Quick Plot Synopsis
"Man's first trip into space" is a rocket carrying four men, sent to orbit Mars. On the way back, they encounter a "time displacement" that accelerates them to near the speed of light. They're rocket crash lands on a snowy, mountainous world. The four get out and explore the earth-like world. It turns out to be earth, but hundreds of years in the future. They're attacked by a giant spider (dog size) and grossly disfigured cavemen. When they seek shelter in a cave, they find a steel door to an advanced civilization living underground. The undergrounder men are milk-toast, the women are all tall 20-somethings in short skirts. The men refuse to help the 50s men fix their ship, half out of spinelessness at having to face the mutated cavemen (radiation sickness descendants) but half out of stirred up intrigue by one of the underworlders who is jealous. Hugh Marlow is stealing his girl. The intrigue man is discovered for who he is, exposed by a non-mutated girl (20ish) from the surface. The underworlders agree to help the 50s men make weapons to face the cavemen. They make a bazooka. (?!) With their trusty bazooka, they corner the mutates in a cave. Hugh Marlow challenges the leader to hand to hand combat. He wins and the mutates disband. Buoyed by such a victory, the underworlders come up and start building houses on the surface. Mankind resumes its place. The end.
Why is this movie fun?
The pacing is good and the plot full of things going on: a trip to Mars, a crash landing, attack by mutant cavemen, a secret underworld civilization, murder intrigue and cavemen vs. a bazooka. (sakes!) The scenario is intriguing enough to carry over the weak parts. This is a good look into the psyche of 50s atomic angst and bunker mentality.
Cold War Angle
WWE is built upon the assumption that Cold War would eventually turn "hot" and be as bad (or worse) than imagined. Amid WWE's social commentaries, is the resignation that nuclear war would happen and it would wipe out all that mankind had built, turning men back into savages.
Prop Watch -- The model rocket in WWE is the same one used in Flight to Mars ('51). It was a cool 50s style rocket. It was fun to see it going back to Mars.
Time Warp -- While this plot device would become common to the point of cliche in later years, it was pretty novel at this point. Time displacement was a background feature in The Twonky to explain how the mischievous future robot got to 1953. WWE may be the first sci-fi movie to feature time travel by humans.
Life After Armageddon -- The 1952 movie Captive Women (more speculative fiction than sci-fi), looked at America many generations after the much-expected nuclear war. They have many similarities. The normal people live underground. The mutants rule the surface. Among the mutates, there are some which have become normal again. The normals are weak and somewhat corrupt, though they have great women. In the end, the underworlders and the surface dwellers reunite.
Ultimate Bunker Mentality -- The "normals" who lived underground are like the logical extension of 50s bunker survivalists. H.G. Wells even touched on this in his 1898 novel "War of the Worlds" when his artilleryman character (on Putney Hill) expounded on his plan to live (with others) in the sewers and tunnels under London, learning science, keeping civilization alive. The underworlders are a likely result of what the artilleryman's dream would have turned into.
Sexy Awaits -- Totally incongruous for the story line, though of great interest to teen male movie goers, the women of the future are all 20-somethings with great figures and go around dressed in low-cut dresses with very short skirts. Their attire is much like that of the martian women in Flight to Mars and as spoofed by Abbott and Costello in their ...Go to Mars romp in '53.
Creeping Weakness -- One of the social commentary messages in WWE is that people are becoming complacent and weak. The "pioneers" are the standard of tough self-reliance. Men of the 50s were already getting soft. By 2508, the men were all cowardly milk-toast. Being safe and comfortable was all that mattered to them. Our four men from 1957 re-ignite the pioneer spark in the underworlder men.
Bottom line? WWE is a good tale. While not as much high-art as Forbidden Planet, it has enough plot and thought to entertain even viewers who aren't already 50s sci-fi fans.