My earliest memory (and it's only a partial, fragmented one at best) of seeing THE TIME MACHINE (1960) was on NBC's SATURDAY NIGHT AT THE MOVIES. I don't know the year of the broadcast but I do remember that I was at my grandparents' house that night. The television was on and tuned to the channel showing the movie. The only thing I remember seeing was the atomic attack on London in the year 1966. I don't recall anything else about the film before or after. It's entirely possible we had tuned in late and missed the beginning of the film and it's also possible that with a bedtime looming, the television was turned off before the film was over and I was taken home by my parents.
I do strongly remember seeing stills from the film in the pages of FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND in the 1960s. Every so often, Forry would run a still of Rod Taylor duking it out with the Moorlocks in their underground cavern. I was totally mesmerized by those images. This film looked so cool and held such great promise. I had to see it.
I also recall checking out a paperback copy of H.G. Wells' THE TIME MACHINE from our elementary school library. This wasn't an abridged, kid friendly version. This was the real McCoy, complete with, if memory serves, a cover painting by Richard Powers. I didn't read the book in the two weeks that I had it. I returned it to the school library and never tried to read it again while in public schools. I did read the novel for a class I took in college and I've since re-read it as an adult.
But the film remained an elusive goal for me. I honestly don't recall where and when I finally saw the film in it's entirety for the first time. Television? Home video? I'm sorry but I just can't recall. I do know that I saw the film at the Paramount Theater several years ago because I wrote the notes for the George Pal/H.G. Wells double feature of WAR OF THE WORLDS and THE TIME MACHINE. Seeing both of those films on the big screen was a real treat.
I recently acquired a Blu-ray copy of the film and Judy and I sat down and watched it this past Saturday night (an appropriate night, given my history with the film). Judy had never seen it but she really got into it and enjoyed it. I loved it too.
Rod Taylor stars as George (it's never stated that he's H.G. Wells but the nameplate on the time machine is a strong clue to his identity), inventor of a time machine that is capable of traveling forward and backwards in time. His friends, Alan (MISTER ED) Young, Whit (TIME TUNNEL) Bissell, Sebastian (FAMILY AFFAIR) Cabot and Tom (VERTIGO) Helmore doubt his theory even after he demonstrates his accomplishment by sending a small model of the machine into the fourth dimension. He asks the men to return for dinner in a week and after they've all left, he gets into the full scale machine and begins his voyage into the future.
There are stops along the way in 1917, 1940 and 1966 and in each year he finds the world at war. He finally rockets to the year 802,701 where he finds civilization divided into the passive, cattle like surface dwelling Eloi and the savage, underground cannibals the Morlocks. He saves Weena (Yvette Mimieux) from drowning and she in turn helps him understand the status quo of this strange new society.
When the time machine is stolen and locked away by the Morlocks, George must venture into the underground caverns to reclaim it. He battles Morlocks and the Eloi eventually join in the fight. He finally gets to the machine and returns to the year 1900 where he tells his amazing story to his skeptical friends. After they leave, George gets back in his machine and returns to the future to help Weena and the Eloi rebuild their civilization.
Director George Pal takes his time setting up the narrative with an opening sequence that sets everything up very nicely. There's an earnestness and sincerity at play here in both the screenplay by David Duncan, the performances of the actors and in Pal's direction. Time travel is visualized through a variety of special effects techniques including stop motion animation, time lapse photography, miniatures and matte painting. The film won an Oscar for Best Special Effects and one can only wonder how much more sophisticated the effects could have been if Pal had had a larger budget to work with (the film was budgeted at $750,000). Look quickly during the 1966 scene and you'll see a re-cycled uniform from FORBIDDEN PLANET, while another prop from that film, the giant clear star globe/map, appears later in the film in the chamber of the "talking rings."
THE TIME MACHINE is a wonderful film. It's full of the sense of wonder that one finds in the best science fiction material. Taylor makes a great square-jawed hero, Mimieux (who was only 17 at the time and making her film debut) is fetching, and the Morlocks menacing. But the real star of this film is the incredible Time Machine itself. It's one of the most iconic devices/vehicles ever designed in the science fiction cinema. When the full scale device appeared for the first time on screen, Judy remarked "it's steam punk!" Indeed, it is.
Judy and I both thoroughly enjoyed watching THE TIME MACHINE, which looks spectacular in the Blu-ray format. Highly recommended.