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The Time Travelers (1964)
A time travel experiment that was supposed to produce a window into time turns out to be a portal instead. One of the experimenters steps through into a not-too-distant-future world that has been destroyed by nuclear war. Some of the others follow, but then the portal phases out and they can't get back. Things just get worse after that. They run across a rocket that has landed to escape pursuing enemies, bearing scientists who survived the war, and many android "slaves." The time travellers are invited to escape when the ship is again ready to blast off - but just before that happens, the scientits' enemy returns and fires on the sitting-duck ship. A very bad day for the scientists turns terminal at that point, and the 20th-century Earthlings barely escape with their skins.
Preston Foster ... Dr. Erik von Steiner
Philip Carey ... Dr. Steve Connors
Merry Anders ... Carol White
John Hoyt ... Dr. Varno
Dennis Patrick ... Councilman Willard
Joan Woodbury ... Gadra
Delores Wells ... Reena (Danny's girl)
Steve Franken ... Danny McKee, the Electrician
Berry Kroeger ... Preston
Gloria Leslie ... Councilwoman
Mollie Glessing ... Android (as Molly Glessing)
Peter Strudwick ... The Mutant
J. Edward McKinley ... Raymond
Margaret Seldeen ... Miss Hollister
Forrest J Ackerman ... Square-frame technician
There are a zillion B&W sci-fi cheapies out there, and every one is somebody's favorite. This is one of mine.
Scientists working on a time-camera experiment discover that it's actually a portal. They step through it into the far future, where remnants of a high-tech civilization battle troglodytes for survival. The cave-dwelling good guys and their androgynous androids are engaged in a desperate race against time to build a rocket to take them away from the ruined Earth. Our time travelers fall in with them, fall afoul of them, fall in love with them... well, you know.
This movie is one of those irresistible gems where the real battle is between energetic actors, imaginative directors, and talented technical people who toil fearlessly against a low budget and cheap sets. But if you're a fan of the genre, give this a watch. You'll thank me.
The reason a film such as this (low budget '50s or '60s sci-fi) is on many viewers favorites lists is not necessarily fond childhood memories or nostalgia - it's because it's well made. Of course, they had very little money for props and such, but the story is more inventive than 95% of the stuff that's released now or has been since the nineties; no, make that the eighties. Yes, I'm one of those guys who saw it 30 years ago as a kid on TV during a Saturday matinée slot or something; but I've seen it again within a couple of years ago and it's still quite entertaining. Here, the writers proposed a question, a 'what if?' question about time travel. What if certain people, a small group of scientists, accidentally invented a time travel device? What if they used it? (Again, accidentally). What if the device short-circuited too early? What if this, what if that - and so on, with inventive answers provided to each question. If you've never seen this picture, you're in for a treat - you'll be wondering what's the next answer every 5 to 10 minutes. This is a quality sorely lacking in most films today. Maybe all the good ideas have been used. The same concept was utilized a couple of years later in the short-lived "Time Tunnel" TV series, but that show lacked the wild turns of this sci-fi set up. Some of the further situations in this story of the future are a bit goofy, but I believe it's intentional. The ending, which I won't give away here, actually puts some pressure on the viewers to wrap their minds around. Watch for famous sci-fi fan & publisher Forrest J.Ackerman in a cameo. Whatta trip!
Since it is probably the first sci-fi film I have ever watched, I am a little positively biased in favor of that film. Nevertheless if one ignores the outdated visual effects, and sticks to the general idea of the film, it is still remaining a very interesting sci fi - doomsday film. The story is typical, combining time travel with cold war fear of an impeding nuclear holocaust. There are no easy way outs for the heroes or the portrayed humanity.
Add to that the flavor of adventure plus several environmental connotations and you end up with a very interesting package typical of the 60s gloomy era. The final climax of the film, is very unexpected although the makers of the film have allowed for the necessary hinds at the beginning,for the suspicious viewer. Stonglly recommended for the sci-fi enthusiasts.
This is one of those classic science fiction staples that is remembered long after many of its peers. I saw it (in black and white) in the 60's and found it rather creepy. It gives a remarkably dark view of the future and technology, which was completely at variance with the general mood of those space-age times. The symbolic flaming androids at the end made a particularly lasting impression.
Now, watching it in bright color and some perspective, I have a completely different reaction. As seems inevitable with futuristic settings, director Ib Melchior is commenting on current society by stepping outside it. A bunch of oblivious scientists suddenly find themselves marooned in a deadly post-apocalyptic future where they quickly have to figure out a way either to get back home or find a more congenial environment. Pretty standard, right?
No pretense is made about the time travel being historic or whatnot. Rather, our intrepid band just wanders from one outrageous situation to the next as though it were an unplanned trip to the mall. When their way home disappears, they stand around with blank expressions as though they simply lost their car keys. Approached by roaming mutants in this desert hell? Answer: run down a ravine and throw rocks at them, of course! Meet freaky underground survivors who basically shoot anything that moves on the surface? Well, what the heck, let's make out with the locals! I've made shopping trips to the mall with more seriousness of purpose than these folks display about going from a comfortable lab in ivy league America to a radioactive Hades that looks suspiciously like the place where Kirk fought the Gorn.
So, the time travel gimmick is being used to comment on something else. What? Well, first, the film is fairly unsubtle in the way it sets up the differences between The Past and The Future. The sets are divided between stodgy old 1950s decor, where the scientists begin, and mod, swinging 1960s chic with monitors showing views of Saturn and friendly pretty women, where they wind up. The problem, though, is that the future, while colorful, turns out not to be such a great place after all. Instead, it turns out to be just another downward step in a deadly spiral the stranded scientists themselves helped create.
So what is the answer for our travelers? Well, break the cycle, or as Susan Power would say, "Stop the Madness!" How our heroes do that at the very end, and wind up making love, not war, is one of the more original climaxes to a time-travel fantasy (which usually ends with the protagonist(s) either coming back home or choosing to stay in the new time). It represents a deeply cynical (and, in retrospect, fairly sophisticated) commentary on the futility of the way things were going in society when the film was made. The suggestion is that the social changes just starting to take place then, which certainly made for social progress in some ways, were in actuality not coming close to solving the real problems of the world.
In subtle ways involving one of the future characters, the film suggests that science alone is not helping with problems of prejudice and small-mindedness. Presumably, this is because people in the scientists' (our) time wrongheadedly (like our heroes) spent all their time focusing on machines and not people and their problems. The film can be interpreted as presenting deep suspicion about technology and the lack of thought as to how it should be integrated into society rather than just haphazardly accompany it. There also is a strong element of fear about sinister uses of technology and its own vulnerabilities.
Highlights of the film are comic Steve Franken "making eyes" at gorgeous Playmate Delores Wells and Dennis Patrick playing a jealous heavy. The crazy futuristic disco is a hoot. Some of the shots in the desert with what appear to be hand-held cameras are nicely done and ahead of their time. ;) The giant view-screens may have influenced the Star Trek starship look. Mr. Melchior, who previously had crafted the fabulous Angry Red Planet, hit an under-appreciated and low-budget home run.
* Producer Ray Dorn "borrowed" much of this movie for his own movie Journey to the Center of Time (1967). Irwin Allen also borrowed much of the concept for his TV series "The Time Tunnel" (1966). Director Ib Melchior declined to make waves so that he would continue getting work in Hollywood.