Four astronauts (Hugh Marlowe, Nelson Leigh, Rod Taylor and Christopher Dark) are out on a mission to Mars when they lose contact with Earth. On their way home, something goes wrong, their craft reaches such a high speed that it busts all their instruments and the g-force knocks them out cold. When they crash land and awake, they find a snowy mountainous terrain with an Earth-like atmosphere, so they venture further. They deduce from the extreme but habitable levels of radiation and the graveyard with death dates beyond the year 2100, that they are indeed on Earth. They soon learn their spacecraft broke the time barrier and they travelled 500 years into the future.
Among the future creatures mutated by evolution and atomic war are giant jiggly rubber spiders and superstrong fur-clad cavemen, some of whom are cyclops. The men are assaulted and terrorized until they stumble into a futuristic underground city. The shining, automated place is full of beautiful women in revealing clothing (Shawn Smith, Lisa Montell and Nancy Gates) and frail, wimpy geniuses wearing hand-me-downs from a Flash Gordon serial. They speak english, they know the entire sum of human knowledge, and brag about their subterranean power plants, greenhouses and labs. But they try to keep the secret that their race is dying because mankind is not meant to live “in a hole” as Marlowe puts it.
Since The Great Blow (as they call armageddon) they’re avid pacifists, to the insane extreme of equating weapons and war to exploration and progress, which they badly need. They have no guts or courage, preferring safety and comfort to anything experimental or slightly risky. They won’t go out on the surface and face the Beasts, as they call them, to claim some land so their sickly children can eat real food and thrive in the sun. They may be intellectually advanced but they have a death wish. No wonder the women ogle at the buff Rod Taylor when he takes off his shirt, start to reject their communal living arrangement and fall in love with these adventurous heroes who seem to have walked out of their history books. One council member (Booth Colman) despises everything the astronauts stand for and frames them for murder. Our four heroes have to figure out how to clear themselves and then help the underground citizens improve their lives.
All this talk of mutants (the actual word here is “mutates”), time travel, Beast and Cyclops, you’d think this was The X-Men (even that poster looks like it has a future Sentinel in it), but World Without End is a combination of The Time Machine (1960) and Planet of the Apes (1968). Writer-director Edward Bernds concocted an interesting Cold War morale boosting story here, using now-common storytelling devices like an introductory newscast to bring viewers up to speed about the loss of contact with the astronauts, and what the mission was all about. From the sad wife and children waiting at mission control, we learn Dark is the one member with a family. He’s understandably the most despondent in the far future when he realizes they and all his descendants are long dead, and in the end he dedicates himself to teaching both mutate and human children.
The movie has nice music by Leith Stevens and is attractive thanks to cinemascope and cinematographer Ellsworth Fredericks, but the outside action is less than stellar. Marlowe gets to fight with one of the beasts (poke the eye, Hugh!) and when Dark says “cover me!” the others let him get speared in the back before they shoot. And nothing can make those awful fake spiders look good, especially the way they’re just thrown at the men. When the spaceship breaks the time barrier, it looks like a model swung on a string and filmed sideways. Still, it’s all part of the hokey fun and worth it for fans who want to see Rod Taylor’s first big role, in a time travel adventure four years before he’d go on a similar ride.