Every so often one finds a film that is so perfectly trite, poorly acted, and predictable, in every imaginable way, that its very boldness into badness is forgivable. Such was my thought whilst recently watching Edgar G. Ulmer’s 1960 schlocksterpiece film Beyond The Time Barrier, on Netflix. Clocking in at a robust 74 minutes in length, this odd little black and white film, which exhibited an odd strobing effect, due to poorly synched streaming, is not one of the better efforts from Ulmer, the auteur of Poverty Row Hollywood filmmaking (the neglected Bluebeard), and a legend in cranking out cheap films on the cheap and on the fly, and should have been a classic on Mystery Science Theater 3000, starting with its pre-Star Wars bottom to top font scroll of credits.
The film’s plot is nothing much: using what has become known as Toho Science (sci fi-speak for bad science needed to explain plot devices), on March 5th, 1960, a USAF Major and test pilot named Bill Allison (Robert Clarke, who also produced the film, and fresh off The Hideous Sun Demon) tests a new rocket design, and launches himself into space where, via Toho Science, his ship splits in two, and he travels to the year 2024, where earth’s survivors (the mass of the population fled the planet for the stars) predictably has fallen into a Morlocks and Eloi like situation, with the de facto Eloi unable to reproduce, yet keeping the mutants at bay in underground bunkers. It seems that nuclear testing zapped the ozone layer and allowed cosmic rays to flood the earth.
Now, Allison needs to get back to 1960 to warn humanity of the impending disaster (which will hit in the 1970s). Of course, there are other time travelers who have gotten stranded (called ‘Scapes,’ because they’ve escaped the plague), and they consist of a Russian Captain named Alicia Markova (Arianne Ulmer, the director’s daughter), a proto-Nazi- Professor Bourman (John Van Dreelen), and another scientist, General Kruse (Stephen Bekassy). Oh, and did I mention that all but a few of the de facto Eloi are deaf mutes? But the females all, apparently are total babes who walk around in miniskirts and tight tops that highlight their luscious bosoms. Chief among them is the granddaughter of the Supreme (Vladimir Sokoloff, a B film veteran) who runs the Eloi’s Citadel, named Trirenne (Darlene Tompkins).
Need I elaborate that she falls instantly in love with Allison, reads his mind and, after slapping him and other males whose minds she reads, helps him on his attempt to get back to 1960? Naturally, the Scapes help Allison, bicker, doublecross each other, and the Russian lets the Mutants loose to ravage the Citadel so that Allison can escape. He gets back to his airplane, left alone on a deserted airport, flies at the same speed, height, and angle, in reverse, and- voila!- returns to 1960, to warn the government brass. Oh, yeah- one thing, this return trip somehow ages Allison 64 years, so he’s an old man, near death. Now, why would he not have aged all those years going forward in time? Then he could have lost them on his return to 1960? Oh well….that’s Toho Science for you? The film then ends with an absolute jaw droppingly bad-cum-ironic end for a sci fi film: After Allison reveals the likely future of the earth and species if they do not stop nuclear testing, the Secretary Of The Defense utters this film closing classic understatement to the Major: ‘We’ve got a lot to think about.’ No, ya think?
But that’s not all- the film features atrocious special effects, especially in a bad matte painting of the Citadel that Allison sees on the horizon, as well as the poorly intermixed stock footage of a real air force plane and the amateurish special effects of that plane in outer space. The script is, by Arthur C. Pierce, as described, bad, and so bad that, the moment I saw a pool in the underground lair, I knew that Trirenne would later be seen by Allison, swimming in the nude (really a flesh colored body stocking). Why? Oh, a little film called Forbidden Planet. And, yes, this homage to Anne Francis is one of the highlights of the film as Darlene Tompkins was a gorgeous young creature. The cinematography, by Meredith M. Nicholson, and the scoring, by Darrell Calker, are, at best, functionary because they did not intrude on the enjoyment of watching such a predictably bad film play out
Beyond The Time Barrier originally was released on a double bill with another Ulmer film, The Amazing Transparent Man, but its real legacy, if you will, is its influence on later films- most notably, Planet Of The Apes and Beneath The Planet Of The Apes, which ripped off its method of time travel. That stated, the film had potential- shot on the cheap, but with the permission of the USAF to use stock footage, with scenes shot in a Dallas area exhibition, which made the set almost a ‘found set,’ the film only needed a little work on the screenplay to turn the trite sci fi tropes into ingenious twists on the standard. Yes, for its minuscule budget, there was no way to improve the acting, but it did not have to be this bad a film.
Perhaps Ulmer just phoned this one in, for he was always one to squeeze the most out of what little he was given? You have a solid lead actor, a gorgeous female co-star, a veteran ham of the genre in Sokoloff, yet the film undershoots it all, not even becoming a camp classic, on par with The Angry Red Planet (aka The Wizard Of Mars). It seemed to be content to ride the coattails of the bigger budgeted release, a month later: George Pal’s adaptation of the H.G. Wells classic, The Time Machine. Nonetheless, for all its many and manifest flaws, Beyond The Time Barrier is a harmless diversion, even as it misses out on being a minor classic of its genre, as well as a potential Psychotronic classic, as well. Oh well, there’s always Darlene Tompkins and the pool!