The Yesterday Machine (1963)



Although a particularly voracious TV watcher as a lad, there remain many weird little genre flicks that I never got a chance to see. Well, may the great Jabootu bless DVD, because it’s amazing how many of them continue to come out on disc. (In this case, admittedly, a pretty crappy one. The image quality suggests it was ported over from an EP-recorded VHS tape. Still and all, there it is.) Today’s such feature is The Yesterday Machine, about which I know only the following: It involves a time machine and Nazis.

And…ah! We open with bad (or at least lame) rock ‘n’ roll music. That’s a good start. A twirling baton fills our field of vision, wielded by Margie, a college majorette standing in front of a classic car. She dances around in her little costume and boots, spinning her wand and twirling around every once in a while, thus allowing for a bit of (at the time) provocative fan service. Meanwhile, a fellow named Howie is standing before the car’s open hood, apparently trying to get the vehicle running again. The background indicates this is a rural area.

History was forever altered when simple engine failure kept Margie from competing in the final episode of America's Got Talent.

Yesterday Machine runs a lean 78 minutes, pretty standard for the era in which this was made. This bit right here reveals how older movies managed to be so much shorter and yet still more efficient than similar fare today. Here, pretty much everything we need to know about the movie’s time period, setting and these two characters is established in the movie’s first ten seconds. Indeed, we soon see that the guy is wearing a ‘letter’ sweater’ and giving the girl annoyed glances, no doubt a comment on her frivolous ways. Not deeply original characterization, perhaps, but quickly limned nonetheless.

Nor could teen audiences of the time have faulted the producers. One second in and they’ve already been served up a pretty girl capering around in a short skirt and some (admittedly generic) rock ‘n’ roll music. This is followed by—yes!!—bad disc jockey chatter, addressed to his audience of “transistor radio bugs.” Well, I’ve got no complaints so far.

Margie turns off her radio—you had to conserve the batteries, after all—and complains to Howie in a syrupy Southern ‘y’all‘ accent so thick Flo the Waitress would roll her eyes at it. “It’s almost dark,” she exclaims, which in this sort of movie can’t be a good development. More pertinently, at least in her eyes, they are in danger of being late for “the game.” When Howie responds, it’s in the clearly mismatched sound levels of some very bad dubbing. Man, this movie really *does* have it all. “Margie,” he sighs, “have you ever tried to fix a fuel pump to a rock ‘n’ roll beat?!”

Further pithy exposition ensues. “I wish we hadn’t taken this crazy, nowhere shortcut!” Margie replies, surveying their purportedly remote surroundings. “Boy, this is like Lostville!” Well, OK, yes. Given the kind of movie you’re in, being way out in the secluded countryside can’t be good. But hey, listen, if this happened today you’d be in a Hostel movie or something. Count your blessings.

Howie also worries about the time, noting that they are in danger of missing the kick-off. (Ah. They must be in Texas. That would explain a lot.) “Hey,” Margie answers. “Didn’t we pass a farm house about a mile, or two back down the road?” Boy, if I had a dollar for every time an observation like that ended in disaster. And when Howie replies, “C’mon, it’ll be shorter through these woods,” it didn’t exactly assuage my concerns.

On the other hand, there they are, stranded on the side of a remote roadway, perhaps completely out of Sweet Tea. Between that and the impending start of game time you can understand their incipient panic. A cheerleader and a guy in a letter sweater who miss a football kick-off in Texas…well, they’re not going to be too popular with their fellow townsfolk. Have you ever read Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery? That’s all I’m saying.

Fording this piece of backcountry, moreover, involves first stepping through a rather threadbare barbwire fence adorned with a conveniently positioned “WARNING! KEEP OUT TRESSPASSING FORBIDDEN” sign. And I mean, this is Texas, meaning a sign like that presages a pretty good chance of getting one’s head blown off. Again, though, they dare not miss The Game. And so despite Margie’s qualms, they disembark.

They stride forward (Margie has Howie’s oversized jacket—he’s a pretty tall dude—draped over her shoulders, which I’m not sure compensates entirely for her micro cheerleading shirt), accompanied by some rather out of place Cool Jazz. And I mean a Dave Brubeck-sort of Cool Jazz—albeit obviously not quite up to that level—and not some lame ‘Cinemax After Dark,’ pseudo-sultry, fake sex scene saxophone jazz.

We cut to the pair still walking through the woods, only now it’s pitch dark. So much for the ‘short cut.’ If they had followed the road they would have been to the farmhouse in less than half an hour. As they amble along, the opening credits begin, accompanied by the exact same jazz tune we had already heard. I hope this isn’t one of those movies that endlessly recycles one piece of music over and over again.


The credits reveal that the star is Tim Holt (!), an old time cowboy actor who graduated from an early string of ‘b’ westerns to co-star in classic motion pictures like The Magnificent Ambersons, My Darling Clementine and The Treasure of Sierra Madre, that latter one of the dozen greatest American films ever. In those three pictures alone Mr. Holt worked for such directors as Orson Welles, John Ford and John Huston, and appeared opposite stars like Henry Fonda and Humphrey Bogart. He also appeared in one of my favorite little guilty pleasures, the very goofy noir flick His Kind of Woman, opposite Robert Mitchum and Vincent Price.

Despite titles like those, however, Mr. Holt never really broke out of cheapie oaters entirely, and such movies continued to constitute the bulk of his filmography. Sci-fi fans, however, will remember his lead role in the really quite decent big bug movie The Monster That Challenged the World (1957). Mr. Holt was looking a little doughy at that stage of things, however, which may partly explain his increasing dearth of work during and following this period.

Indeed, by that time, Mr. Holt had more or less retired from the screen. His next film after Monster That Challenged the World would be six years later, when he acted in our current subject. (I’m assuming he was just living near where they were filming and more or less made the film as a lark). Following this, he appeared only in a 1969 episode of the TV show The Virginian, and then finally starred in the 1971 moonshine drama This Stuff’ll Kill Ya for Herschell Gordon Lewis. (!!!)

That’s right; Mr. Holt worked with Orson Welles, John Ford, John Huston…and Herschell Gordon Lewis. What a world.

Most of the other, er, thespians credited here, unsurprisingly, appeared only in this, or at most a few other films. However, the shooting location in Texas was confirmed when the name of actor Bill Thurman appears buried in a long roster of supporting credits. (As it turns out, his small role here marked his first movie appearance.) I’m going to assume, however, that the David Beckham whose name is seen here isn’t the soccer star.

Mr. Thurman was an actor located in Texas who remains famous among a, shall we say, certain elite segment of the population for his roles in a long string of Larry Buchanan movies. Most notably, he (over)played the villainous main miscreant in the Buchanan classic It’s Alive!

Astounding, despite the fact that Yesterday Machine was his first screen credit, and was immediately followed by about a dozen Buchanan movies, Thurman went on to appear in a couple of Actual Films. These include Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show (from which I first learned Mr. Thurman could actually act*), and even The Sugerland Express, Steven Spielberg’s first theatrical film.

[*I and my friend and fellow Bad Movie aficionado, Andrew Muchoney, once stumbled across The Last Picture Show on TV. We were surprised when Mr. Thurman made his appearance, and positively flabbergasted by his suddenly manifested thespic competence. Flailing about for an explanation for his conundrum, I opined that he must have at some point had a talentectomy. Andrew agreed, and sagely suggested it was a radical talentectomy.]

Mr. Thurman continued to work through the ’90s, often in low-budget schlock and television bits, but also picking up the occasional small role in an actual big budget movie. This would include his assaying a small role—but then, who didn’t?—in Lawrence Kasdan’s extremely fun western Silverado in 1985.

That’s right. Mr. Thurman worked for Larry Buchanan…and Peter Bogdanovich, Steven Spielberg and Lawrence Kasdan. What a world, again.

Mr. Thurman even got made a brief appearance in Spielberg’s later Close Encounters of the Third Kind, making him perhaps the only actor to have appeared both in that and Zontar, the Thing from Venus. Meanwhile, he also acted in two different films entitled The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald.

The first film (1964) based on that hypothetical event was made by Larry Buchanan, and was in fact Mr. Thurman’s first work for him. Although Mr. Buchanan remains better known for his incredibly cheap and inept sci-fi remakes, he also made a string of truly paranoid government exposés. For example, he revealed the how Guv’ment secretly assassinated Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin in Down On Us (1984). The second The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald, meanwhile, was a 1977 TV movie starring Ben Gazzara.

Again, though, Mr. Holt and Mr. Thurman are quite nearly the only actors in The Yesterday Machine who ever appeared in a film aside from this one. (And if you’ve seen Yesterday Machine, you won’t be overly surprised.) Indeed, either gentleman appeared in more movies than everyone else in the cast, save the other, put together. This is the kind of movie where if you had previously played small parts in but two other, very obscure local movies, you got a special credit like “featuring JACK HERMAN as Professor Von Hauser.” Even Mr. Herman appeared in but one other film following this, and yes, it’s was for Larry Buchanan in The Naked Witch. I’ll bet if you added together all the screentime constituted by Mr. Herman’s four movie appearances, it would total under half an hour. And he’s the third most credentialed actor in the cast.

By the way, not only the composer, but the four musicians performing the jazz score get their own credits. In fact, they’ll actually be seen in the movie, during a visit to a jazz club. In any case, given the long list of names credited here (something not so much seen in older movies), I’m thinking the producer offered many people onscreen credits in lieu of pay.

Author Note: Pardon the sudden break. Here’s the thing. The way I usually write a review is that I’ll watch the movie and pause it when I have an observation or comment. As anyone conversant with my work knows, this is usually fairly often. Sometimes I’ll pause the movie after watching some ten second bit and spend two pages explicating some nit I had with it.

Yet as I watched Yesterday Machine unfold, I found that I was actually watching a movie somewhat better than I anticipated. It’s not good, of course, but it’s quite nearly good enough. Most of the acting, for instance, is at least decent. Take the lead actor. He occasionally stumbled during a line, and at times was a tad wooden. Even so, he at least understood the idea of inflection and generally attempts to talk like a regular person. Actually, he sort of reminded me of John Ashley, the serviceable leading man of all those Philippine horror movies back in the ’70s.

Few of the actors are so bad as to draw attention to themselves, which elevates this cast above many in similar micro-budgeted, regionally-made films. The lead actress is probably the worst. To be fair, though, she is additionally sabotaged by playing an extremely drippy character, as well as by some very bad dubbing. Most dialogue in movies is ‘looped’ in after shooting, in post-production. Here her sound levels are nearly always a bit too loud, drawing attention to the fact that her lines had been dropped in later. No other performance in the film is so regularly hampered in this way, so it’s possible that they used another actress to dub her.

Mr. Holt, needless to say, gives an effortless performance. He won’t have won any awards for this movie, but he delivers like the veteran pro he is.

Like the actors, the production itself is just a bit better than I was expecting. There’s nothing overly fresh here—aside from the Jazz score, perhaps—but they do their best nonetheless. These guys weren’t going for Art, here. However, they quite apparently tried to make the best movie they could.

Their clearly shoestring budget, for instance, is mitigated through the use of real locations. They appear to have used real offices for the interiors scenes and such, and actually shoot the exteriors outside, rather than on a soundstage set. The scenes in a jazz club are shot in an actual jazz club. That might not sound very impressive, but it does add quite a bit to the movie’s otherwise exceedingly threadbare production values.

Anyway, the larger point is that I began to think I wouldn’t get a piece out of this film. Certainly not one that could justify the typically wordy review prologue seen at top, which naturally I wrote before starting the film up. So there I was, having worked my way through about two-thirds of the picture, thinking I’d have to scrap the review for lack of content when, suddenly….but let’s save that for later. In the meantime, let’s return to Margie and Howie.

They have set off into the woods, and are soon trudging around in darkness. Eventually they happen across a campfire. There they see a couple of guys who are somewhat awkwardly kept off-camera, presumably so as to provide for a big ‘revelation’ scene later in the proceedings. The kids react with stunned bewilderment upon seeing the offscreen pair, who apparently are oddly dressed in some fashion. Finding themselves threatened, they run for it. Howie, attempting to lead their pursuers away from Margie, ends up catching a bullet. He stumbles on and collapses back on the road, where he is found by a (rather convenient) passing motorist.

Next we meet Jim Crandall, Our Hero. Again staying firmly inside conventions, he is a smart-alecky ace reporter for the imaginatively named local paper, The Daily Sentinel. In a bit as old as the hills, or at least Ben Hecht’s The Front Page, Jim is introduced entering his publisher’s office, determined to leave for a long delayed vacation. “I need my ever-loving paycheck,” he tells his boss. Obviously Jim is quite the hep cat, since that’s the kind of person who says things like “ever-loving”.

While Jim waits, his Editor enters the room. So does the girl with Jim’s check. She hands this over and then vamps for him like a woman playing Mata Hari in a community theater production. This involves canting her hips, casting him a smoldering look, and fingering the strand of pearls around her neck. (!!) She does, however, refrain from slowly licking her lips or eating a glistening ripe strawberry or dragging an ice cube down the middle of her cleavage while remarking upon how hot it is. Still, Jim is properly appreciative. “The accounting department is certainly coming up with much more interesting figures lately,” he leers. (Get it?) That line delivered, the girl takes her leave. And…Scene!

Not really. Following the hoary template, albeit livened up with some amusingly awkward blocking, the editor slyly appeals to Jim’s curiosity by mentioning the mysterious shooting. Knowingly wary but increasingly interested, Jim agrees to conduct a little preliminary sleuthing before leaving the next morning. Needless to say, in the end his vacation plans will again be indefinitely delayed.

Jim goes to the hospital where Howie was taken. He pauses to banter with the pretty nurse on the desk, further establishing his Man About Town credentials, and it’s actually not a bad scene. Not great, but not bad. Then he learns from the attending surgeon that Howie had been wounded with a seemingly authentic Minie ball, a type of bullet used during the Civil War.

It should be noted that one of the main areas of competency that so surprised me here is that when Jim banters with various characters—his editor, the nurse, the doctor—the scenes are actually fairly well written and at least adequately performed. It might not sound like overmuch praise to say that simple conversational sequences are believably naturalistic, but it is, really. I have to give the movie nods for that.

Howie is currently unavailable following his surgery. However, Jim learns from the doctor about Margie, and that she remains missing. Here the doctor also recounts the story Howie has already told the police. This involves the revelation of what he and Margie had seen in the woods; two men dressed and equipped and speaking like Civil War soldiers.

Margie turns out to be the sister of Sandy, a local singer. Cut to the local jazz club where Sandy works. I assume the people who made the film included this jazz club scene (aside from its time-eating qualities) to show people that Houston was a happening, mod big city and not just some overgrown Hicksville.

Anyway, we get a short dance number as performed by the jazz combo who provided the film’s score. That eats up a minute or two, and then Sandy in introduced. She then commences one of those numbers where she sings while strolling through and interacting with the audience. The woman playing Sandy isn’t that great an actress, as I’ve noted, and sadly she’s only somewhat better of a singer. And frankly, her lip-synching is awful.

Given this, the scene plays like a parody of, well, scenes where someone sings while strolling through and interacting with an audience. Leslie Nielsen did the same thing in an episode of Police Squad, although for what it’s worth, he was even funnier. One difference is that here the audience remains pretty much stone-faced throughout her number, perhaps absorbed in the task of not looking into the camera. Either that, or they were exactly as impressed with Sandy’s singing as I was.

Still, when all this is by the boards they’ve safely taken another four or five minutes off the clock. And to be fair, Lt. Partane arrives during Sandy’s number, so at least something related to, you know, the film actually occurs. So Sandy finishes her act and returns to her dressing room, where Partane talks to her. It’s here that we first hear Sandy ‘speak,’ and I’m not kidding, her dialogue couldn’t sound less like it was emanating from her if I had a woman in my living room reading her lines off a script.

Sandy learns of her sister’s disappearance and is naturally concerned. Well, actually, she just looks perplexed. Maybe the actress couldn’t do ‘concerned.’ Close enough, though. Still, another nod to the filmmakers. Partane isn’t going to tell Sandy anything we don’t already know, and so they cut away rather than wasting our time. And I thank you. If only all b-movie makers were so considerate. Instead, we jump ahead to Partane leaving the building and meeting the Jim as the latter arrives. Naturally, the veteran cop and reporter appear to be old sparring partners, and they banter a bit in passing.

Before Jim can enter the club Sandy emerges, intending to catch a cab back to her place in case Margie should try to call. Jim offers her a ride, and Sandy asks if he could instead take her to the spot where Margie disappeared. Jim admits he was heading out that way, and they set off.

I guess it was pretty late when Jim hit the jazz club. He says it will take 45 minutes to get to the scene. However, we cut to Partane already there before Jim arrives, and it appears to be daylight out already. Oops, no, it’s just a really bad day-for-night shot. Anyway, the local sheriff has some bloodhounds on the scene, and they are planning to conduct a search.

Jim and Sandy arrive and hook up with Partane. He basically tells them nothing is going on, and Jim shrugs and tells Sandy they should head back to town. (!!) So I guess he drove an hour and a half round trip so as to spend about a minute casually looking around. That guy could use an efficiency expert.

In any case, the departing Jim tosses away his cigarette, and it lands next to a pair of Ominous Boot in the bushes. Ominous Music Sting! This is pretty dumb. Whoever the lurker is, he’s supposedly standing a few feet off the road in the middle of a major crime scene investigation, in the midst of a search party, various police officers, and search dogs.

Cut to Partane’s office the next day. He, Jim and another cop (played by the aforementioned Bill Thurman) chew the case over. The cop explains that Howie is a popular and levelheaded student, without any apparent enemies. Then another cop enters, bearing Margie’s sweater, which was found in the woods. He explains that they used it to give the scent to the bloodhounds, who immediately took off. However, eventually they came to a clearing, and just stopped and milled around in confusion. “The scent had stopped right in the middle of nowhere,” he reports.

There was no other track of any kind that might indicate what happened to her. They did find one more thing, however; a Civil War-era Confederate army hat. The cop explains that it is no replica, but the real thing, manufactured by a factory in South Carolina that burned down over a century earlier.

The two underlings take their leave, while Jim stays behind to talk things over with Partane. The result is a plot device that strains credulity more than a little. It turns out that in WWII, Partane had been in a group that helped liberate a small German concentration camp. The whole set up was strange. For instance, the prisoners were all found to be well fed and in good health.

The Germans had managed to blow up one building before the Americans took the camp. It appeared to be a laboratory of some sort. The destroyed equipment was like nothing anyone had ever seen before. The weirdest thing, though, was a dying old man they found. They checked his tattooed ID number against the camp records. Despite his great apparent age, the records indicated him to be eighteen years old. This sort of discrepancy proved to be true of many of the prisoners.

The commander of the camp, meanwhile, had somehow escaped. He was Ersnt Von Hauser, a world-famous physicist. In any case, Jim is confused by what relevance Partane thinks this might have to the current situation. “Just suppose, for the sake of argument,” Partane replies, “that [Howie] did see two men out of the past of a hundred years ago. That would mean somebody around here was tampering with time.”
Now, I appreciate the fact that they are not drawing out the mystery aspect, or, as in some films, making the characters too resistant to follow the evidence of their senses in believing a fantastical concept. However, this really takes the cake from the other direction. Having someone posit the time travel theory on the basis of the current evidence—I mean, gee, it’s not like you have people whose hobby it is to dress up like Civil War soldiers—seems too expedient by half.

Jim leaves to do some reading up at the library, and then to interview Howie. They kind of spin their wheels here, although at least the scene is short. Then Sandy (who seems a little cheerful and composed, given the circumstances) drops by to visit her sister’s ailing beau. Jim mentions he is again returning to the search area; Sandy again requests to come with him. Maybe this time they’ll stay up there for two minutes.

Back to the woods. Jim and Sarah climb through the same barb-wire fence and set off to poke around the area. (I know this was the ’60s, but couldn’t Sandy have stopped at home and changed out of her heels?) They quickly find both a small graveyard and a house. Uhm, is this the home Howie and Margie had been looking for? Because, man, it seems like it’s about a four minutes walk from the road.

Jim and Sandy stand staring at the house, as if it were some phantasmagorical apparition. “Looks like the typical haunted house!” Sandy quips. And except for the haunted part, she’s right. Jim, meanwhile, notes that they are also near the clearing where Margie seems to have disappeared. He then mounts the porch to take a closer look, while Sandy heads back a short way to the small graveyard.

Suddenly, a guy dressed (sorta) like a Nazi foot soldier appears from behind a tree and jumps her. She struggles, and Jim comes to her aid. (Cue ‘action’ jazz music.) The Nazi is carrying a pistol. Not that he uses it, of course, because if he did our hero would be dead and everything. Instead, Jim knocks him out, grabs Sandy, and they run for it. Personally, I think grabbing the guy’s gun and taking him prisoner would be a good idea, but what do I know?

They run through the woods for a while, but as they run through a clearing they fade from sight. This is realized through a rudimentary optical dissolve, and is not especially convincing. But then, really, it would be asking for a lot to expect more than that, given the nature of the production. In any case, they disappear, and reappear a short distance away, stumbling to the ground in confusion.

They get back up and continue on. When they reach the road, however, they find that Jim’s car is gone. Jim is especially confused, maintaining that the area looks the same, but with different foliage, a different fence, etc. Plus the road is now but a dirt path. Meanwhile, really, that is doesn’t look much the same at all, whatever Jim says. On the other hand, he’s already thinking in terms of time travel, so I guess he gets a pass.

Sandy understands that he knows more than he’s saying, and becomes increasingly hysterical as she demands to know what is going on. Needless to say, he soon has to slap her, because that is what does when one has a hysterical woman on one’s hands. I mean, his only other alternative would be to actually treat her like an adult and relay his suspicions to her. And, well, you know what chicks are like. Am I right, guys? High-five!

He takes her hand and begins leading her down the road. Soon his fears are confirmed when a young man dressed in Colonial-era garb rides by on a horse. The fellow pulls up and warily gazes upon these weirdly-dressed strangers. Jim notes that he is probably fascinated by Sandy’s “short skirt,” which indeed rises a good six inches above her ankles. But hey, if you’re going to dress like a whore, you have to expect to be stared at.

“Friend,” Jim inquires, “what year is this?” Before he can receive an answer, though, the lad reacts with horror to Jim’s cigarette lighter. “Witchcraft!” he shouts, and rides away in alarm. I thought that reaction was a little extreme for somebody from that era, since it was an age of burgeoning science and gadgets, ala Ben Franklin. But it turns out that matches did come into existence until about 1830 (and safe ones not until 1855), so I guess Jim’s lighter would have been extremely exotic in the late 1700s.

Jim, who remains pretty casual about the whole situation, again leads Sandy into the woods. They pause to rest, and suddenly find themselves teleported (because, I guess, that’s the same thing as time traveling) into a, er, rather modestly appointed Futuristic Lab.

Now, up to this point I really had been mulling scrapping this review. As I mentioned earlier, my article seemed in danger of being sabotaged by the picture’s surprising, if rudimentary, competence. However, just in the nick of time, things take a radical turn for the goofy as we head into the final half hour.

Jim and Sandy materialize and find themselves greeted by none other than Ernst Von Hauser himself. The wizened scientist, by the way, looks quite a lot like the shorter brother of Alan Napier’s Alfred the Butler from the old Adam West Batman show. Sadly, the movie lacks even a Batman-sized budget, however, and Von Hauser’s cramped laboratory and solitary pair of henchmen are less than Wagnerian.

The Time Platform, or whatever it’s meant to be, is merely a teeny raised stage bracketed by four poles adorned with strobing lights. As for the ‘control’ equipment, the ramshackle collection of electronic odds and ends seen here constitutes perhaps the most laughable example of Super Science since the assemblage of junkyard crap Plan 9 From Outer Space‘s Eros had sitting on the dilapidated wooden table in his spaceship’s ‘command center.’ There’s also a Nazi flag hanging on the wall. You know, just so we ‘get’ it.

For his part, Von Hauser proves one of those wannabe Avuncular Gentleman Supervillains. He’s all “my friends” and “please don’t be alarmed” and all, but his testy nature regularly gets the better of him. He particularly loses his cool when Jim has the temerity to label Hitler a madman. (By the way, why hasn’t Von Hauser gone back to before the Fuhrer killed himself and brought him along into the ‘future’?) The geriatric German rants and spittles for a bit, but eventually catches hold of himself. “You are, of course, entitled to your own opinion,” he shrugs. Which, to be fair, is a pretty open-minded viewpoint for a Nazi.

Von Hauser also attempts to impress his captives by introducing them to an Egyptian servant girl he plucked from the distant past. We can tell she’s from ancient times because she’s clad in an outfit from a community theater presentation of Ben Hur. I couldn’t quite make out her name, so I’ll call her DeeDee.

And again, a servant girl? Man, Von Hauser, you’ve got to raise your sights a bit there. Next he’ll be going an hour into the future to grab a then-cold bottle of beer from a six pack he’s just put into the fridge. “No waiting, eh, Mr. Crandall?” we can imagine him preening.

Von Hauser sends Sandy off to be united with her sister. He then explains to Jim that he had teleported Margie to his lab for her own safety, as she was being pursued by the soldiers who had already shot Howie. The soldiers themselves, meanwhile, were returned to where—when, actually—they belonged. It’s about here, by the way, that Von Hauser launches into a tirade after Jim calls Hitler a “fanatical madman.”

After Von Hauser finally regains control of himself, he confesses his grave personal guilt over failing the Fuehrer, who was depending on his scientists to give him the “super-weapons” needed to win the war. Sadly (from Von Hauser’s perspective), the Allies arrived before his time travel apparatus had been perfected. Actually, I guess it’s a good thing we got there when we did, because Von Hauser now details a range of devastating super-weapons, ones seemingly right out of an old comic book, that Hitler would have had at his disposal in just a few more months. Even so, with his time machine now operational, both Hitler and his Thousand Year Reich can still be rescued.

By the way, when Von Hauser talks about the war or Hitler, he is accompanied on the soundtrack by a drumbeat like the one heard during the opening of Hogan’s Heroes. It’s sort of like the Nazi version of how you can hear a fife playing “Yankee Doodle” whenever Oliver Douglas starts speechifying about the American Farmer on Green Acres.

Meanwhile, we cut away to DeeDee and One Guard (of the two of them) conveying Sandy to a cell. There she is reunited with Margie. The guard locks them in and leaves, and grabs DeeDee before she can be importuned by the prisoners.

Then it’s back to Jim and Von Hauser, whereupon we get the scene that remains this film’s only valid claim to cinematic fame. In one absolute lulu of a sequence, Von Hauser pauses to explain the rudiments of time travel. Here’s the thing: the sequence lasts quite nearly seven minutes long. That’s right, seven solid minutes of screen time. In a film lasting under eighty minutes, this represents nearly 10% of the entire picture.

Said lecture involves Von Hauser drawing what is meant to be the Earth on a chalk board. From this, we can safely deduce that the ability to draw anything even remotely approximating a circle to be a non-essential skill when building a time machine. After some minutes, in fact, the drawing completely changes shape, inspiring a pretty good laugh. It’s like one of those scenes where suddenly somebody’s cigarette is magically two inches longer.

The whole point, assuming one can use the term ‘point’ during any of this, is that time travel is like traveling by plane up to the North Pole. No matter from where one approaches this point, they are traveling north. But once they cross over the Pole, they are then movie south. Time is just like that. See, now you get it.

Actually, this ‘explanation’ is so convoluted and involved that one theorizes the entire screenplay was built around a late-night, marijuana-fueled college dorm bull session. I really wouldn’t be surprised if this was actually the case, that some guy had developed (or read and really fallen in love with) this elaborate—if seemingly nonsensical—theory about the nature of time, and decided to make a time travel movie as the best mechanism for delivering it to the masses. In any case, I’d pay fifty bucks to have them import the entire six-plus minutes speech, complete with chalkboard doodlings, into an episode of Doctor Who.

Despite the super-arcane nature of this dissertation, they do their best to help the audience follow Von Hauser’s dense technical jargon: “These are the acceleration switches,” he explains, “with which I can control the velocity, or speed, of the passage of certain relative segments of Time, just as you would increase or decrease the speed of an automobile.” Now, I’m no scientist, but if I’m following all of this, acceleration, velocity and speed all seem to be connected terms somehow.

Anyway, I’m not even going to try to keep up, much less transcribe, all this. If you’re that interested, you’ll just have to rent or buy the movie and watch it for yourself. In the end, though, the scene does finally end, after proving that actually living one’s life can be the most torturous form of time travel there is. Especially when watching something like this.

Anyhoo, Von Hauser gets all rant-y and boast-y, and Jim is all, “Whatever, dude.” Naturally Von Hauser is annoyed by this. “Ah, you Americans are an egotistical, arrogant lot,” he sneers. Yeah, sorry we aren’t as reflective and self-effacing as you Nazis were. We’ll work on that. Anyway, no doubt exhausted by his extended gloating, Von Hauser has Jim taken to his own cell.

Jim ends up in the cell next to the girls. Now that the whole AWESOMEST THEORY OF TIME EVER has been explicated at length, the film seems to lose interest a little. The final fifteen minute or so proceed in about the most perfunctory manner imaginable.

  • Sandy from this point on basically whines and sobs and screeches her way through the rest of the picture, making us devoutly wish upon her a slow and painful demise. And we haven’t even gotten to her worst scene, yet. See below.
  • A guard show up to bring Margie to Von Hauser’s lab. The scientist is going to use her as the subject of his latest experiment; sending someone into the Future instead of the Past. “You really have nothing to fear,” he assures her, despite the fact that is the first time he’s tried the Future thing. “There’s no reason to believe the experiment will not be successful,” he promises. “And if something should go wrong, it will happen so quickly, you’ll never feel a thing!” Well, that should calm her nerves.

  • DeeDee appears with some sandwiches for Jim and Sandy, which she slips through their bars. Jim beseeches her to aid their escape, as she has helpfully learned English in her tenure here in the (relative) Future. She fearfully resists his entreaties.
  • With Sandy now alone, a guard knocks DeeDee aside and enters her cell, obviously intending to molest Our Heroine. Rising up behind him, DeeDee can stands no more, and knifes the guy in the back. While Sandy cowers and mewls and snivels uselessly in the corner, the dying guard dispatches DeeDee by strangling her. Wow, I can’t even describe how much this scene makes you hate Sandy, who apparently needn’t concern herself with even trying to help her liberator because, after all, Sandy is the heroine and DeeDee is just a black slave girl. In fact, Sandy steps silently over DeeDee’s body, without even checking to see if maybe she’s still alive, but gasps in horror upon finding the now guard dead lying out in the hallway. I’m not one to recklessly toss around charges of racism, but damn.
  • Sandy, darling, thank God you’re safe!” Jim exclaims, although I should note that he’s not necessarily speaking for anyone in the audience. Sandy, what with a white person now to save, grabs the guard’s keys and lets Jim out. “Oh, Jim,” she sobs, falling in his arms. “It was awful! He strangled her!” Yeah, and you sat there and watched. Egad. And that’s the last time either of them spare a thought for the woman who died freeing them.
  • Margie disappears into the Future—oddly, she fades away, but not the chair she was strapped into—just as Jim and Sandy re-enter the lab. Armed with the guard’s pistol, Jim shoots the sole remaining guard (who hams it up something fierce as he falls to the floor) and orders Von Hauser to bring Margie back. There are a couple of misfire attempts at suspense—the guard isn’t quite dead, and Von Hauser protests that he’s not sure if Margie can be brought back—but naturally everything works out.
  • With Margie safely returned, and the guard dispatched a second time, the captives take their leave. Hilariously, Jim leaves Von Hauser behind, although he does (in the most economical fashion possible) half-assedly shoot up the time machine’s control panel. They find their way outside, where coincidentally enough Partane and some men are just standing around. Partane and a sidekick head down into the underground headquarters. Meanwhile, a state trooper left behind with Jim and Sandy delivers what may be the most ineptly-executed double take I’ve ever seen.
  • As Partane enters the lab, he finds Von Hauser has gotten the machine working again. The panicked scientist shoots at the cop, but Partane aims better, and an apparently dead Von Hauser flops over the, er, Time Chair, before dematerializing. I suppose it’s possible that was meant to allow for a sequel (“He was only wounded!”), although that idea seems improbable at best.
  • Partane then smashes up the machine, blowing the film’s budget as he lays waste to several dozen dollars worth of stuff. I think. It’s sort of hard to tell through the thick clouds of dry ice fog intermittingly lit by sparklers.
  • His work done, he returns to the surface and confesses what he’s done to a shocked Jim. Jim asks why, and Partane begins to wax philosophic. (Or philo-sophomorical, anyway.) “Yesterday should be left alone, because today the world has enough problems, just trying to make sure we’ll have a tomorrow.” Wow!

  • Danny

    “e scientist is going to use her as the subject of his latest experiment; sending someone into the Future instead of the Past.”

    Didn’t he already do that with sending the Confederates to the 60s? I supposed that can be handwaived by saying Von Hauser did that after the point in his timeline Sandy and Jim went to, but wow is that confusing (And paradox-tastic).

    Except, no, wait. He brought Jim and Sandy to the “future” from the 1700s. Gah.

    A pretty good recap (review?), one that made me pretty interested in seeing the film. I quite like time travel movies, and this seems like an interesting example.

    It’s weird that a movie so quick about setting up its characters spends seven minutes explaining how the future-tech works, which most people wouldn’t even wonder about.

    Interesting to read a review that includes moments of competence. From the movie, I mean.

  • Ken HPoJ

    I guess they would say that up until that point, Von Hauser had only moved people around, from where he was standing (temporily speaking), in either the past or the present. Margie was being sent into the future from his respective vantage point.

    I really do like to be fair to the films I review, and give credit where credit is due. Who knew this film would contain so many (admittedly modest) points in its favor? Thank Jabootu for that wacky final 30 minutes.

  • Ericb

    “Somewhere in time Hitler Lives” eh? How come he couldn’t make it into this movie? Talk about false advertising.

  • Actually the rest of that line is supposed to read, “Or at least his head does, in a pickle jar.”

  • Ericb

    So who did Tim Holt play? From the pictures it doesn’t look like it was Jim the reporter.

  • Holt played Partane. Again, I can only imagine he did the film as a favor to somebody, or just out of boredom. He was basically retired at this point, and it’s hard to imagine he got paid very much.

  • Interestingly enough – the lengthy explanation of time travel reminded me of a scene that was cut from the original pilot of Star Trek. I saw it once at a convention in the 70’s. It went on about how warp drive worked. It wasn’t shown in color like the rest of the feature.

  • Zandor Vorkov

    I wonder how embarrasing it must be to have your complete inability to draw a circle captured on film and shown on TV.

  • Sandy Petersen

    I notice with displeasure the strong Texas-phobic tone of this article, Ken. It’s going on your permanent record.

  • I love the Lone Star State! Surely it’s not inaccurate to note the great stigma attached to the Football Faithless there? And if the filmmakers felt pressure to prove their hipster cred and run away from their noble Texas heritage, surely that’s their issue, not mine? I look forward to visiting Texas again soon, whenever I can swing it. (Word of warning.)

    More on the chalkboard–Von Hauser draws little lines at the top and bottom of his ‘circle’, to indicate the poles. (See above.) Before he draws them in, though, you can see the cleaner spots where they practiced drawing the poles and then erased them without bothering to clean the entire thing. Notice how much cleaner the board is in the second picture.

  • hk6909

    Somewhere in time, Hitler lives…but we don’t have the budget to show it.

  • Ericb

    You really have to feel for the film makers if they didn’t have enough money to splurge for a Charlie Chaplan mustache.

  • Ericb

    Evidently a chalk compass was beyond their means as well.

  • I love the new design you have, Ken; and this is one of my absolute must-have films (especially now that you’ve reviewed it)!!

    Hey, if you’re through watching it and are just going to get rid of it anyway, send it my way; I love Nazi /time travel/majorette movies!

  • John Doe

    Says a lot for the quality of the script that they didn’t even touch on what the girl who went into the future saw there. Just think about the marvels she could expostulate about following her trip to the futuristic world of 2007.

  • The Rev. D.D.

    “I notice with displeasure the strong Texas-phobic tone of this article, Ken. It’s going on your permanent record.”

    You’re noting it as a good thing, right? *ducks*

    A lot of fun, this one. The caption under that picture of the hero having just cold-cocked the Nazi is one of the funniest things you’ve ever come up with, Ken, and that’s saying something. Great stuff!

  • Pete

    I got a kick out of the review. I must admit, I was there in the woods of lower Kiest Park in Dallas, just above Five Mile Creek, when they filmed this jewel. I was 10 years old, and buddies in the neighborhood watched every scene we could (or they allowed us). There were other scenes that apparently ended up on the editing room floor, including a group of Indians huddled around an evening fire. The ending scene, where the hero has rescued the damsel in distress, was filmed from the tailgate of an old Rambler stationwagon. It was a retake, because a few of my buddies climbed a tree just left of the action. The limb they were on gave way with a loud crack, and three of my buddies fell fifteen feet into a bush yelling expletives in the first take.

  • amana1

    The first shot is of the majorette’s baton twirling counterclockwise… I thought that was noteworthy.