CAPSULE: I find it a bit odd that I am making positive comments about WORLD WITHOUT END, a film with several bad points. It could tell us a good deal about the early science fiction transitioning to more recognizable modern science fiction films. But that still does not make it a particularly notable film.
Hollywood's first science fiction time travel film (previous attempts all used purely fantasy devices) is an updated but down- scaled version of H. G. Wells' THE TIME MACHINE. Curiously enough, it features an early performance by Rod Taylor who would become the best-known time traveler in cinema a few years later in George Pal's THE TIME MACHINE. A contemporary man is boosted into the future where the descendents of us have evolved splitting into troglodytes and effetes.
The year is 1957 and a manned trip to Mars is engulfed in a mysterious field that looks like fire superimposed over the ship on the film. The ship's crew blacks out, and when they come to, they discover they had traveled at a higher speed than their meters could register. Having crash-landed while unconscious, they at first assume they are on Mars. Earth gravity, oxygen in the air, and trees somehow do not tip them off where they are. All too slowly they realize the primitive planet on which they have landed is Earth after a nuclear war. Civilization has split into two groups. There are the feeble intellectuals who live below ground and the mutated troglodytes who live above ground. The radiation has also made them deformed, typically Cyclopes, for no reason ever made clear. The intellectuals are in the process of dying out due to some sort of genetic simpiness that afflicts only the men. In a tasteful way, bearing in mind that this really is mostly a film for a younger audience, the script implies that the astronauts are to be used for breeding purposes. This is an idea that was "borrowed" by Harlan Ellison in A Boy and His Dog. I wouldn't mention it, but Ellison tended to point out when ideas are borrowed from him, except he does it in a courtroom.
What follows is some fairly uninspired intrigue involving a murder. The real killer is one of the men from this society who is jealous of the attention the women pay to the humans from the 20th century. He is dispensed with in a predictable way and the only effect he had was to use up some screen time without advancing the real plot. Eventually the astronauts are able to re-colonize the surface through the magic of re-inventing the bazooka. The film seems to imply that a bazooka is a very simple weapon. In fact, it is a portable rocket launcher and you don't have to be a rocket scientist to realize that to build a bazooka from scratch you probably need a rocket scientist.
Much of the acting is on the serial level. In spite of the fact that this was a wide-screen production and was intended to have a really nice look, the product as clearly aimed at a younger audience and the acting was no better than would be expected for a children's film. The writing has its share of fluffs also. Lines in the film include looking at Mars, seeing green and saying "if it is grass, there is no reason why there couldn't be life on Mars." Later, looking at the new planet, they repeat the error by walking through obvious vegetation and saying "forest, brush, no sign of life." Ideas of Einstein they attribute to another scientist, but do say he was a successor of Einstein.
The director lavished care on the widescreen photography, but still the look of the film is a bit tacky at times. The costumes of the future males are lame' jackets and silly looking head-caps. The women's costumes were designed by Vargas who for years did cheesecake paintings for Playboy magazine. The costumes look like they would have been sexy on paper but just don't work out when implemented in cloth. Much the same can be said of the spiders (though when I saw them as a kid they were pretty frightening). The score by Leith Stevens (who had done Destination Moon, When Worlds Collide, and War of the Worlds) is mediocre. Stevens had done those for Paramount, but here he was working for Warner Brothers.
The plot is heavily rooted in Einstein's Twin Paradox and while the mysterious acceleration is never explained, it would have resulted in an application of the "Twin Paradox" much as was shown. In fact, this is the film I think of when I picture in my mind the Twin Paradox. Unfortunately, I am more likely to picture unrealistic looking giant spiders.
Regarded as a children's film this one isn't bad. It just does not stand up to adult viewing. I rate it low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale.
Film Credits: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0049964/reference
What others are saying: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/world_without_end
Mark R. Leeper Copyright 2020 Mark R. Leeper