Sunday, September 27, 2015

Beyond the Time Barrier (Miller Consolidated Pictures/American International Pictures, 1960)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2015 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Next up was Beyond the Time Barrier, a 1960 film with some pretty illustrious names from old-line classic Hollywood: the director was Edgar G. Ulmer, the make-up artist was Jack P. Pierce and the art director was Ernest Fegté, who worked out the simple but quite effective triangle-motif sets that represented the world of 2024. It starts in 1960, with a simple scene in which test pilot Major William Allison (Robert Clarke) takes up a plane called an X-80. The original “X”-series aircraft were planes that were taken up attached to other planes — usually B-29 or B-52 bombers — and detached themselves in mid-air so they could make a run to the reaches of outer space without having to carry enough fuel to reach escape velocity on their own. Though the “X-80” is represented by stock footage of F-102’s and F-106’s (and some contributors had fun pointing out that the flight numbers painted on the planes change from shot to shot, indicating that Ulmer and producer Robert Clarke — yes, he’s also the star — used different stock clips of the same brands of aircraft and thought the audience would read the different planes as identical), it’s supposed to have two sets of engines, an ordinary jet and a rocket, which will kick in when the plane reaches the outer limits of the atmosphere and turn it into a hairpin curve from which it will briefly reach outer space before re-entering earth’s gravity. Only the flight path intersects with a post-Einsteinian physicist’s hypothesized curve in the space-time continuum (screenwriter Arthur C. Pierce was one of those scribes who was able to make the science behind the movie sound good even though any actual physicists in the audience were probably laughing their heads off), so he lands in the same place from whence he took off, but 64 years into the future. Humankind has retreated into the caves and in the process most of the people of the future have become deaf, dumb and sterile, though the one fertile woman is Princess Trirene (Darlene Tompkins), daughter of “The Supreme” (Vladimir Sokoloff) — of course I couldn’t help but joke, “Actually there are three Supremes, they’re Black women, and they sing!”), and it doesn’t take long before Major Allison realizes that what The Supreme and his council want from him is for him to fuck Trirene on a regular basis and thereby replenish the population of their cave society. The Supreme also warns Allison of two dastardly enemies of his society, General Karl Kruse (Stephen Bekassy) and Dr. Bourman (John Van Dreelen), and at one point he has Allison imprisoned in a dungeon with a bunch of shabby-looking (and badly made up — Jack P. Pierce wasn’t going to win any plaudits for this movie the way he had — or deserved — for Frankenstein, The Mummy and The Wolf-Man!) killer mutants. The scene in the dungeon is the one part of the movie that really engaged Edgar G. Ulmer’s attentions — the film was actually made in Dallas along with a second production, The Amazing Transparent Man (a pretty straightforward invisible-man story in which, as in The Invisible Man’s Revenge, the unseen character was a psychopathic villain before he became invisible), and according to the producer lost control of the negative when the initial distributor went out of business, the processing lab repossessed the film and sold the distribution rights to American International, with the result that Robert Clarke lost all the money he’d invested in the two films and the only pay he got for them was what he had paid himself as an actor.

Anyway, Allison eventually reaches the people he’s been warned against, Kruse and Bourman, along with a Russian woman scientist named Captain Markova (Arianne Arden, who according to was also known as Arianne Ulmer — so no two guesses on how she got the job!) who’s got the hots for Allison herself and is having jealous hissy-fits over his attraction to Trirene (Allison may resent being called on by the Supreme to be his society’s stud servicer but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t want to have sex with Trirene without anybody else’s agendas getting in the way!). Eventually he learns from them how he ended up 64 years ahead of where he started, and also learns that while there wasn’t an atomic war, human civilization collapsed anyway because of a plague from outer space caused by cosmic rays, and atomic bombs were at least the indirect cause because all those atmospheric A-bomb and H-bomb tests in the late 1950’s blew a hole in the protective layer of the atmosphere, thereby letting in those pesky cosmic rays that killed most of Earth’s population. The only ones who survived were the handfuls who got into the caves soon enough; the ones trapped on the surface, who became the mutants; and the colonists who were living on Mars or Venus when the plagues happened and therefore escaped them. Kruse, Bourman and Markova were all space colonists who got boomeranged into the future Earth after the plagues by similar time-space physical phenomena to the one that brought in Allison from before the plague, and eventually Allison manages to persuade everyone that if he’s allowed to return to his plane and duplicate his original flight, he’ll be able to warn the people of 1960 to stop testing nuclear weapons so the ozone layer or whatever it was won’t disappear, the cosmic rays will stay out of Earth’s lower atmosphere, the plagues will never happen and therefore their dire future won’t occur. He makes the flight home, but Trirene gets killed before she can join him, and when he returns an Einsteinian space-time effect has taken place on his body and he’s a prematurely old man. Beyond the Time Barrier is a well-done movie, quite good for the budget and solidly entertaining, though the attempts at grafting philosophical depth onto what’s really a pretty ordinary sci-fi shoot-’em-up don’t come off that well and the third film on the night’s program, a 1956 production from Allied Artists (nèe Monogram) called World Without End, was actually quite a bit better even though that film used a similar plot to communicate a Right­-wing instead of a vaguely liberal political message.