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Edward Bernds may be the only Hollywood director to owe his career to a passion for ham radio. An amateur operator in his native Chicago after World War I, Bernds obtained a commercial radio license while still a student at Lake View High School and, by the age of twenty, was running the 50,000 watt Chicago station WENR. With the advent of talking films, Bernds migrated to Hollywood, seeking employment as a sound technician. He honed his craft at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, working on the sound crews of several films by Frank Capra, among them Dirigible (1931), It Happened One Night (1934), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), Lost Horizon (1937), and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), as well as two Boris Karloff pictures - The Black Room (1935) and The Man with Nine Lives (1940) - and a few entries in Columbia's long-running Blondie series. Bernds was eventually bumped up to the position of screenwriter, toiling in that capacity on the later Blondie sequels, and began directing by 1945 comic shorts and features for such acts as The Three Stooges, Hugh Herbert, and The Bowery Boys.
Bernds' efficiency brought him to the attention of producer Richard Heermans at Allied Artists, which had risen from the ashes of Poverty Row's defunct Monogram Pictures. Looking to compete in the market for Technicolor science fiction films after the example of Paramount's Destination Moon (1950) and War of the Worlds (1954), Heermans tasked Bernds to craft a likeminded sci-fi adventure built around a few minutes of space travel footage cribbed from Monogram's Flight to Mars (1951). Unaccustomed to the genre, Bernds crammed for the assignment by speed reading Arthur C. Clarke's 1950 Interplanetary Flight: An Introduction to Astronautics, and employed Albert Einstein's theories on time relativity in crafting World Without End (1956) - the tale of American astronauts who crash land on a hostile planet lousy in monsters and mutants while returning from an expedition to Mars. Shooting in both Technicolor and CinemaScope, Bernds expected an uptake in quality but Heermans proved tight-fisted and resistant to his casting ideas of Sterling Hayden for the role of expedition commander John Borden. Unable to afford Hayden, Bernds' countered with Frank Lovejoy. Instead, he was given Hugh Marlowe.
Hugh Marlowe came to World Without End with a respectable cinematic pedigree, having played a prominent supporting role in Joseph L. Mankiewicz's Academy Award-winning All About Eve (1950) and paid his genre dues in The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). Though Marlowe routinely played dependable, four-square types, Bernds found the actor lazy and unprofessional, rarely knowing his lines and prone to wandering off the set while on location at Chatsworth's Iverson Ranch (which stood in for the alien terra). More to Bernds' liking was 26 year-old Australian actor Rod Taylor, at that point new to Hollywood and eager to please. Taylor would swiftly land a long-term MGM contract and enjoy quality supporting parts in Giant (1956) and Raintree County (1957) en route to international stardom in such films as The Time Machine (1960) and The Birds (1963). Bernds also benefited from the professionalism of his production artist Alberto Vargas, whose curvy "Vargas Girls" had graced the nose of many a WWII bomber, and his dialogue director - a wiry Californian named Sam Peckinpah - later the director of such distinctive action films as Ride the High Country (1962), Major Dundee (1965), and The Wild Bunch (1969).
Sent to theatres on a double bill with Indestructible Man, starring Lon Chaney, Jr., World Without End was sufficiently successful for the estate of H. G. Wells to initiate a plagiarism lawsuit against Allied Artists for copyright infringement. The similarities to Wells' 1895 novel The Time Machine are inescapable- protagonists who time-slip to the future, where civilization is divided between the surface of the earth and its cavernous substrata, its population split between the able-bodied ancestors of man and hideous mutants (or "mutates," as Bernds script refers to them) - but it remains unknown what the result of that litigation might have been. The film was never withdrawn from circulation and even set a sci-fi precedent: Universal's The Mole People (1956) depicted modern day travelers stumbling upon a feudal subterranean Dystopia (complete with hideous monsters), American International Pictures' The Time Travelers (1964) mixed time travel and mutants, and 20th Century Fox's Planet of the Apes (1968), based on French writer Pierre Boulle's 1963 novel, exploited the same third act zinger. Fifth-billed Rod Taylor would later star in George Pal's 1960 adaptation of The Time Machine and villain Booth Colman assumed the role of orangutan antagonist Dr. Zaius for the short-lived Planet of the Apes television series.
By Richard Harland Smith
Interview with Edward Bernds by Tom Weaver, Interviews with B Science Fiction and Horror Filmmakers (McFarland & Company, 2006)
Interview with Booth Colman by Tom Weaver, I Was a Monster Movie Maker: Conversations with 22 SF and Horror Filmmakers (McFarland & Company, 2001)
Keep Watching the Skies!: American Science Fiction Movies of the Fifties, the 21st Century Edition by Bill Warren (McFarland & Company, 2010)