Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Time After Time

Tonight is a night of Bob's Picks on TCM and one of them is a movie I haven't had the opportunity to blog about before: Time After Time, at 2:30 AM. It's a movie with an interesting premise that turns out to be quite entertaining.

Malcolm McDowell stars as HG Wells, a name you should probably recognize because this is the HG Wells, the British science fiction writer from the turn of the last century. Wells has invited a bunch of his friends over to his house for dinner and because he has a major announcement to tell all of them. He's invented a time machine. (How do you think he got the idea for the book? OK, this is something that didn't happen in real life, inventing a time machine. But without it we wouldn't have a movie.) Not only that, but he plans to demonstrate it.

But before that can happen, he's interrupted by a sudden guest, his good friend JL Stevenson (David Warner). What the audience knows, but Wells doesn't, is that Stevenson is running from the police. In fact, Stevenson is Jack the Ripper, who has killed several prostitutes already! Stevenson obviously doesn't tell Wells this truth, but acts like a normal guest who should have been at the party all evening. That is, until the police arrive. How to make a quick escape? Well, there's one obvious way, and Stevenson takes it: he gets in the time machine, and goes somewhen in time.

The end. Actually, of course that's not the end, since that wouldn't make for much of a movie. Indeed, Wells built in a safety feature to his time travelling device that, if you didn't use a special key, it would return to its previous location in space and time. So of course, the machine winds up back in Wells' basement with Stevenson stranded someplace and somewhere in time. But Wells is able to figure out what happened the last time the machine was used, so he sets the machine to go back to the same location and time so that he can intercept Stevenson and bring him to justice.

That location is 1970s San Francisco, this being a movie released in 1979. Wells obviously doesn't quite know how to make his way in a time 80 years in the future, but he brought a bunch of gold coins with him, and gold keeps its value so he's got a means of supporting himself at least for a time. He goes to the various banks to try to exchange some of those coins as well as to see which bank Stevenson would have used and get some information on Stevenson's present whereabouts. Eventually, at one bank, he meets Amy (Mary Steenburgen), who did handle Stevenson's financial affairs. Amy is intrigued by Wells and eventually they begin to date even though they're seemingly all wrong for each other being 80 years apart in time and whatnot.

Meanwhile, Stevenson being Jack the Ripper, he's still got a lust for murder, and women start winding up dead in San Francisco. Not only that, but Stevenson wants that special key that will allow him to restart the machine and go back to London or perhaps some other place and some other time. Stevenson will stop at nothing to get that key....

Time After Time is, as I said in the opening paragraph, a very entertaining movie. The story is pretty good, raising some of the standard points you can expect from time travel movies. How, for example, can Wells convince people that he is in fact from a different time, and that he has a working time machine? (The machine, being in San Francisco, is shows as part of an exhibition on Wells; that's something that seems reasonably plausible.) And there's also the question of how to convince people that Stevenson is a cold-blooded killer. After all, if you went to the authorities saying you were from 80 years in the past and you knew there was somebody else from 80 years in the past around as well who is a murderer, the authorities would think you're insane.

But it's not just the story that's good. The characterizations and motivations of Wells and especially Stevenson are handled well. Stevenson is seen flipping through the channels on what would for him be the newfangled device of television, pointing out to Wells that he, Stevenson, as a vicious murderer is well-equipped to handle these tough times while Wells decidedly isn't. Wells, for his part would have had a vivid imagination being a science fiction writer; he's able to use that to be resourceful in trying to convince Amy that he really is who he says he is, while also ultimately dealing with Stevenson.

Time After Time is one of those movies that will never end up on any list of all-time great movies, but it's very successful at entertaining the viewer, which is one of the things a movie probably should be doing, after all.

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