"The Time Machine" (1960)

Rod Taylor plays George (H. G. Wells) in this science fiction classic, his first full-fledged starring role.

And all the first-time leading man had to do was make us believe in time travel, deliver poignant social commentary, fight off fearsome mutant creatures, and convey the emotions of a longtime friendship as well as a new romance.

Of course, Taylor succeeds as director George Pal delivers a film with Oscar-winning special effects wrapped up in a story with deliberate pacing and fine performances.

Taylor faces a challenge from the start: He must burst upon the scene -- a very civilized Victorian-era dining room -- bearing the horrors and wonders he's seen as he's traversed the centuries. And despite his bloodied, battered, wearied state, Taylor must make it clear he's no mad scientist.

Through flashback, the tale starts on a small scale, literally, as George demonstrates a miniature version of the time machine. Among friends, he calmly poses the possibility of moving through time as easily as we move through space. But his friends scoff, and tell him he should put his talents toward helping the war effort.

One friend, Filby (Alan Young) comes closest to believing -- actually fearing -- that the machine really could work, and he stays behind to gently caution George. But determined to seek wisdom from the people of the future, George sets off to test his time machine -- on a large scale.

Maintaining the pacing that roots the story in the plausible and familiar, Pal doesn't have George leap into the machine and race off to the distant future. No, he advances hesitantly at first. We're given visual cues of the passing of time -- a candle burning quickly, the sun racing across the sky. And we get cues that the machine does not pass through space -- sharing George's amusement as he watches the fashions change on the mannequin in the store window across the street.

Emboldened, George jumps ahead in greater increments but stopping at familiar timeposts -- World Wars I and II -- where we encounter familiar faces and reminders that the place is the same. Nuclear war devastates everything during a stop in 1966, and George finally races ahead.

When he reaches the year 802,701, London seems to have become a Garden of Eden. We're alone with George now, and we follow Taylor's reactions as the actor ranges through an arc of emotion. We feel George's wonder and amazement while exploring the exotic landscape, then his despair when he senses his isolation. His delight upon sighting the carefree Eloi gives way to anger as he leaps into action to rescue Weena (Yvette Mimieux) from drowning. Ultimately, he is perplexed at the apathy of Weena and her people.

Back at a dinner table -- surrounded by Eloi rather than his old friends -- George at last gets his chance to satisfy his curiosity. He peppers his companions with questions. But their minds are empty and their books have turned to dust. In a rage, he vows to return to his time to "die among men."

His getaway thwarted because the time machine has been dragged behind sturdy steel doors, George nevertheless finds a spark of hope when Weena risks her own safety to warn him of the danger in the dark. Director Pal then begins a familiar pattern, showing how the small-scale flicker of a match scares off a marauding Morlock.

Later, when George finally plunges into the Morlocks' subterranean lair to rescue Weena and the other Eloi, the small sparks ignite: George uses fire to ward off the Morlocks, and an Eloi strikes out to save him from strangulation. With Russell Garcia's rich score soaring, George leads the Eloi to safety and they destroy the Morlocks.

Having already demonstrated a scientist's intellect and a hero's physical strength, a brief romantic interlude presents another layer to Taylor's performance. Alas, the smoldering anticipation of a first kiss with Weena is interrupted as the Eloi discover the doors have opened, freeing the time machine. Another hesitation -- and Weena is blocked from joining George on a journey back to "his time." With one last run-in with the Morlocks, George races back to the safety of 1900, his friends and his home.

After relating this tale and facing more skepticism, we sense George's decision. A simple, moving "good-bye" to his loyal friend Filby speaks volumes.

Dragging the time machine back to his laboratory -- so that it's on the safe side of the doors in 802,701 -- George takes off again, to rejoin Weena and the Eloi.

Taylor's performance and story's structure ultimately leave us with the confidence that George can kindle all those sparks -- of love, humanity, strength and curiosity -- in the Eloi. And the film leaves us with a question: Which three books did he take along to begin building a new civilization?

 

 

Click for Gallery

LINKS

The Time Machine:
The Journey Back

The Fantasy Film Worlds
of George Pal

IMDb // Wikipedia

Turner Classic Movies

Starlog magazine article (PDF):
Rod Taylor, Time Traveling Hero, July 1986

The Time Machine Project: Don & Mary Coleman's site provides extensive resources on the book, the movie, the machine, the remake, etc.

Time Machine Models:
Just what the name says!

Time Machine model kit

The Time Machine - The Web Site from SciFlicks.com contains sound files and photos.

Bob Burns' site: Has models of the Time Machine, with a wax Rod Taylor and the real thing.

Alan Young's official site:
Meet Filby.

The book, online

The Big Bang Theory: Info on episode with the Time Machine

 

VIEWER'S GUIDE

Instant video on Amazon.com

DVD on Amazon.com

DVD in SciFi classics collection

Trailer on YouTube

Big Bang Theory and the Time Machine on YouTube

 

FILBY

George's friendship with Filby (Alan Young) is a key constant in "The Time Machine."

During George's first stop through time, he learns -- from Filby's son -- that Filby has been killed in World War I. But George also finds out that in the 16 years that have elapsed, Filby maintained George's home, certain that his friend would someday return.

When George eventually does return from his time travels, knowledge of such loyalty shades the touching farewell he delivers to his friend (above).

 

NEAR MISS

I turned the part down to begin with. Then George Pal, the producer-director, called me and said he wasn't making a "science fiction picture." He was making 'an H.G. Wells picture."

He said, "I've never directed before. There are areas you can help me and areas where I can be of help to you." ... It did give me an opportunity to work closely with the director, rather than just coming to work and going home.

-- Rod Taylor,
TV Radio Mirror,
January 1961

Reviews

   

"The Birds" notwithstanding, I'd venture to say that "The Time Machine" probably represents Rod Taylor's strongest work and the role for which he'll be most remembered. ... Director Pal elicits a strong performance from Taylor, as a thinking man stuck in a world where books and work and invention have no meaning.

-- Reviewer Jeff McNeal at The Big Picture Web site

Taylor's performance is a gem of straightforwardness, with just the proper sensitivity and animation.

-- Variety magazine, 1960

This smashing science-fiction adaptation of H.G. Wells' famous novel has more creativity in every frame than most latter-day rip-offs have in their entirety.

-- TV Guide movie database

Taylor is likeable, friendly and open; these qualities make his Time Traveler a memorable character. George is not just a Victorian visiting the future, he is Everyman. ... His performance is literally time-less.

-- author Bill Warren, in the 1986 book "Keep Watching the Skies!
American Science Fiction Movies of the Fifties -- Volume II: 1958-1962"

George (Rod Taylor), our main character, is a brilliant, impulsive man with a passion for progress and a hatred for the horror and waste of war. ... I've always liked Rod Taylor as George. He's definitely handsome action guy, but he looks so great in the turn of the century duds and I believe him as a passionate scientist.

-- Blogger Billie Douz, at Doux Reviews

 

Rod talks about "The Time Machine"

When it came to casting the Time Traveler, director George Pal had considered actors Paul Scofield, Michael Rennie and James Mason, but he eventually turned to Rod Taylor's "more youthful appeal," according to a Starlog magazine article from July 1986.

Here's more from the article, leading off with Rod's comments about the director of "The Time Machine":

"George Pal was a genius. He was a lovely, warm-hearted man. I thought of him as a funny little elf. He was surrounded by tiny puppets and toys, which he brought to life in his movies."

A childhood fan of H.G. Wells' work, Taylor was extremely enthusiastic about his first starring role. ... "[Pal] had a marvelous talent for illustration, and I was fascinated with his pre-production drawings. He knew that I was an artist, so we got along beautifully. We worked in close partnership, and I even helped him find the female lead....

"There was a lot of trouble casting Weena. I suggested that I test with different girls. My first choice was Shirley Knight. Yvette and I have since become dear friends, but at that time, I thought she was kind of a strange little hippie child. I was afraid she would be hard to work with.

"I knew when I did her screen test that Yvette couldn't act at all. But she had a sulky quality with George believed was right. The innocence she projected as part of her character was actually innate in her own personality. I often wondered if she was even listening to me when we shot our scenes.

"Eventually, though, Yvette became a very good actress. She was a delight to work with when we made 'Dark of the Sun' in 1968. She is actually a much better actress than she is given credit for being."

Paying tribute to the visionary British writer, Pal subtly indicated that the Time Traveler was actually Wells himself by attaching an engraved plate on the time machine, which read: "Manufactured by H.G. Wells."

"I didn't attempt to think what Wells may have really been like," Taylor comments. "I played my version of what a magnificent guy he must have been. Why couldn't he have been strong, romantic and athletic, as well as a brilliant scientist? George was very happy with my conception. I think it was the ballsiness of Wells, as I played him, combined with being highly intellectual, which sold the character."

... Surprised by the unexpected critical and commercial success of "The Time Machine," Taylor and Pal intended to team up again. ... [But] disappointment and frustration continually plagued Pal during his final years, even sabotaging his long-planned "Time Machine" sequel, in which Taylor and Yvette Mimieux would have reprised their original roles.

"George wasn't quite sure what the plot was going to be," Taylor reveals. "He had some marvelous ideas, but he kept changing the concept. He told me about five different storylines, but I never read any completely finalized script."

The Web site for Turner Classic Movies does mention one concept for a "Time Machine" sequel that George Pal described in a 1982 interview:

"We would have loved to make a sequel having the Time Traveler go back in time, or -- there was a great sequence which (was cut), it just didn't fit into our plot -- to go back to the same place and then go further into the future when the crabs took over.

"It was very beautiful -- I can just see Rod Taylor and Yvette Mimieux, just the two of them...go in there where the crabs are and the ocean is flat and doesn't move anymore and the sun is hot all the time. I think we could have developed a very interesting story of the loneliness of these two people."

(The scene with the crabs comes from Chapter 11 of Wells' story.)

 

 

         
   

www.rodtaylorsite.com