Tuesday, November 01, 2016
Trailer Tuesday: TIME AFTER TIME (1979)
TIME AFTER TIME
Director: Nicholas Meyer.
Writer: Nicholas Meyer based on the novel by Karl Alexander.
Starring: Malcolm McDowell, David Warner, Mary Steenburgen.
I’m sure when you read the title of this week’s movie you thought about the Cyndi Lauper song and wondered if the movie was named after it... well, it’s the other way around. Lauper’s song was inspired by a late night TV showing of this film.
TIME AFTER TIME is a great sci fi thriller romance, which seems like one genre too many, but like TERMINATOR (made five years later, but with many of the same story beats) it manages to balance all of these genres effortlessly. This was Nicholas Meyer’s (STAR TREK: THE WRATH OF KHAN) first film as a director, and you’d never know it. He was a novelist and screenwriter, hot off THE SEVEN PERCENT SOLUTION and for some reason they let him direct a film and adapt the novel by Karl Alexander (whose dad wrote OLD YELLER). Okay, the real backstory is that Meyer read his friend’s novel and optioned it, wrote the script, and somehow bargained his way into directing. Wait, the backstory on that is that Meyer had been directing short films for most of his life, which lead to a job at Paramount doing publicity for movies like LOVE STORY. Even with the back stories, getting a shot at directing a film like this is amazing.
And with a cast that pits Malcolm McDowell against David Warner? Wow!
The story starts in 1893 London where a Prostitute staggers out of a pub and is brutally murder by Jack The Ripper... we never see his face, only his musical pocket watch.
A few streets away, H.G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell in cute mode) is having a dinner party for fellow scientists and intellectuals where he will unveil his latest creation. But they are waiting for Wells’ best friend Dr. John Stevenson (David Warner) who breezes in late, saying he had an emergency operation to perform. Wells believes that with civilization progressing as it has, there will be no war or violence or famine in the future... it will be a utopia. And his new invention will prove this... it is a time machine. He takes the group to the basement, where he has built the time machine, which travels 2 years per minute. Explains how it works, including that it will automatically return to the present if the key is not in the ignition. Wells is a little afraid to try the time machine...
That’s when the cops knock on the door... they have traced Jack The Ripper to this very house! When the police search, Dr. Stevenson has vanished but his medical bag contains... the bloody knife and souvenirs of Jack’s latest murder. Wells’ best friend is Jack The Ripper! Not finding Dr. Stevenson, the police search the neighborhood... but Wells checks the basement. The time machine is gone! When it returns automatically (because the key is in Wells’ pocket) he discovers that Jack The Ripper has escaped into 1979! Utopia will be destroyed by this serial killer!
Wells grabs all of his money and jewelry (from the maid) and chases Jack The Ripper into the 20th Century...
Ending up in an exhibit of H.G.Wells stuff (including the time machine) in San Francisco. There’s a great bit where he swaps his time travel damaged glasses for a pair in his desk drawer... part of the exhibit!
Now we have a *great* fish out of water story, as a guy from the late 1800s has to figure out how to navigate San Francisco in the 70s. Every small thing we take for granted becomes fuel for comedy as he tries to adapt. Oh, and there is heartbreak when he realizes instead of utopia, things have gotten much much worse!
When he goes to exchange his British pounds for US dollars, he realizes that Jack The Ripper would have to do the same thing, and goes from bank to bank in San Francisco’s financial district until he finds the one... the Bank Of England... where cute Currency Exchange Manager Amy Robbins (Mary Steenburgen) (who hasn’t had a date in ages find this British Gentleman *very* attractive) offers to show him around the city... if he’s traveling alone. So we start our love story, with all of the usual things you’d find in a romantic comedy, plus the “age difference”. Wells *does not* tell her he’s a time traveler from the 1800s, that would end the relationship in an instant... he lies. And you know that eventually that lie will be discovered and end the relationship.
Oh, but this isn’t just a high concept time travel romantic comedy... Jack The Ripper is lose in San Francisco and starts killing women! Amy tells Wells that the other oddly dressed British Gentleman was looking for a hotel, and she suggested the Hyatt Regency (which must have been base camp for the production because Justin Herman Plaza and the other surrounding locations get a work out!). Wells zips over to the hotel and faces Jack The Ripper... his friend John Stevenson.
And here we get what makes this film great. Because at the core it is about the relationship between these two men who are close friends... but this serial killer thing has come between them. There’s a great scene between the two, where Stevenson tells Wells that he belongs in this violent time period completely and utterly, just as much as Wells does not belong here. Wells is so crushed that his friend is downright evil that he’s practically speechless. When he threatens to take Stevenson to the authorities, the killer knocks him down and takes off running and we get an elevator chase in the Hyatt hotel (same elevators that were used in HIGH ANXIETY) and an interesting foot chase in the environs around the hotel. There used to be a cinema there that I may have even seen this film in back in 1979, and they run right past the entrance. Stevenson ends up being hit by a car and rushed to the hospital, where an administrator later tells Wells that he died. Jack The Ripper is dead.
Back to our romcom... until the murders continue and Wells realizes that Stevenson was not killed (it was an administration mistake, since none of these guys has any ID) and now Wells must find Jack The Ripper and stop his bloody reign of terror. Lots of nice chase stuff, and the “room mate is murdered and we think it’s the leading lady” gag that would later pop up in TERMINATOR.
Wells’ secret finally comes out, endangering his relationship with Amy... and when Wells goes to the police he sounds like an escapee from an insane asylum, which means he is on his own when it comes to capturing Jack The Ripper. The film has one of the most romantic endings of any film... rivaling SOMEWHERE IN TIME which would come out the following year.
One of the things I love about this movie is how we are put in Wells’ shoes and *learn* how things work in the 20th Century. There’s a great scene where Amy takes him on a drive over the Golden Gate Bridge to the redwoods, kind of retracing the trip from VERTIGO... and Wells studies all of her actions as she drives the car, figuring out what everything does. He stares at her legs as she hits the gas and the brakes, and she thinks he’s just appreciating her gams. All of this comes into play later, when Wells is forced to chase after Jack The Ripper and a kidnaped Amy in her car... realizing how much easier driving looks when a cute woman is doing it. He manages to smash into half the cars in San Francisco. It’s a great chase because it’s both exciting and funny.
One of the places where this film hasn’t aged well is the score by the brilliant Mikos Rozsa, which just seems too big now. Rozsa is one of my favorite film composers, but I think a story about a man thrust into the 70s needed a more contemporary score. It just seems intrusive at times. But that’s a small thing in a fun film. I have no idea what the box office was like, but the reviews were all great, and the film is one of the inspirations for BACK TO THE FUTURE, to the point of having both films use the same date (November 5) in the story... and of course, Steenburgen is the romantic interest in BTTF3. Oh, and that Cyndi Lauper song!
Clever stuff: H.G. Wells second wife was named Amy Robbins, and the prime suspect in the ripper murders was Dr. Stephenson.
If you haven’t seen it, check it out... just for a “cute” version of Malcolm McDowell.