This movie is a sister to The Amazing Transparent Man. Both were shot by MCP in late 1959. Beyond The Time Barrier (BTTB) was the more ambitious and more sci-fi of the two. Edgar Ulmer directed both. Robert Clarke (Hideous Sun Demon) both produced and starred. There are the usual tropes associated with time travel, and some plot twists. There are models and stock footage and modest special effects. Yet, BTTB is an earnest tale of a man who inadvertently flies 65 years into the future and finds that things have gone very wrong.
Quick Plot Synopsis
Major Allison is testing a new rocket-powered airplane. The goal was suborbital space flight, but as he entered space his speed quickly climbed to thousands of miles per hour. Radio contact is lost. Allison lands at the base, but it abandoned and derelict. Beyond the woods, he sees a futuristic city. He is zapped unconscious and taken prisoner. He is in the year 2024. A world plague killed billions in 1971. Some escaped to underground cities. Other survivors became mutants. Even the citadel's "normal" population suffer the effects of the plague. Most are deaf mutes and all are sterile. The Supreme ruler's granddaughter, Tirene, is thought to be fertile, so The Supreme wants her and Allison (with his pre-plague genes) to be a new Adam and Eve and repopulate the earth. Prisoner scientists have other plans. They convince Allison that he must go back in time to 1960 and prevent the plague. This proves to be a ruse to get to Allison's plane. Each of the three scientists planned to double-cross the other and return to their time(s) via Allison's plane. They all end up dead, and so does Tirene. Allison goes back alone to 1960. He makes it, but has aged 50 years. He tells his bizarre tale to the authorities. They now have much to think about. The End.
Why is this movie fun?
The story is complex enough for thought. The pyramidal interior sets are visually interesting. Darlene Tompkins is a great example of 50s teen beauty.
Cold War Angle
BTTB is a blatant cautionary tale. Cold War motivated nuclear weapons testing caused the plague that doomed mankind. "Go back. Warn them."
Timing Is Everything -- Even though produced in late 1959, release was delayed until July 1960. This put it in theaters just a few weeks before George Pal's big production The Time Machine was to be released. AIP and Miller Consolidated Pictures cashed in on interest (in time travel sci-fi) being generated by promotional buzz for Pal's movie.
Time Travel Tales -- BTTB was not a pioneer in time travel sci-fi, but it was not quite cliche in 1959. 1000 Years From Now ('52) depicted a future earth after nuclear armageddon. The Twonky ('53) featured a trouble-causing 'robot' from the future, that had found itself in 1953. World Without End ('56) was closer in plot, having a rocket crew encounter a time "event" and wind up on earth in the 26th century -- post-armageddon. The Invisible Boy ('57) used time travel (pre-story) to explain why Robby the Robot was in 1957. Terror From The Year 5000 ('58) featured a time travel portal that lets in a terror from our bleak post-armageddon future. BTTB was not the first bleak-future-earth tale, but may be the first movie in which the traveler returns to warn us.
Fluke Redux -- Dr. Bourman offers some techno-babble about combined orbital speeds (galaxy, solar system, planet, etc.) being occasionally almost enough to reach the speed of light and slip forward in time. The X-80 doing a few thousand mph was enough to zap Allison forward. Apparently, the phenomenon was not a total fluke. Captain Markova did it in 1974. Kruse and Bourman did it in 1994. Interesting that they should all "land" around the same 2024 date. Also interesting is the notion that flying the X-80 back the other way would undo it. Hmmm.
Love Triangles -- The credits state a shooting location of Fair Park, Dallas, Texas. The interior shots of "the citadel", (the huge inverted pyramids) was left over from an exhibition at the Texas State Fair in 1959. The producers arranged to use the installation before it was dismantled. Ulmer capitalized on the angular look and expanded it. The Pit had a triangular barred door. Other doors and structures were made triangular too. Ulmer even used some triangular wipes as transitions.
All In The Family -- Though credited as Arianne Arden, the scheming Captain Markova was played by Edgar Ulmer's daughter, Arianne Ulmer. Though her last name was changed in the Star Wars-esque credits, she did get second billing even though the Markova character was somewhat peripheral.
Crazy-Eyed Buick -- It is no coincidence, I'm sure, that appearing in both BTTB and Amazing Transparent Man was the same big 1959 Buick convertible. Note the angled dual headlights which gave the car a very angry look. In '58, the headlight pairs were horizontal. In 1960, they were horizontal again. Only '59 had the angled set.
Bottom line? BTTB deserves all the caveats usually given to a low-budget 50s sci-fi. It can be a bit flat and talky at times. Yet, Ulmer does what he can to keep reviving the pace and interest. While not exceptional, BTTB is a fair example of 50s B sci-fi.