THE TIME MACHINE—–science-fiction Hall of Famer has an intrepid Victorian gent hurtle through eons, in another tale of exhilarating adventure-fantasy and cautionary hint from the magical mind of H.G. Wells. Thirty-one year old Aussie bravo Rod Taylor handily grabs a hunk of movie history as ‘George’, whizzing his lovingly crafted machine from New Years Eve, 1899 all the way to 802,701. He stops three times on the way to get the drift of our World Wars (including that atomic honker we had in 1966), a trip showcased through observations on societal frailty and the rewards and dangers of tinkering, highlighted with delightful Oscar-winning special effects under the loving hand of producer-director George Pal.
Arrival in the future finds a world divided between two tribes: the blond, lazy, fruit-eating Eloi, who look like a Swedish picnic on Quaalude’s, living in Edenic idyll on the garden surface; beneath, the cave-dwelling, machine-tending, cannibalistic Morlocks, bad news and butt-ugly any way you cut it. Among the Eloi, George finds ‘Weena’ (21-year old cardiac arrester Yvette Mimieux) who needs to be taught everything.
A smitten George elects to square off with the Morlocks before they floss with Weena, prompting one of the great Fearless Explorer Vs. Savage Creatures battles, wherein Our Man Rod takes on a lair-load of the buck-toothed albino brutes with a torch, a bullwhip and bare hands—too cool. Editing, color and sound effects are just right, and the sets throughout are dandy. Especially neat are the shots of the sphinx adorning the entrance to the underworld, and the dank, dark digs of the Morlocks with their throbbing engines. The Time Machine prop is a thing of beauty. Designed by Pal and MGM art director William Ferrari, it has the look of a kind of atomic sleigh, with a large rotating disc, a futuristic technological gadget with crystal, brass and leather trimmings that reflect the elegance of its own time.
Russell Garcia’s score is superb; wistful and touching in the Victorian scenes, exciting in the futuristic passages, with a wonderful sense of awe evoked by the theme accompanying the machine. Keen costuming, and the makeup that makes-up the horrific Morlocks is beautifully ugly, making the flesh-eating hulks a cross between moles and apes, replete with eyes that light up in the darkness. Can we assume they don’t smell good?
Pal and screenwriter David Duncan softened Wells pessimistic 1895 book, which reflected his socialist concerns of the class divide and soulless industrialization, and ended on a despairing note. The movie acknowledges threat and loss but gives hope a chance—why bum out an audience (of mostly kids)? Pal & pals pulled it off splendidly, getting good reviews, making a tidy (timely?) $4,610,000 on a modest $829,000 production cost, landing on spot #56 for the year. Taylor moved up a big notch in his career (it’s the role he’s best remembered by) and it was a nice turn to have an inventor-scientist portrayed with traits other than brow-furrowed worry or excited nerdiness: George is not just idealistic, he’s handsome, handy and heroic, practically a James Bond next to previous genre lead/snores like Gene Barry, Richard Carlson and John Agar. Delicately pretty 17-year-old Mimieux found herself in demand and Alan Young, mostly recalled for the silly and endearing 6-year run on TVs Mr.Ed, has a sweet role as Taylor’s kindly best friend from way, way, way back.
103 minutes, with Sebastian Cabot, Whit Bissell, Tom Helmore and Doris Lloyd. Trivia archaeologists could open a can of dimension by a search for adults who are the children of the stuntmen and extras with the simple query “Was your dad a Morlock?”
With its sense of wonder, grace touches of friendship, that arresting vehicle and those startling apparitions, a thoughtful and decisive hero and a story that’s, well, timeless, this 1960 treasure will please kids of all ages for years to come. Oh, and “Which three books would you have taken?”