Tomorrowsday #7: England’s Dreaming

For my previous piece on THE TIME MACHINE, see here. The comments are particularly good.

Newer thoughts based on yesterday’s viewing ~

A very Twilight Zone opening with clocks floating about in limbo, ticking at us. Which came first?

A sundial, various clocks, and then the sun rising on the main title itself — the sun, our primary temporal device, the great diurnal timekeeper — and weather changing behind the main titles. There’s a kind of simple poetry to it.

Then, with a Scottish air on the soundtrack to accompany Alan Young’s mild-mannered Filby (not a very Scottish name – Young lived in Edinburgh as a toddler and seems to have made his character Scottish as an act of sheer bravura), we join an unusual gathering. Scrooge McDuck, Gavin Elster, Bagheera and Dr. Teenage Frankenstein are impatiently awaiting the arrival of the Time Traveler, Pongo AKA Mitch Brenner AKA Boysie Oakes AKA Travis McGee AKA Daddy-O AKA WInston Churchill.

Come to think of it, Doris Lloyd, who plays the housekeeper, Mrs Watchett (absurdly on-the-nose name!) voiced a rose in the cartoon ALICE IN WONDERLAND, making this a very Disney gathering. Tom Helmore seems to be the only one without a credit for voice work, but then, you wouldn’t want to let criminal mastermind Gavin Elster loose in a world of cartoon physics and logic, would you. The risk of him getting a time machine is bad enough!

The warm relationship between Young and Taylor’s characters isn’t really there in the book. You don’t miss it — Wells has other fish to fry — but it seems of central importance to the movie, put over by Young’s sentimental Dickensian eunuchoid characterisation and Taylor’s soulfulness, which he didn’t really get to reveal elsewhere. Their relationship seems much more important than the love interest with Weena. It IS the love interest.

I love everything about this film — you’ll get no snarky comments from me on this one. The opening expository stuff is masterful: Fiona points out that Taylor’s he-man qualities in no way stop him convincing as a brilliant scientist, since the intensity and passion — and love — he applies to his onscreen work is so convincing. In other words, he uses leading man qualities of strength and romantic interest to be a scientist.

The design of the machine, first seen as a miniature, is exemplary, never bettered, though the gizmo in TIME AFTER TIME is graceful enough. Frankly, this is a design classic and the next time someone’s foolish enough to try to remake this they should just dust off the original chrono-jalopy. Samantha Mumba may also be available.

And I cannot fault the enchanting time travel, with Taylor transported into a timelapse and Puppetoon wonderland as he fast-forwards through the decades. One of screenwriter David Duncan’s most pleasing updates to Wells is to have the Traveler stop off in recent history, distressed by the world wars he encounters. The near future bit — set in the sixties — may be unsatisfactory from a production values standpoint, and Young struggles to play his own son as an old man in a silver jumpsuit with the dignity such a role obviously demands — but the idea behind it is so excellent and the pacing so breakneck it hardly matters.

(It’s hard to work out how Duncan could have written this — even with the terrific source material to go on — and also THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD, THE LEECH WOMAN and even FANTASTIC VOYAGE. But he was also a magazine sci-fi writer and I’m curious what his fiction was like.)

Then Taylor meets the Eloi, or millennials as we call them, with their VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED hair, and a whole new story begins — the pacifist terms of the opening scenes are reversed as Taylor has to teach man’s descendants how to fight. At one point, Taylor’s VO refers to the Eloi as “little” but they don’t seem notably jockeyish here. In the book, Weena is four feet tall.

The idea that the air raid siren of the twentieth century has become a siren call, luring the Eloi to their doom, preying on some distant race memory that says, when the siren sounds, you have to go underground — outstanding, sir, outstanding! “It is all clear.”

I notice I’ve been calling the character George by the actor’s name, Taylor, perhaps because I’m a little uncomfortable with the Time Traveler actually being HG Wells. I think it’s OK that the film hints at his identity but doesn’t nail it down. TIME AFTER TIME is a lovely, silly film, and the silliest thing is that it makes Wells its hero — but it gets lots of good mileage out of this goofy idea. Of course, Taylor is the name of another time-traveler, the hero of PLANET OF THE APES, whose parallels with this one suddenly strike me as enormous.

“There’s no future,” says time-bimbo Weena, anticipating John Lydon by seventeen years — or following him by thousands. I wonder if, rather than befriending the cattle of the future and fighting the farmers, Taylor should instead have tried reasoning with the Morlocks — eating people is wrong! But the Morlocks, despite their engineering abilities, seem pretty degraded too, as if, having reached a certain level of civilisation, have let their minds go to rot, mechanically maintaining a way of life they no longer understand.

This being an American production, the Eloi are cast with US actors, a hilarious bit of inadvertent satire. The Brits of the future have devolved into Yanks. Of course, one still thinks of the Morlocks as essentially Cockney. But it’s easy to forget we’re still in London — this post-Atomic yet prelapsarian pastoral, with the weather seemingly permanently balmy, presumably due to nuclear climate change of some kind, feels quite Californian. I’ve just read, in various sources, that John Wyndham in The Chrysalids and Leigh Brackett in The Long Tomorrow simultaneously invented the post-apocalyptic bucolic scenario in 1955, but here Wells has beaten them to it.

The talking rings are marvelous, with their posh BBC voices (the inevitable Paul Frees). Exposition is something a lot of writers fear, but it doesn’t have to be NOT entertaining.

“The rings have told us that story.”

“But you didn’t LISTEN. You didn’t LEARN anything!”

That’s just GREAT. There must be other good writing by David Duncan out there.

What do the Morlock machines DO? They don’t seem to relate to the provision of giant berries for the Eloi, which seems to be the main Morlock activity other than eating. I am forced to consider the possibility that they are tanning Eloi hides to make the Morlock’s leather nappies. A grim fate — picture Yvette Mimieux’s mortal remains, stretched around the loins of a slouching troglodyte. Not nice.

Fiona points out that the defleshed Eloi skeletons are mostly intact, like the Morlocks don’t tear them apart, they just pick them clean where they lie.

  

The Morlocks — based around Makeup man William Tuttle’s one design idea — aren’t pretty, or exactly convincing (you can see the fabric of their fake skin), but they’re unpleasant, alright. One dribbles blood onto his moobs, and there’s the very memorable time-lapse decomposition guy. A shame we never get to see him REcompose, but Taylor does, and he can’t take his eyes off it.

Russell Garcia’s music is very nice — who is he? I see he did ATLANTIS: THE LOST CONTINENT, but not much else in the movies. He seems to be paraphrasing Once I Had a Secret Love. Well, why not? There’s almost constant music in this movie, and it’s never annoying or inappropriate. This is kind of an opera. (I would totally watch a Time Machine opera.)

THE TIME MACHINE brought BBC1’s science fiction season to an end, and it was no anti-climax. Seven-year-old me couldn’t understand the stuff at the end about dragging the machine from across the lawn in 1895 to get it out of the sphinx in the year 802, 701 — I THOUGHT I’d understood the explanation of time and space at the beginning, but this was beyond me. I think my big brother patiently tried to explain it. Eight-year-old Fiona, a little ways off in Dundee, watching the same screening, processed it easily.

“Which three books would you have taken?” I LOVE this Desert Island Discs conclusion. And it’s entirely the invention of the movie. Wells gives his chrononaut a knapsack and a small camera.

With the Eloi as your starting point, what works of fact or fiction would be best suited to creating a new civilisation? I want your suggestions below.

 

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20 Responses to “Tomorrowsday #7: England’s Dreaming”

  1. I would start with the 1st paragraph of this review, which may be the single finest piece of film analysis I’ve ever read. After that, I suppose the “Duckburg Domestic” stories of Carl Barks (to ease the Eloi into literacy with a semi-heirglyphic narrative form while presenting an unsentimental, and thoroughly hilarious view of the universe); the plays of Bernard Shaw, to acquaint them with a fair depiction of a humane, genteel and thoroughly civilized civilization (also pretty damn funny), and, diverting into another medium, the piano concerti of Mozart, as perhaps the single best argument in favor of civilization in the 1st place.

  2. Sorry; the 5th paragraph…

  3. Randy Cook Says:

    I suppose he’s paraphrasing “Secret Love”, but he’s for sure quoting “La fille aux cheveux de lin” by Debussy.

  4. Barksism’s good. Cat’s Cradle also maybe, although without the civilization that it’s unpacking maybe it would be worse than useless. Exploits of Moominpapa then, and The Grey Gentlemen by Michael Ende.

  5. Ooh, great recommendations, and stuff I haven’t read!

    That’s good, because I was thinking of The Inheritors, which would just make everybody feel gulty, and Lord of the Flies, which those dopes of the future might take as an instructional manual rather than an Awful Warning…

  6. Tony Williams Says:

    A superb analysis. I’ve always loved this film since I saw it on its first theatrical run. Maybe, I’ll include in a future Fantasy class.

  7. chris schneider Says:

    David, Russell Garcia was a respected band-leader and arranger with a solid classical background. I’m mostly familiar with him from his work with Julie London and Anita O’Day. I’ve posted an obit, from 2011, on my FB page, one that goes into some detail.

    About the script … I’m half-remembering an interview with someone other than David Duncan that talked about the coins and stuff like that. Philip Yordan, perhaps? I’ve sent an inquiry to a Yordan expert of my acquaintance.

  8. bensondonald Says:

    The DVD of “Time Machine” included a sort of one-act play starring Taylor and Young. Taylor reappears to let Young escape into the future and avoid dying horribly in the war. Young declines, accepting fate and duty. It does play a little like the end of a noble love story.

    Also: In the movie “Dr. Who and the Dalaks”, the future humans are definitely a knock-off version of the Eloi. In an interview, Brian Bedford related how the male extras raised a stink and demanded (and got) more money to shave their chests. After the shaving, Bedford claimed, they were oddly compliant.

  9. bensondonald Says:

    One more footnote: In 1972 MGM reissued several films under the “Children’s Matinees” banner with new artwork. Some films got retitled (“Excuse My Dust” became “Mr. Belden’s Amazing Gasmobile”). For “The Time Machine” they replaced Pal’s Victorian marvel with muscle-car hardware:
    http://www.impawards.com/1960/time_machine_ver2.html

  10. Wow — that’s AWFUL!

    Thals and Kaleds — Eloi and Morlocks, sort of.

    If The Time Machine has another screenwriter we don’t know of, it would be good to confirm it. Seems quite possible, though as a prolific front, Yordan more usually had his name on films he DIDN’T write, iirc.

  11. You have all written eloquently about the various reasons I love(d) TTM and the few things that made me wince. A recent reviewing confirmed that the time travel sequence as Taylor moves ahead through wars, changes in the cityscape and especially the progression of women’s fashion in the shop window is one of the great bits of cinema, taking of through a series of emotions.

    You covered a few other Pal movies in the past—I remember as a kid anxiously awaiting ATLANTIS and being horribly disappointed because I had thought the guy could do no wrong as either a producer or director—and I loved Puppetoons- with good reason (you should check them out). I would love to you read your take on THE SEVEN FACES OF DR. LAO and suggest you read Charles Finney’s book after. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Circus_of_Dr._Lao
    Get an edition with illustrations by the incredible Boris Artzybasheff
    https://www.google.com/search?q=boris+artzybasheff&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjy1Znq7d3cAhUJxVQKHZewCVQQ_AUICigB&biw=1218&bih=735

  12. Your wish is my command!
    https://dcairns.wordpress.com/2012/01/09/carnival-of-latex/

    The book is much stranger… but so strange that what’s left in the film, after the Hollywoodisation process, is still ineffably odd.

  13. Randy Cook Says:

    The book has a chapter which was expurgated from many editions. Don’t know why; blasphemy, maybe. The time traveller journeys to the end of the world. On the way, he stops to find a little group of small, rabbit-like creatures. Kills one with a stone. Examining its dentition, he realizes that this is, perhaps, what humanity has evolved into—but a couple giant crab monsters (!) intercede and he pops a few days into the future. He can’t kill another little fuzzy guy, so he proceeds further, to a desolate beach where a giant, dying sun throbs on the horizon, and a nasty, tentacled THING undulates in the oily sea. No Weenas HERE, so he buggers off back into the past. Very creepy.

  14. Yes! And not surprisingly ignored by all movie versions. I’d love to have seen Pal attempt, and his version kind of has the intellectual ambition, but the pace of the ending demands a return to the 19th century pronto.

  15. Randy Cook Says:

    Regarding your great DR. LAO post: Tony Randall uses his “American” accent, which is every bit as much an artificial character voice as the others he employs in the film. That’s my GUESS, anyway: I don’t believe that Leonard Rosenberg from Tulsa, Oklahoma could possibly have come by that voice naturally. He studied drama at Northwestern University at the same time as Charlton Heston (real name: John Carter) and I can only assume that Tony trained his voice with the same rigor as Arnold Schwarzennegger trained his body, transforming it into something amazing, if not quite human. Director Michael Gordon wound up teaching at UCLA, where I was one of his pupils. He told me a PILLOW TALK anecdote. I asked him what TR was like, and he said he was difficult—ONCE. Refused to speak one of his lines. “What did you do?”, I asked, hoping for a directing tip. Michael replied, “I turned to my A.D. and said ‘Get me Gig Young on the phone”. Tony deigned to utter the words, and was no more trouble.

  16. HA!

    But I much prefer Tony to Gig. Frank Tashlin was in awe of him, said directing him made him feel like a conductor conducting Jascha Heifetz.

  17. It’s been a while since I dipped into the book of Dr. Lao (scooped up a cheap hardbound copy); one thing that struck me was how the book was set in a dusty, depression-era hamlet instead of a spic-and-span backlot frontier town. What’s more, the plot is pure B western: Rich guy knows the railroad is coming, tries to buy up land and force people out. Also check off crusading newspaper guy (friend of the noble but helpless Red Man, who’s barely a character), pretty librarian (or school marm; always a little repressed), comical shrew with henpecked husband, yee-haw ornery cowpokes, and kid in need of a father figure.

    It’s as if they were afraid to present Lao’s circus at all except in the most familiar and harmless frame possible. Like Hollywood pics that shoehorn a white hero into uncooperative history for yankee audiences to hang on to.

  18. Yes! And they do everything they can to normalize it, but the irrational and scary and unsettling still bleed through.

  19. Randy Cook Says:

    Oh, I love Tony Randall, don’t get me wrong. I suspect he could’ve been a successful character man, but after Time Magazine referred to him (in Tashlin’s ALPHABET MURDERS) as a “ham of a thousand faces” he seems to have shied away from the prosthetics.

  20. He stepped into that one at the last moment, replacing Zero Mostel (!), who walked out in sympathy with director Seth Holt (!), suggesting the possibility of a very different movie. Due to his lack of prep time, Randall never achieved a Belgian accent that works, even in terms of fantasy, making that maybe my least favourite of his turns.

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