- Movie Rating -

Time After Time (1979)

| September 28, 1979

Time After Time has such a goofball premise that it is kind of a miracle that it works so well.  Directed by Nicholas Meyer and using the same concept of fusing literature with history that he did with The Seven Percent Solution (1976) – which coupled Sherlock Holmes with Sigmund Freud – here he goes even battier with a plot that finds H.G. Welles using his own time machine to travel into the future to stop Jack the Ripper from wreaking havoc on modern-day San Francisco.  Of course, this is a concept that could go wrong in so many ways, but Meyer’s direction is clean, his characters intelligent and his plot is evenly paced – this is an exciting movie. 

He begins the film in Victorian England circa 1893 were Welles (Malcolm McDowell) hits upon information that one of his society companion John Leslie Stevenson is, in fact, the infamous slasher of Whitechapel.  As one might expect, John steals the actual Time Machine, which Welles keeps stored in the basement of his flat and escapes to modern-day (1979) San Francisco where he intends to continue his nefarious murder spree.  The time machine returns to 1893 without its passenger (there’s a clever fail-safe ‘nee plot device) and H.G. pursues the killer into the future.

In modern day San Francisco the rough and loose culture of the late 1970s, a world full of crime and bloodshed and degradation as something akin to a paradise.  Yet, for Welles it is both baffling and fascinating, but fortunately he has a helpful guide, a pretty bank clerk named Amy (Mary Steenburgen) with whom he develops a sweet romance.

What is amazing about Time After Time is the way in which Meyer (working from script by Karl Alexander and Steve Hayes) is able to navigate this bizarre plot that has so many different tones and so many different ideas into a movie that is not only functional but quite exciting.

There’s the love story, which is as personal as it is functional.  There’s the chase to find Jack the Ripper, which never seems to run on automatic pilot.  There is the befuddlement of Welles as an English gentleman suddenly thrust into the crude, rapid-fire world of the late 20th century.  And there’s Mary Steenburgen whose charm and naïve sweetness give the film a tender heart.  The romance that she has with Welles is sweet but is never drawn from the requirements of the plot – they really seem to care about one another.

This movie could have been a giant mess, but it is pieced together with a good sense of pacing, a good sense of suspense and an eye on the characters.  Its not to be believed for one second but this is a movie that you can sit back and admire for how well it is made.  Again, this is a plot so outrageous that you just know that it shouldn’t work this well. You leave the film grateful for the generosity of the filmmakers who have given this film a real jolt of energy, humanity and comedy.  This is a little gem.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1979) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized