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Time Machine, The (Blu-ray Review)

4 Aug, 2014 By: Mike Clark

$19.98 Blu-ray
Not rated.
Stars Rod Taylor, Alan Young, Yvette Mimieux.

Though I was surprised from this fresh viewing that future civilization seems to be run by merely a handful of those hairy-beast Morlocks with lit-up Timothy Leary eyes, George Pal’s sci-fi fantasy from H.G. Wells’ great yarn easily retains its modest charms from the time I saw it in a neighborhood theater triple bill with The Alligator People (what a strange snout you have, buddy) and From the Earth to the Moon. The picture was Rod Taylor’s first big lead after having knocked around in support for several years, including a rather shoehorned-in role in Separate Tables. It also provided a similar “launch” showcase for Yvette Mimiuex, unless you want to count her featured role in Platinum High School from about three months earlier, where she was a comely addition to one of producer Albert Zugsmith’s typically gonzo casts (Mickey Rooney, Terry Moore, Dan Duryea and, lest we forget, Conway Twitty).

This Machine is much more enjoyable than the 2002 remake, which took maybe two weeks to land on the scrap heap of movie history and in which lead Guy Pearce looked so greasy and unkempt that he could have passed for one of those bad-dude Morlocks in this version. By contrast, Taylor is a handsome sort, though his character here (actually named H. George Wells) is so put off by budding 20th-century mankind’s penchant for waging war that he longs to propel himself into the future via the doohickey vehicle he has invented. (The movie forgoes explaining much about the mechanics that make it work, which is probably just as well). On his way to zooming waaaaay into the future, he makes stop-offs in 1917 and 1940, which were not exactly great years for pacifists, especially in this guy’s home base London. Then Wells/Taylor stops briefly in 1966 for what appears to be all-out nuclear holocaust that would have made LBJ moan, “what next?” — though how his machine (or he himself) survives the devastation is somewhat glossed over.

It’s a good thing, though, because upon finally accelerating for real into a time some thousands of years into the future, he meets Mimieux’s Weena character — who, in the words of Jonathan Winters, “hasn’t very much upstairs” but has a face and figure that are timeless if you’re into California blondes. Mimiuex would soon be a major talking point of Where the Boys Are and likely sold a lot of Life magazines when she later appeared (in bikini and with surfboard) on the cover, still an easily Google-able male-hormonal milestone. But here, vapid or not, Weena is about the only Eloi (a tribe of passive youngsters dominated by the militant Morlocks) who even attempts to enter into conversation with her so-called civilization’s recent visitor.

Pal was a dependable producer but didn’t direct his own pictures until late in the game, beginning with tom thumb, which immediately preceded Machine. He was no one’s auteur, but his films had a mildly distinctive feel to them, and the movie’s long exposition isn’t as belabored as I remembered (as with about half the movies made between the postwar ’40s into the late ’60s, it features character actor Whit Bissell, who eventually even showed up in a late-’70s Machine TV movie said to stink). The film also has one of the seminal scenes of my entire childhood/adolescence: the one where Taylor asks to see any seminal books the Eloi gang’s civilization has at their disposal — only to find them turned to turned to dust after they crumble in his hand after uncountable years of non-use. How many times have I alluded to this scene over recent years whenever I see a youngster failing to read so he-she can indulge themselves in video games? Well, it would be in the hundreds.

As for presentation, the visuals look a little muddy even as undernourished Metrocolor goes — though, yes, what we get here is still better than the DVD version. Warner just put Machine out in the next thing to a stealth release — sending out very few review copies. I don’t think the decision had anything to do with product dissatisfaction on their part because Warner has just done the same thing with John Boorman’s Point Blank, which looks to be a superior rendering from my sampling. But though the Boorman is one of 1967’s most durable screen achievements, Machine probably offers a more positive view of life, though measuring Eloi vapidity against Blank’s contusion tally is a judgment call.

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