Being intrigued by the titles in this collection, and the fact that I had not heard of the three Science Fiction films sent me to my computer to find out exactly who Edgar G. Ulmer was. Mr. Ulmer certainly had a roller coaster ride of a career filled with many ups and downs. As director and story writer of The Black Cat featuring Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, Ulmer had much success in 1934. Sadly, it appears that it was his personal and professional relationships that relegated him to creating films for Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC). Yes, there is a reason you have never heard of it. Nonetheless, it did not keep Ulmer from directing films. Some good, some bad, some painful. We get a sampling of all three in this collection.
Let us start with the painful and save the best for last.
Beyond the Time Barrier is simply a rough film to get through. In 1960, military test pilot Maj. William Allison (Robert Clarke, who was also the producer of the film) is caught in a time warp that lands him in the year 2024. He manages to make his way to an underground community where a virus has resulted in mutants being held in an even deeper underground cage. Since much of the community is sterile, they decide to hold the pilot and hook him up with the ruler’s deaf-mute daughter (Darlene Tompkins) who can read minds. So, to summarize: we’ve got a ruler (Vladimir Sokoloff), a deaf-mute mind reader who isn’t sterile, and an army of crazed mutants who are being held in a cage that is as close to the community as possible. Do you need me to tell you how this plays out? Well, there is one part you may not see coming. Allison is interested in the ruler’s daughter but she finds his impure thoughts off-putting, which is surprising considering her goal. Before the relationship has a chance to bloom, the mutants are let out and wreak havoc. Luckily, Maj. Williams manages to escape and return to 1960. Unfortunately, not in time to keep this film from being released. The Fromage Factor is overgrown here. The only thing worse than the story and the performances is the set design. I’d like to say that Beyond the Time Barrier is so bad that it’s good, but I can’t.
Now, I can say that The Amazing Transparent Man is bad enough to be good. The thought process behand this film was simple. If we are going to spend two weeks in Texas trying to get Beyond the Time Barrier done and to the big screen to capitalize on the release of The Time Machine, a good movie, then why not produce two movies at the same time? Seems like a good idea. Sadly, these would be Ulmers last American films. So, maybe not the best plan. In his defense, the production company went bankrupt and both films were purchased by American International.
In The Amazing Transparent Man, Maj. Paul Krenner (James Griffith) has the brilliant plans to get Dr. Peter Ulof (Ivan Triesault) to do his bidding by holding him and his daughter hostage in his house until the doctor finishes developing a machine that will render people invisible. The budget here was $100,000, which was $25,000 less than Beyond the Time Barrier, so yes, most of the action takes place in a house. The doctor develops the invisibility ray which Krenner plans to use to create an invisible army to sell to any government that will agree to his price. Krenner busts safe-cracker Joey Faust (Douglas Kennedy) out of prison so he can be the first human to undergo the treatment and subsequently steal radium so that the doctor can continue his experiments. Faust quickly develops other plans, though everyone’s plans go awry when side effects to the procedure are discovered.
The performances in The Amazing Transparent Man are what make this movie enjoyable. The special effects are inconsistent, but still fun. Unfortunately, the story fails to truly develop. As it is only 58 minutes long, clearly the budget restricted the creative process. We all would have benefited from having the money that was wasted on Beyond the Time Barrier invested in The Amazing Transparent Man.
A budget of only $41,00 was utilized far more effectively nine years earlier when Ulmer directed The Man from Planet X. The brilliance of the movie is the efficiency of the script by Jack Lewis. John Lawrence (Robert Clarke) is a newspaper reporter covering the story of a previously undiscovered planet that is heading towards Earth. He is contacted by Professor Elliot (Raymond Bond), an old friend who has taken up residence in a castle on the foggy moors of a remote island off the coast of Scotland. The professor is going to study the movement of Planet X from the location that will ultimately be closest to the mysterious planet when it passes Earth. John is greeted by the professor’s daughter Enid Elliot (Margaret Field) who has grown into an attractive young lady since the last they met. John soon finds out that the mysterious Dr. Mears (William Schallert), a former student of Professor Elliot, with a checkered past is also on the island.
In a very short amount of time (the film is only 71 minutes) we’ve got our hero, a love interest, her father the professor, and a creepy doctor, in a castle, on a foggy island, waiting for a mysterious planet. All the ingredients for a good science fiction film are in place. Make some popcorn and let’s see where this goes!
The performances in The Man from Planet X are solid as everyone clearly knows their roles and portrays them like they are truly enjoying the process. William Schallert, who would go on to have an amazing career playing far fewer evil roles, including the father on The Patty Duke Show and so may more, does a surprisingly good job as the evil Dr. Mears, who is constantly skulking about.
The Edgar G. Ulmer Sci-Fi Collection receives Ron’s Recommendation! From KL Studio Classics and released March 29th on Blu-ray, this three-film collection reflects a man trying to do a lot with a little. Was he always successful? No, but there is enough here to make for a fun Saturday afternoon. The bonus material is primarily audio commentary which I always find to be more distracting than informative, but the theatrical trailers are here and are fun to watch after the movies to see how they tried to sell what we already know is not as good as they make it sound. The Man from Planet X is the gem in the collection so save that one for last.