Beyond the Time Barrier: A 50th Anniversary Celebration of 1960

Beyond the Time Barrier (1960) posterBEYOND THE TIME BARRIER is a low-budget, science fiction epic-adventure-wanna-be ultimately sabotaged by Arthur C. Pierce’s weak screenplay. According to To “B” Or Not to “B” by Robert Clarke & Tom Weaver, the project came about when actor-producer Robert Clarke optioned a script by Arthur C. Pierce, which Clarke planned to produce through a deal withMiller Consolidated Productions. Les Guthrie, the film’s production supervisor, suggested Edgar G. Ulmer as director, and Clarke, who had worked with Ulmer on THE MAN FROM PLANET X, agreed.
Despite having scripted several science fiction films (THE COSMIC MAN, THE HUMAN DUPLICATORS, MUTINY IN OUTER SPACE, CYBORG 2087 WOMEN OF THE PREHISTORIC PLANET, DESTINATION INNER SPACE, DIMENSION 5, and possibly uncredited work on NAVY VS. THE NIGHT MONSTERS), Pierce talent could only charitably be described as lacking. Ulmer was never happy with Pierce’s threadbare script and demanded rewrite after rewrite, driving Pierce to such frustration that he broke a pencil in front of Ulmer’s face. According to Clarke, “The incident did seem to bother Edgar a little bit; I remember that later on, Edgar in his heavy Hungarian accent referred to Art as, ‘This writer who brrreaks his pencil in frrront of my face!’”
With a commitment to begin production in Texas, BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER was forced to get underway before the script problems were  fixed, and the film suffers for it. Guthrie arranging shooting in Carswell Field in Fort Worth, depicting an Air Force Base, and The Texas Centennial Fair Grounds in Dallas for the underground city. The entire production took place on a 9- or 10-day schedule, with a budget of $125,000.
Beyond the Time Barrier (1960) I was originally saw BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER as part of an Ulmer Retrospective at UCLA, sponsored by the Goethe Institute, with Robert Clarke and Shirley and Arianne Ulmer in attendance. Shirley Ulmer explained that, having minimal budget resources, Edgar was fascinated by how he could reuse the same triangle structures to construct the various sets needed. This became a major design motif for the film as well as a huge budget-saver.
BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER begins in 1961 with Major William Allison (Clarke) doing a high-speed test flight for the new X-80, an experimental jet craft (represented by footage of an F-102). He achieves such speed that he “breaks” the time barrier and is propelled into the year 2024. Despite finding his base deserted and the world a desolate wasteland, Allison stubbornly refuses to accept that he has traveled into the future, making him seem more an imbecile than a reasonable hero.
BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER posits that atomic testing wiped out much of the Earth’s protective ozone layer; cosmic radiation seeped in, creating a plague in 1971 that wiped out most of this future world. Some of the population has immigrated to Mars or Venus, while the “First-stage” mutants built underground cities to escape the radiation. At one point Allison sees a bad matte painting of an above-ground city, but that is never explored. (Shirley Ulmer suggested that Edgar himself had painted the drawing).
Beyond the Time Barrier (1960)Instead, Allison is captured and brought to the underground Citadel where the Supreme (genre stalwart Vladimir Sokoloff) considers him a spy and an enemy, and doesn’t even recognize the major’s Air Force insigna (another foolish conceit of Pierce’s. given that the leader is clearly more than 63 years old). However, the Supreme’s daughter Trirene (Darlene Tompkins), a mute with telepathic powers (she can read thoughts but not transmit them), convinces the leader that Allison means no harm, and she becomes attracted to this man from Earth’s past.
Surprisingly, Allison finds other time travelers trapped in the same Citadel: General Karl Kruse (Stephen Bekassy), Captain Alicia Markova (Adrienne Ulmer, acting under the name Adrienne Arden), and Dr. Bourman (John Van Dreelen). Only now, after Kruse tells him, does Allison finally believe that he is in the year 2024. Allison learns that the members of the underground city are waging a war with the more mutated mutants (represented by stock footage from Lang’s JOURNEY TO THE LOST CITY plus three men in obvious bald caps). Markova convinces Allison that the only way to prevent this future is to travel back to the past in his experimental plane and warn the world to changes its ways.
Not surprisingly, the science explaining the time barrier is bad, as Bourman uses a blackboard to suggest that the Earth is somehow spinning near the speed of light already. “You had a velocity approaching the speed of light before you even left the ground,” he seriously intones, off by a factor of over 600 million miles per hour. Even sillier, to return to his own time, all Allison need to is reverse his course.
To create a diversion, Markova releases several imprisoned mutants, who proceed to slaughter every underground inhabitant they encounter. Trirene gets Allison the plans to the tunnels that lead back to his ship; Allison wants to take her back with him, but Markova has other ideas, pulling a gun on the pair only to be shot by Kruse. Bourman then kills Kruse and demands to be returned to his time. Trirene jumps in the middle of their argument and takes a bullet meant for Bill, who in turn kills Bourman and brings the Supreme back his dead daughter. Fortunately for Major Allison, the Supreme decides it is best for Allison to return to his own time.
In the big finale, Allison lands his plane, having crossed the time barrier again; only now he is 50 years older (Clarke made-up with crinkled rice paper by former Universal makeup star Jack Pierce to give the appearance of very wrinkled skin).
Of course, being released the same year as George Pal’s wonderful THE TIME MACHINE did BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER no favors; it is much inferior on every level. The citizens of the Citadel are not the Eloi—the underground mutants don’t feast on them or exploit them as the Morlocks do in H. G. Wells’ famous tale. Instead, this conflict is more akin to Clarke’s CAPTIVE WOMEN for its central conflict, with some time traveling and a warning about a possible bleak future thrown in for good measure.
Although Clarke was usually at least likeable, here he comes off as unpleasant and stubbornly stupid refusing to believe the evidence of his own eyes. Even worse, stunt man Boyd “Red” Morgan, who has a pronounced Texas accent, was given a major role as the Supreme’s torture-advocating underling, and it quickly becomes clear that he is no actor.
Ulmer in his career made many interesting and wonderful low-budget films. Sadly, BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER is no worth companion to such classics as THE BLACK CAT, BLUEBEARD, DETOUR, or THE MAN FROM PLANET X. Additionally, the sound quality is very bad on the prints that I have seen, making this dull and clichéd film even more unintelligible.
Miller Consolidated Pictures hired exploitation expert Kroeger Babb to ballyhoo BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER, and Babb figured to attract an audience with a gigantic giveaway contest featuring major prizes. Unfortunately, thanks to particularly bad timing, the money was wasted when a gigantic snowstorm kept away potential moviegoers in the Northwest; the company lost their shirts, going into bankruptcy shortly afterwards. Consolidated Film Laboratories foreclosed on liens on BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER and its co-feature THE AMAZING TRANSPARENT MAN, then sold  both to AIP for distribution.
The Beyond the Time Barrier (1960) horizontalBEYOND THE TIME BARRIER (1960). Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer. Screenplay by Arthur C. Pierce. Cast: Robert Clarke, Darlene Tompkins, Vladimir Sokoloff. Boyd “Red” Morgan, Stephen Bekassy, arianne Ulmer, John Van Dreelen, Ken Knox, Jack Herman, Don Flournoy, Tom Ravick.
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