. Timmek informs them the year is now 2508.

We also learn that these humans refer to their mutated cousins as the "Beasts" -- and that's not simply due to their atrocious table manners.

Timmek allows Borden and his mates to remain in the refuge, though Mories demands they surrender their weapons. Which seems a fairly reasonable thing to ask, from the future people's point of view. But Borden objects, and it appears as if this interview might take an ugly turn, until Timmek's daughter "Garnet" (Nancy Gates) intercedes for the strangers. The astronauts grudgingly agree to give up their pistols after Timmek promises the firearms will be returned, if they decide to leave the enclave.

Seated at a futuristic dining room set in their Fifties Brutalist underground apartment, the crew digs into a hearty meal. It's served to them by silent, impassive, raven-haired Deena (Lisa Montell) while Garnet supervises.

(Deena's inferior social status is clearly indicated by her costume: black satin Capri pants, a black satin crop top sans shoulder flares, and sensible silver flats, instead of the colorful figure-skater's mini and 4-inch heels worn by the rest of the feminine contingent in the Refuge. All of whom seem to be in their mid-twenties and ... well-proportioned.)

According to Garnet, the fresh fruits and vegetables the men are chowing down on were, amazingly, cultivated underground. Their advanced 26th Century science has mastered the secret of the Grow Light! Who can imagine what other wonders they've discovered in the last 500 years ...

Another futuristically attired lady, redheaded stunner Elaine (Shawn Smith) enters the scene, followed by a couple of weedy male nonentities lugging the explorers' backpacks. After Garnet introduces this lovely, explaining she's the assistant to their scientific bigwig, Elaine offers to take the men on a tour of the power plant and other technological marvels. While looking Ellis straight in the eye, with a suggestive half-smile and a barely perceptible eyebrow quirk, she promises to "show them anything else they wish to see".

Many things may have been lost in the intervening centuries, but thankfully, the double entendre still survives.

Once Elaine exits, it's time to introduce the main theme of this plot: Since the radiation levels aboveground are in the safe zone now, Borden wonders why Garnet's people haven't reclaimed the surface from the Beasts. It should be easy enough, with all their advanced technology. (Of which, incidentally, we will see not the slightest evidence during the course of this film.)

Garnet explains that the mutants killed many of her people. They were sick of war and weather and stuff. Why not stay in the nice, cozy Refuge, where all their needs are met? And you get all the lotuses you can eat!

Borden, however, isn't pleased with her attitude, arguing that the surface is the only proper place for humans. (Otherwise, they get all pasty and Morlock-y. Or, in extreme cases like Stephen Miller, turn into C.H.U.D.s.)

But he immediately apologizes for being so cranky and judgmental. Garnet is certain Borden and his friends will come to like it here, after they've had time to look around.

Bearing an armful of clean towels, Deena re-enters the apartment. She meekly crosses the room and exits through an archway. His curiosity aroused, Borden asks Garnet about the "little serving girl".

According to Deena's back story, her parents were mutants. Though the Beasts occasionally produce a normal-looking child like Deena, they always kill them or drive them away. The Refuge dwellers found her hiding in a tunnel, half-dead from starvation, and took her in. As a servant. How ... generous of them. And as far as this story is concerned, she also appears to be the only menial in the place. Too bad she doesn't realize her own bargaining power.

After Garnet leaves the visitors to rest and recuperate, Jaffe follows Borden into their futuristic bunk room. He believes the normals could help them repair their spacecraft and figure out how to fly it back into the past, what with their highly advanced science. Borden is sympathetic to the navigator's plight, but he's not optimistic about Jaffe's chances of persuading these people. For all their smarts, he sneers, they lack one essential quality: guts!

Next morning, fresh from his shower, bare-chested Ellis joins his friends. He's enthralled by this futuristic plumbing that turns itself on -- at the right temperature! Unbelievable!

With suspiciously good timing, Elaine chooses this moment to drop by. She is deeply impressed by the Rod Taylor beefcake. If looks could devour, there would be nothing left of the guy but his fillings. He's got so much more muscle than our own men, marvels Elaine. She's clearly sizing him up in other departments, too.

Elaine throws Ellis another simper, and exits. Borden twits his crewmate over her reaction. If Ellis just leaves his shirt off, our hero cattily predicts, he could run for President of the Council and have the women's vote sewn up. (Imagine what he might achieve if he went pants-less, as well.)

Ellis can't understand why all the women here in the future are so luscious and vital, while the men appear pale and undernourished.

(One might be inclined to suspect they're habitual self-abusers. Or, if Elaine is any example, could the prodigious sexual appetites of the Refuge women be too much for these poor, Vitamin D-deprived wretches?)

Deena enters, carrying a pitcher. Her eyes are downcast, as she silently pads across the room to the futuristic sideboard. Borden for some reason believes the "servant girl" can't understand a word they're saying, but cannier ladies-man Ellis tricks her by making a disparaging (and blatantly fictitious) comment to Borden about her bow legs.

"No, they're not!" she protests indignantly. Prettily flustered, Deena scoots out of the apartment. (Har har. Women, huh fellas?)

Dr. Galbraith meets with Timmek and Mories and another geezer named James, in the Council chamber. By the way, Bernds must have really admired this set, because something like half the damn scenes in this movie are shot here. In fact, practically two-thirds of this movie takes place in four or five not particularly spacious, sparsely furnished interior sets, with some exterior locations on the Iverson Ranch. Which has some picturesque rock formations, but isn't exactly what I'd call widescreen-worthy scenic. Remind me again: Why did they bother to film this drivel in Cinemascope?

The Prof. wants to enlist the normals' help in repairing the spacecraft. At least, unlike "mathematical genius" Jaffe, he knows they can't fly it back to 1957. (Not even if they do it the whole way in reverse.) But if they can get the spaceship in the air again, he offers to scout around the Earth, to see if they can locate any more communities like the Refuge. Mories clearly wants nothing to do with the project, but Timmek promises he'll give it some thought.

Meanwhile, Jaffe is getting the tech tour, courtesy of their chief scientist, Elda. Cleverly saving the bucks they might have had to shell out for a futuristic power room set, Elda chooses the hydroponics lab as the location to explain that the Refuge gets its electricity by tapping the Earth's core. Everything else they need is synthesized from "Earth's treasure chest": petroleum. They used to scavenge the metals they required from the ruins, but the mutants made that too dangerous a proposition. Now they recycle, which, since their community is growing smaller, provides plenty for everyone.

Jaffe immediately picks up on that "smaller" bit, though Elda makes a feeble attempt to cover his giveaway by re-phrasing it: "I should have said, our community is becoming more compact." (What? They're getting rid of most of their junk and moving to subterranean condos?)

Garnet and Borden's arrival interrupts this awkward moment. Elda invites them to come along to check out the machine shops, but they decline. Alone now with Borden, Garnet explains why Mories keeps giving the astronaut and his mates the stink-eye: He's in line to become the next President, and has his ambitious little black heart set on mating with Garnet. But, after the arrival of these hunks from the past, she's not so sure about that.

Later that evening, the astronauts gather in their quarters. Dr. Galbraith, who looks to be in his mid-50s, is astonished at how the attractive young womenfolk of the Refuge have been ogling and petting him. The others are struck yet again by what wussies the future men have become. Borden is disgusted: "Man isn't meant to live in a hole in the ground!" he declares. (Though strangely, their women seem to do quite well. Paging Dr. Freud ...)

Meanwhile, Borden's got a big date with Garnet. She shows him a tunnel which leads to the surface, and a cozy little garden grotto. Of course there's a full moon. Garnet pointedly remarks that in all the books from the past, the men were strong and fierce and would never have let an opportunity for love-making like this pass them by. (Hint. Hint.) I think those tattered fragments of Harlequin romances in the Refuge lending library may have given these ladies some unrealistic expectations.

Borden is reluctant at first to continue this line of conversation. He warns Garnet that he'll be leaving soon, but it doesn't take all that long before he's shoving his tongue down her throat.

Meanwhile, Jaffe has been snooping around the Refuge: He's found out that their birthrate is so low -- only 16 sickly children out of a population of nearly two thousand adults -- that they'll be extinct in another generation. It also turns out that Garnet wasn't exactly telling the truth about how the mutants treat their normal-looking children. Deena says the Beasts don't kill or banish them -- they need the extra hands to do the work. (So how did Deena end up in the Refuge, and why did Garnet feed them that story? Don't worry: This will remain completely unexplained.)

The Council rejects Dr. Galbraith's plea for help in getting the XRM back into the air. Returning to their quarters, the astronauts decide their only course of action is to go it alone and try to establish an outpost on the surface. If the normals can be persuaded to at least whip up some weapons for them in that machine shop, the guys should be able to hold their own against the "Mutates".

The astronauts don't realize that Mories is listening in on their conversation over the futuristic intercom. It also probably doesn't help when Borden confesses his feelings for Garnet, and Jaffe assures the pilot he's three times the man Mories is. Which is definitely not the sort of thing someone with Mories' 26th Century Girly-Man body issues wants to hear.

Mories wastes no time in carrying a tale to Timmek, claiming he overheard the visitors hatching a scheme for a hostile takeover. Shortly thereafter, Dr. Galbraith and Borden inform yet another meeting of the Council they're planning to strike out on their own, and ask for help viz. electric fencing and something to slaughter the mutants.

If any of the men want to come along, Borden adds, they'll be welcome. Once a "safe zone" has been established, others can join them up above. Where there will be nightly drum circles and bi-weekly seminars on the works of Robert Bly and Mickey Spillane.

Garnet and Elaine are plainly thrilled by the proposal, but elderly council member James whines about the danger and the heat and cold and dirt and bugs and stuff on the surface. Why would they want to abandon the Refuge for that?

Jaffe launches into an impassioned diatribe about their dwindling birthrate. (Which, judging from the Refuge men's reactions, is something they'd rather not discuss in public.) He implores them to think of the children, who need the sunlight and fresh air.

Mories dismisses Jaffe's concerns, saying their scientists are well aware of the problem and this close to a solution. (It involves these blue pills, and pumps, or if that doesn't do the trick, this recently discovered cache of late 22nd Century hyper-porn.)

He angrily denounces the astronauts, accusing them of wanting weapons so they can turn the normals into cannon fodder for their war of conquest, which will end up enslaving them all. Timmek and James hold a brief whispered consultation before the President of the Council sternly announces his decision: These inveterate pacifists are not about to supply bang-bangs for the boyz. Nah ganna happen.

After the meeting breaks up, Garnet tries to persuade her father that Borden and his friends really have the normals' best interests at heart. She trashes Mories' tattling, pointing out he's crazy with jealousy. While Timmek dithers, crafty Mories discovers where James stashed the astronauts' handguns: in an unlocked end table cabinet, in his living room, naturally. (Just like many a 20th Century gun owner!) James surprises Mories in mid-pilfer, and the villain pistol-whips him. The elder drops like a sack of potatoes.

Mories hides the guns under Borden's mattress and hurries out of the astronauts' quarters, unaware that Deena saw him sneaking in. The servant girl hastens to warn Ellis, but, when she discovers him flirting with Elaine, changes her mind.

When Timmek learns James is dead and the pistols missing, he immediately orders a search of the astronauts' quarters. They soon find the firearms, and quickly capture Borden and his friends. At yet another meeting of the Council, while Mories quietly gloats, Timmek sentences the astronauts to banishment. Effectively a death sentence, although he's kindhearted enough to wait until after sunset to evict the guys.

Deena regrets her spiteful impulse, and resolves to spill the beans. But Mories is lurking behind the bookshelf in the anteroom/library. He overhears her ask Elda if she can speak with the President, because she knows who actually took the weapons. While Elda checks with Timmek, Mories slips up behind Deena, bashes her with a futuristic paving stone and scarpers. But, before she taps out, Deena fingers her attacker and tells Timmek she saw him plant the guns, too.

Mories departs the Refuge just a step or two ahead of the mob. They refuse to follow him outside, but he only gets a few yards before he's surrounded by a crowd of mutants and clubbed and speared to death. The astronauts are exonerated; after a handsome public apology, Timmek throws the Council's weight behind their plan to reclaim the surface.

Sometime later, the astronauts and Garnet visit Deena in the infirmary, where she's recovering nicely. Jaffe shows them the highly advanced 26th Century machine shop's first attempt at replicating a 19th Century sidearm: Judging by the burst barrel, it's less than a resounding success.

On the plus side, twenty of the Refuge men have volunteered to join them. Garnet is dismissive of these pathetic schlubs' fighting abilities, but Borden vows he and his friends will make the attack alone, if they have to. Garnet objects that even with the weapons, that's still an awful lot of mutants to waste.

Deena has another timely revelation about her people: Only the "ugly ones" fight. They are the masters. If the boys kill all the ugly mutants -- problem solved!

But that still leaves them with their girly-manpower difficulties, and what about those trick exploding handguns? Jaffe has a brainstorm: Rather than wait for the future guys to work the bugs out of their shootin' irons, have them build something much less complicated -- a bazooka! Just the thing for close combat.

So the film acquires yet more padding with the "build and test a rocket launcher" montage. While they're making final preparations for their sally against the mutants -- armed with three handguns, one bazooka and a baker's dozen of projectiles -- Bernds evidently realizes how ridiculous this plan looks.

After a touching bit, in which Elaine gracefully hands off Ellis to Deena, the servant girl introduces another in a series of convenient plot points: The leader of the mutants is a reputedly nasty piece of work named "Naga". If one of the boys -- c'mon, you know it's gonna be the guy with top billing -- can best him in single combat, the rest of the mutants will have to obey the winner. Well, that's nice to know.

Out in the wide-open spaces, the bazooka works like a charm. After blowing up a couple of minor gaggles of mutants, the boys find a non-mutated survivor, who immediately surrenders. They can't understand a word he's babbling, because the cavemen have concocted their own appropriately guttural and apish-sounding language. Probably just to trigger the normals.

Jaffe is sent back with their prisoner, to get more ammo for the bazooka and give Deena a chance to interrogate the captive. The navigator soon rejoins them, with Deena in tow. Their prisoner told her Naga and the rest of the mutants would likely go to ground in their caves. Ellis isn't happy about Deena tagging along, but Borden figures she'll be needed to palaver with the mutants.

Deena leads them to the "caves" for their fateful confrontation with Naga. There's not a mutant in sight, though they do find a boy with a spear in his back. Deena believes Naga will kill the rest of the normals cooped up in the cave with him if they attack, which also makes using the bazooka out of the question. Jaffe heroically insists on scouting out the entrance, but before he gets close Naga and a handful of mutants pile out of the cave and start chucking spears at him.

"Naga wave private parts at auntie!"

Beating a hasty retreat, Jaffe is skewered in the back, though luckily, the wound isn't mortal; Ellis courageously sprints up and carries him to safety.

Borden has Deena tell the mutant chief he's a coward and slayer of women and children -- and those are his good points. He challenges this ugly brute to fight mano a mano, no thunder sticks allowed.

His crewmates think Borden is crazy for taking on the hulking mutant in hand-to-hand combat, but he reminds them he has one big advantage: a civilized brain. (He's right, you know. Why, it would be like pitting Conan the Barbarian against Oscar Wilde!) Borden reminds them he has another advantage: There's also the one-eyed mutant's faulty depth perception. (For some odd reason, almost all the "ugly ones" are cyclops or have only one functioning eye.) Which didn't seem to hinder his ability to plant a spear in Jaffe's back at thirty yards, but that could have been a fluke ...

So it's superior strength, coupled with a stone ax and lots of enthusiasm, against the smaller but more nimble Borden and his "civilized brain" -- plus his razor-sharp stainless steel pig-sticker and hatchet.

Anyway, the less said about what follows, the better. Suffice it to say, the Star Trek: TOS fight music played in my head all during this sequence. Unsurprisingly, Borden wins. He has Deena command Naga's cowed mutant mates to bugger off, which they do, in haste. All seven of them. And apparently there are no mutant women or children. Sure.

So much for this epic showdown between Civilization and Savagery.

Let's review: When the astronauts were nearly massacred by the mutants outside the Refuge, the nasties appeared quite numerous, seemingly lurking behind every boulder and tree. Later, the script informs us that the mutants can have normal children, whom they supposedly murder or drive away. Then it's revealed that the mutants keep their normals to work for them. Then it turns out only the "ugly ones" are warlike and bossy. (Although, I admit, if I looked like that it might sour my normally sunny disposition, too.) Leaving aside the fact that both the number of hideous mutants and their ratio to normal-looking cave people keep getting revised downward, it ends up that all Borden and crew have to do is kill the chief ugly in single combat, and the ultra-aggressive "Mutates" scatter like quail.

Or, how to go, in a few easy steps, from what at first promises to be a genocidal campaign against a horde of mutants, with all the moral issues that involves (the least problematic of them being that it's likely to be conducted on the basis of beauty standards) to this lame dust-up between Borden and Stone Age Mutant Bluto.

Sometime later, the astronauts are busy helping the future people construct a lovely little gated community. Borden's hooked up with Garnet, and Ellis with Deena. Dr. Galbraith helps Elda lay out the water system. Jaffe is teaching the cave children English, while Elaine watches approvingly. Their lesson over, the children join the once-sickly Refuge kids -- now robust and rambunctious after being let out in the sun and fresh air -- as they all play "King of the Sand Pile".

The future's so bright, they're gonna need shades!

Hopefully the outdoorsy regimen will also help the Refuge guys up their game, so to speak. Otherwise, our boys are going to be in constant demand, and I don't mean in the construction biz. (Although it does have something to do with erections.)

And there you have it: a thick slab of unremitting tedium, garnished with an oversized spider plush toy, moronic mutants, and a subterranean race of Woody Allens afflicted with return-to-the-womb-induced ED. Not to mention all the thrills and drama of a series of New England town council meetings, complete with endless wrangling over whether to install a traffic light at the crossroads.

Thank you, Edward Bernds, for making us laugh at the nuclear holocaust again!


zombie rotten mcdonald said...

now I kind of want to see this movie. Does that make me a bad person?

Unfortunately, none of my streaming services has it currently....

Hank said...

No, not bad, just masochistic.

This one came to me courtesy of one of those TCM 4-movie collections, which has two genuine Fifties SF classics -- Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and Them! -- and this dog, plus another deservedly obscure flick: Satellite in the Sky.

billcinsd said...

Hey they might have got stuck circling the Earth waiting for clearance to land for 550 years before they ran out of fuel