THE YESTERDAY MACHINE (1963; starring Tim Holt; directed by Russ Marker; public domain, available on DVD from Netflix, or watch the entire thing on YouTube, below)
The “plot”: It’s 1963, and an elderly Nazi scientist is attempting to change the outcome of World War II by giving Hitler a second chance via a time machine.
All right, this movie is appallingly bad. Bad print, bad sound. So bad for you kind of bad that it’s actually good. The Yesterday Machine isn’t quite in the realm of such classics as Manos: The Hands of Fate or Plan Nine From Outer Space, however it tries really, really hard.
This black-and-white, public domain time travel film opens with a pretty, blonde cheerleader furiously twirling a baton. Generic teen music blares from a transistor radio that’s perched on the fender of a ’59 Buick. A college sweater-wearing, Mitt Romney-like guy–apparently the young woman’s boyfriend–is doing something beneath the hood of the car. Margie the cheerleader mindlessly twirls on. We don’t know if Mitt (actually Howie) is fixing the car, or if he’s about to go with the tried-and-true, “We’re out of gas” line.
Cinematically, things proceed to plunge rapidly downhill the moment the first lines of dialog are spoken.
“Howie, For heaven’s sake! It’s almost dark! If you don’t hurry up, we’re gonna be late for the game!”
“Margie, have you ever tried to fix a fuel pump to a rock and roll beat?”, remarks the perturbed Howie.
To find help, and this being a low-budget, B-movie, they naturally decide to cut through the nearby woods. Howie gets shot even before the credits have finished rolling. Margie and her baton vanish.
Later, at a Big City newspaper (The Sentinel), we meet an intrepid, curious, tough-guy reporter who will stop at nothing to get his story. In an unexpected, Rashomon-like sequence at the hospital where Howie’s being treated, the reporter gets the lowdown, through a flashback, about the incident. Then suddenly, we’re twisting the night away. It’s the music of Nick Niklas and “the girl with the orchid voice”, Sandra de Mar. Sandra’s song, oddly enough titled “Leave Me Alone”, is actually sung by Ann Pellegrino in her one and only film appearance.
“Go on away and leave me alone. I want to be by myself when I cry. And there’s gonna be some cryin’… I just told my baby good bye.
Get out of here and leave me alone. I don’t care whether I live or die. Cause my life’s already over, it ended when you told me good bye.
Why is it everything happens to me and my dreams just explode in my face?”
Sandra is confronted by the police about the disappearance of her sister Margie. Officer Laskey, played by Robert Kelly, shared his memories of making this movie on the Internet Movie Database:
I was honored to play Dectective Laskey in this Yesterday Machine movie. Tim Holt was a true professional to put up with a bunch of local Dallas actors and even thou this is a typically bad science fiction movie– for the time, it is OK to watch. […] I had a recording studio in Dallas, Texas at the time of the shooting of this movie and most of the interior scenes were done in the back rooms of my studio—sets built for the dungeons, and the time machine locations, etc. All of the music was recorded at my studio with the Nick Nicklas band doing the playing.
Accompanied by Tim Holt in suit and tie, De Mar visits the rural, wooded scene of the crime in a tight skirt and high heels. Outside an old farmhouse, Holt gets accosted by a storm trooper to the tune of what sounds unfittingly like the Tonight show theme. Soon, the couple realize they’re lost… in time. Sandra’s hysterical yet orchidly voice is in full flower:
“Jim! The car! It’s gone! There isn’t a telephone pole in sight! The road was paved and now it’s dirt! What’s happening? Where’s the car?? What’s going on?? Jim, someone must’ve stolen it! Tell me what’s going on! Tell me what dreadful thing has happened!! TELL ME!!!”
In a nicely done transition shot, Holt and de Mar are beamed up (or down) to the laboratory of one Professor Von Hauser, and now we are at the real, rotten core of this movie.
Jack Herman, a Yiddish theater actor, hams up his role gloriously with a thick, over the top German accent and sly, menacing expressions and outrageous gestures. I sure hate to give anything away, but prepare yourself to endure the white-haired Von Hauser’s interminably long (but hilarious) blackboard lecture, as a serious but baffled Tim Holt looks on.
“Ziss line represents za vurld… […] Ziss is to illustrate vy vee vood have von da var!! Now, vee are da masters, and time is our servant!! Aahhh, you Americans are an egotistical, arrogant lot! How proud and superior you felt as you strutted through the ruins of our cities!! Soon, Hitler will return!!!”
“I’m afraid you lost me, doctor.”
I wonder if Holt–who once was a star in Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons and John Huston’s Treasure of Sierra Madre, after all–longed for a real, working Yesterday Machine when he saw the end results of this.
It’s nevertheless a great time, and there are plenty of unintentional laughs for an open-minded group. Serve it with some bratwursts, sauerkraut, and a few Heinekens or a nice Riesling.