The Yesterday Machine (1963) poster

The Yesterday Machine (1963)


USA. 1963.


Director/Screenplay/Producer – Russ Marker, Photography (b&w) – Ralph K. Johnson, Music – Don Zimmers, Art Direction – Robert Dracup. Production Company – Carter Film Productions.


Tim Holt (Lieutenant Fred Parlane), James Britton (Jim Crandal), Jack Herman (Professor Ernst Von Hauser), Ann Pellegrino (Sandy De Mar), Linda Jenkins (Margie De Mar), Jay Ramsey (Howie Ellison), Robert Kelly (Detective Lasky), Olga Powell (Didiyama)


Howie Ellison and Margie De Mar are driving to a college football game when the car breaks down. Searching for help, they encounter two men dressed as Confederate soldiers and flee as the men shoot at them. Howie is later found by a passing motorist but Margie has disappeared. Just as is about to depart on vacation, Jim Crandal, a reporter for The Daily Sentinel, is asked to look into the story by his editor. Finding evidence that the soldiers’ costumes are the real thing, Crandal decides to investigate further, joined by Margie’s sister, the nightclub singer Sandy. Searching a nearby farm, they find themselves abruptly transported back in time to the 18th Century. They are then brought back by the Nazi scientist Ernst Von Hauser who has built a time machine that works by manipulating the speed of light. Using this device, he is planning to bring about the victory of the Third Reich.

The Yesterday Machine was a work of complete obscurity when it came out. I have dozens of books about science-fiction and fantastic cinema but this has never featured or been reviewed in any of them. Nobody associated with the film appeared to ever go on and do anything else subsequently. Lead actor Tim Holt has appeared in a great many B Westerns throughout the 1940s but was at the end of his career, while director/writer Russ Marker did subsequently write the equally cheap and obscure alien monster film Night Fright (1967) but never directed anything else. For those who decry the downloadable availability of films on the internet, this is one film that has gained an exposure as a result of it. A print turned up online at the Internet Archive, YouTube and other public domain places sometime in the late 2000s and became widely accessible to everybody.

Not that The Yesterday Machine‘s newfound visibility is something that allowed the public to rediscover a lost and unsung classic. The film died an obscure death back in 1963 for fairly obvious reasons – it is slow and painfully dull in almost every regard. There is occasionally some gratingly bad dialogue – like when Jay Ramsey encounters a man in the uniform of a Confederate soldier and greets him “Hey dad, what you made up for?” – but it is not Edward D. Wood Jr or even Herschell Gordon Lewis levels of ineptitude in the filmmaking, just something grindingly dull and impoverished. There is no directorial style to speak of, nothing that generates any conviction about what is happening.

Some of the films of this era – La Jetee (1962), The Time Travelers (1964), Je T’aime, Je T’aime (1968), Planet of the Apes (1968) and of course tv’s Doctor Who (1963-89, 2005– ) in its formative years to name but a handful – were starting to do sophisticated things with time travel themes but The Yesterday Machine is utterly prosaic in its treatment. James Britton and Ann Pellegrino are briefly transported back into the 18th Century and the film delivers an interesting culture clash scene as they encounter a local on a horse who reacts in horror to them but that remains it. The rest of the action takes place around the laboratory.

Some people may have been hooked in to watch by the synopsis about Nazi scientists creating a time machine but this is never as interesting as it suggests it might be. Most of these scenes consist of Jack Herman’s scientist standing around lecturing about Einstein using chalk and a blackboard – where at least the script gives the impression that the writer has dome some reading about relativity (although the talk about altering the speed of light is nonsense – surely all this would do is make light travel faster/slower, not affect the rate and direction in which individual objects can pass through time). The film concludes a break-out from the cells and fight in which the laboratory and machine are destroyed.

Full film available here

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