When my brother Billy and I were but lads, when we could more or less count our ages on our two hands, there was some remarkable movies that were instant classics.
There was Journey to the Centre of the Earth (or for colonists among you: Journey to the CENTER of the Earth); and there was The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad with the oddly named Kerwin Matthews as the hero.
And then there was the kingdog of them all….there was The Time Machine (Thurs, 13.15, Film4).
This 1960 depiction of the great novel by HG Wells really stoked our imaginations and, I guess, tens of thousands of other kids too. I mean, just mention the movie today and no one thinks of the CGI-laden fx driven second rate re-hash from 2008.
They remember the one starring Rod Taylor in his elegant Victorian drawing room with his gosh aw-shucks innocence and his machine- for all the world resembling a fantastical velvet and mahogany sled.
Director George Pal began his career as an animator and so had an eye for the overwhelmingly visual. When the machine slowly hums into a future gently prodded forward by Taylor, we see the candle quickly gutter, the clock on the wall spin and then store mannequins rapidfire change their fashions as the years zip past.
Pal imagines a 1966 nuclear war with London under attack and then as civilisations and buildings rise, erode, disappear, rise and disappear again, the time traveller, still in his Victorian clothes, leaps out innocent and wide eyed into the year 802,170. Amazing stuff for a young kid to see. And see again.
Rod Taylor, an Ozzie, went on to star in Hitchcock’s creepo-classic The Birds and then got lost in tv films. He re-appeared as Winston Churchill in Tarantino’s recent Inglorious Basterds. Sidekick Alan Young, ever loyal to the time hopping Taylor, is better known in a later role as Wilbur, owner of TV’s Mr Ed the talking horse. Talk about the vagaries of being an actor. One minute you’re baby sitting a time traveller. The next you’re arguing with horseflesh.
And then there was teen ingenue Yvette Mimieux who played the gentle Eloi who befriends Taylor in the future paradise with its dark violent secrets. This was her first Hollywood role after starting in a blaze of light having been spotted by no less than Elvis at a beauty contest. Her career more or less flamed out. She married uber-director Stanley Donan (Singing in the Rain, On The Town) then faded. She now passes her time as…get this… an anthropologist.
The movie, of course, spawned a rash of time travelling films: Back to the Future and the memorable Flight of the Navigator come to mind.
Pal tried to kindle interest in a sequel where Taylor’s character returns to the future even deeper into time in which Wells, in his original novel, described slow moving crabs inheriting the earth. The director said in an interview he saw his couple of Taylor and Mimieux on a silent shore watching a tranquil sea (amid, no doubt, those crabs).
But for those who care, the 1960 edition Time Machine is the business. You really didn’t need a sequel. You always return to a magic kid-dom when you see the original. Rod Taylor is just the guide to the future, battling evil Morlocks, trying to teach the peaceful Eloi how to defend themselves. It is one of the best.