The Time Machine (1960 USA)

This film is truly a gem. There are problems with it when compared to H.G. Wells’s original story, but many of the additions and changes are actually improvements, in my opinion. The movie is fine without being like the original story. As far as the special effects go, they’re good enough for 1960, but really this film is not about how real it looks. Its about the warmth of the characters and their philosophical curiosity about the future. The tone of this version is innocent and subtle, completely unlike the violently harsh FX extravaganzas of today.

Whereas Wells’ Time Traveller was not afforded the luxury of a name, George Pal’s Traveller is christened George (played by dependable actor, the Australian-born Rod Taylor ) in fact, a closer inspection of the machine control panel reveals the phrase “manufactured by H George Wells,” further evidence of the respect that the filmmakers had for the author and his source material. Much of the story is told in flashback, as the Time Traveller, George, bursts into one of his own dinner parties, his clothes torn into shredded rags and his face dirty and pale.

As he wolfs down meat and alcohol, George begins to recount his extraordinary tale, of the construction of his sled-like machine, and his journey thousands of years into the future. Also pivotal to the story is David Filby (Alan Young), an amiable and intelligent Scottish friend, who alone believes George’s fantastic tale. The other, more skeptical, friends who close the circle are Whit Bissel, Tom Helmore and the always cosy Sebastian Cabot. They are all slightly pompous, good–natured Victorians who like a cigar after a meal as they chatter away.

In a not-unexpected deviation from the original story, given the political climate in 1960, George makes three brief stop-overs prior to his arrival into the land of the Eloi and the Morlocks. With the story beginning on the final day of 1899, the film’s writers, blessed with the gift of hindsight, make use of the last sixty years of world history. Most importantly, George experiences the horrors of the two World Wars, and a third scheduled for 1966, and some fun is had with the constantly-changing women’s fashions. The Oscar-winning special effects of Gene Warren and Tim Baar look magnificent in vibrant Metrocolor, and stop-motion is used extensively to simulate the rapid passing of time. As far as the year 802,701 is concerned, David Duncan’s screenplay remains commendably true to its source material.

George finally arrives in the land of the Eloi. Here he meets beautiful and sultry Weena (Yvette Mimieux) and her people. During their brief time together, Weena allows Wells to learn that despite their idyllic Paradise, it is not without dangers. In this future, it the Morlock who have become the masters of the world and have stolen Wells’ time machine. Although the Eloi have admittedly been given slightly greater communication skills, in order to propel the plot more easily, their complete indifference to knowledge is well-constructed, and we share George’s frustration and anger. Doomed to spend eternity in the future, Taylor engages in battle with the Morlocks resulting in a story he will later relate to David Filby (Alan Young) and his Victorian friends. The film is superb and despite being remade several times, has never been equaled. I’m sure H.G. Wells would have been proud of this version. πŸ™‚


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