May 16, 2017
On Blu-ray: Sci-fi in Cinemascope, World Without End (1956)
Word Without End (1956) is an essentially unremarkable 50s sci-fi flick made more interesting by a few elements of its production, cast and design. Now available on Blu-ray from Warner Archive, it is a good-looking film that plays it straight, though there are some unavoidably campy aspects to it.
It's the story of a pioneering space crew who become lost in time after completing the first mission to Mars. Finding themselves forced hundreds of years into a bleak future nuclear wasteland, the crew accepts its fate and tries to make the best of the situation. This involves dealing with the one-eyed, hairy mutants that terrorize all who attempt to set foot above ground and the odd population of apparently more civilized people who live below the Earth's surface.
Terrified of the beasts above, the men and children who have sought refuge underground have begun to shrivel away. Not the women though, who are vibrant, healthy, ready for the burlesque stage and very curious about the hearty, muscular crew that has dropped out of the sky. Jealous of these intergalactic hunks, the men are suspicious, even devious, as they resist the efforts of the crew to fight for life above ground.
Though it is essentially a 'B' movie, the production comes off as 'A' level luxurious, thanks to Cinemascope, Technicolor, elegant, if sparse set design and eye-popping costumes. Those last two were designed by the legendary pin-up artist Alberto Vargas, for the only film in which he would ever participate. For that reason, it isn't surprising that the ladies' dresses in this production don't leave a lot to the imagination (you don't get a close look at anyone bending over or even attempting to sit in the barely legal mini-dresses). These severely constructed garments are more than peek-a-boo frocks though; each is a mini masterpiece of structure and design, and starched so stiff that you half expect them to walk away on their own. Even the considerably more bland male characters below ground get to luxuriate in silky, bejeweled jackets and skull caps.
It makes sense that more established star Hugh Marlowe would be in the lead, but in hindsight the casting appears absurd when charming, hunky Rod Taylor, here in a supporting role, is clearly a more appropriate leading man. When Marlowe jumps into a fight scene with a mutant, you can't help but shake your head at the sight of Taylor standing on the sidelines. This was an early role for the always underrated Australian actor and one of the first hints of how magnetic he could be on the big screen. Amusingly enough, he would get the chance to play a lead with many similarities to this one a few years later in Time Machine (1960), where he would also battle barbaric hairy beasts in the future, though they would live below, rather than above ground (the plots were in fact so similar that H.G. Wells' estate sued the producers of World Without End).
While World Without End is never entirely campy, the outlandish costumes, the absurdity of a population of all anemic men and centerfold women and moments like Lisa Montell's highly expressive conversation with a mutant who is screeching at her from a cave do draw the odd giggle. It's not riotous fun, but it's amusing. Fans of Rod Taylor will not want to miss it.
Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.