Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Time Machine (1960)

Polish film poster.

Director: George Pal
USA 1960
103 min
Starring: Rod Taylor, Alan Young, Yvette Mimieux and Doris Lloyd, among others.

See it on YouTube: link

When I found myself stuck in front of the TV just now, watching the Tyra Banks Show (yes, we do get the best of the US on Swedish television...), I thought: "This is pathetic. Why don't I write a few lines about the movie I saw the other day instead?"

I finally got to see the 1960 film adaption of H. G. Wells' novel, science fiction classic The Time Machine. The opening is wonderful. All different kinds of time measuring devices float through a black space: a sundial, cuckoo clocks etc., until we see the Big Ben in a snowy London. In a matter of seconds we understand what the film is about (if we didn't already figure it out by the title) and where it is set.

What we see next is the interior of an upper class Victorian home, and four gentlemen making themselves comfortable with whiskey and cigars. It's New Years Eve 1899, and the gentlemen are waiting for their host. A house maid enters the room (Doris Lloyd, who has been in every Hollywood picture since the dawn of time), telling the guests that they have to start their dinner without their host.

They only manage to start the dining when the host, inventor H. George Wells (Rod Taylor) bursting in with his clothes hanging in rags, panting and having a curiously satisfied look on his face. (No silly remarks on this one, thank you!) He tells the story about what made him late for the dinner party, to the listeners skeptical amazement.

George has invented a time machine, and with it taken a little stroll through time. This is the funniest part of the film. When George is sitting in his time machine he has a view over a mannequin in a boutique across the street, and when he travels through time we see how the women's fashion changes over the years.
George takes a pause in 1917, running into his friend David Filby's son James (both played by the red-head Alan Young), explaining that their country has been in war with Germany since 1914 and that his father David had been killed. George goes back to his time machine to take a look a few more years ahead, only to find himself in WWII. The future does not seem too bright, in other words.

I was quite shocked at his next stop, in 1966. The city gets flooded with lava! I've been in London twice, and I sure can't recall that it looked anything like Pompeii. Ofcourse it didn't take long for me to remember that 1966 was the future when this film came, but it was still quite funny. I guess it could happen - there's a lot of active vulcanos in and around London.

Anyway, the next stop is no less than the year 802701, where everything at first looks like a paradise. Wild vegetation, people lying on the beach, eating fresh fruits. But George soon finds thing weird when a young woman, later to be known by the name of Weena (another sexual reference I won't point out, even if I just did), is drowning and nobody even lifts an eyebrow. George gets terrified at the lack of interest, and saves the woman himself. But as soon as she is pulled out of the water, Weena herself (played by barely 18 legal Yvette Mimieux) doesn't seem to care much that her life had been saved. What has happened to people?

George finds out that the human race has been divided into two group: The Eloi who lives above ground, relaxing and eating fruits, and the Morlocks, living under ground in the dark. The Morlocks have been able to take control over the Eloi thanks to the most effective enslavery method ever produced - keeping people from knowledge. Nobody learns to read or write anymore, and books are decomposed by destructive force of time.

The Eloi have gotten used to not having to think, not having to do anything creative. They are kept in the belief that they are in a war that ended centuries ago, and by the sound of an airraid whistle they march down to the Morlock - only to become dinner.

George's frustration and panic is best described by quoting his outburst on the surprised Eloi:

What have you done? Thousands of years of building and rebuilding, creating and recreating so you can let it crumble to dust. A million years of sensitive men dying for their dreams... FOR WHAT? So you can swim and dance and play.

He has found a place and time that needs his help.

I found some interesting trivia about this film.
  • Not only is the main character named after the author H. G. Wells, but on the control panel of the time machine there is a plaque reading "manufactured by H. G. Wells".
  • The date when George arrives in 802701 is October 12th, the same date Christopher Columbus "discovered" America.
  • Director George Pal was a close friend of animator Walter Lantz, ever since Lantz did some Woody Woodpecker work on Pal's Destination Moon in 1950. Therefore Pal often includes Woody Woodpecker references in his works. When George arrives in 802701 one can hear the Woody Woodpecker laugh in the background. In London 1966 a girl drops a toy, a Woody Woodpecker figure.
  • Rod Taylor looks like Kirk Douglas. (Not official trivia, only a thing I couldn't stop thinking about while watching the movie.)

I have actually, though I am ashamed to admit it, seen the 2002 version starring Guy Pearce. I saw it before I saw this one, de facto. But the re-make has one thing that the wondeful 1960 version does not have: a motive for George to time travel.
In the 2002 version of the story George (or Alexander, in that film) goes back in time to save his fiancée from getting murdered by a robber, so he can spend the rest of his life with her. He finally succeeds with his time experiment, only to realize that she will die anyway. He avoids the park where she got murdered, but instead she gets run over by a horse carriage. It's her time to die, and no matter how many times he returns to save her, she will die another way.

Then he travels into the future and fight off monkey people. But he had a motive to build the time machine. In the 1960 version he only says that he "never cared too much about the time in which he was born", which is a kind of lame reason.

But the motive thing is also the only thing I like about the 2002 version, the rest is crap. And I think Guy Pearce is creepy.

PS: By the way. If you are looking for interesting film posters, look for Polish versions of them. They must be very miserable in Poland; all their posters look like a commercial for your worst nightmare.


DKoren said...

Ooh! This is one of my family's favorites. We used to see this one quite often on the big screen because it was popular with the revival theaters. That Sphinx is terrifying when it's dominating the big screen.

Fun review to read! Makes me want to go watch it right now. Though I don't see the lookalike connection between Rod Taylor and Kirk Douglas.

Lolita said...

I always see resemblances between different actors that nobody else sees :)
I would love to see it on a big screen!

Elizabeth said...

This is one my favorite talkies! I love the book too!

Christopher said...

well I'm gonna hop in my Wehikul Czasu and be right over!..The Morlocks were always scary to me as a kid..they look like Johnny and Edgar Winter!..on the same sorta subject.Time After Time is a good film..with Malcom McDowell as HG in his Time Machine chasing after Jack THe Ripper in modern times

Lolita said...

It's a great talkie indeed! I love when George talks about the fourth dimension, it makes you feel smart even if you don't understand anything!

Oh, that Malcolm McDowell movies sounds disturbing! I need to see it!

DKoren said...

I also heartily recommend Time After Time. It's an intelligent, twisty time travel tale that really gets it right. It's one of my favorite movies.

Lolita said...

Wow, thanks! I'm even more interested now!

Mary said...

I just watched this movie about a month or so ago. One other thing I noticed while watching this is that Rod Taylor's voice sounded so familier to me. After I listened for a while I thought that maybe he did the voice of "Pongo" on "101 Dalmations". I double checked on IMDB and was right, who knew he did animated films too!

Tom said...

Interesting poster; very bizarre way to advertise this movie indeed. And it's good to know that Mr. Taylor is still working; I heard he is in the new Tarantino movie, but I haven't seen it yet.

Lolita said...

Wow, that was surprising! I'm of course used to the Swedish dubbed versions of the Disney films, so I wouldn't recognize the English voices - so thanks for letting me know!

I double checked - he's Winston Churchill in Inglorious Basterds! 80 years old, and still working! That's just admirable. See the new Tarantino, I was overwhelmed by it.
And yes, Poland seems to advertise all films that weird. I think I will have a "Polish film posters" special on the blog soon!