Best Movie You’ve Never Seen: Time After Time
JoBlo.com takes a look back at the classic HG Wells/Jack the Ripper romp, Time After Time, starring Malcolm McDowell.
THE STORY: HG Wells (Malcolm McDowell) does the impossible – after writing about a time machine he actually builds one. Too bad then that one of his best friends is secretly Jack the Ripper (David Warner) and uses the device to escape justice by entering the future – 1979 San Francisco for to be sure. Left with no choice and believing he has unleashed a monster on utopia (ha!), Wells follows him through time, but ends up being much more out of his element his than his nemesis.
THE PLAYERS: Starring Malcolm McDowell, David Warner & Mary Steenburgen. Written and directed by Nicholas Meyer.
Oh, I love that bit. I love that movie, of course. Well, of course, I was in love during the filming – how could you not love the damn movie? And I’ve loved San Francisco ever since. – Malcolm McDowell – Random positions
THE HISTORY: Long before he became the colorful character actor we know and love today, Malcolm Macdonald looked like Timothee Chalamet in the seventies. Lithe and very different from most famous men of the time, he became a British counter-culture hero through a pair of original films with Lindsay Anderson, If so and Oh Lucky manbefore hitting the big time through his iconic role as Alex DeLarge in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. This made him an iconic bad boy, something he often continued with films like Caligula. However, after filming that hard-hitting romp, McDowell decided to completely change his image by signing a film that was much kinder and gentler – Hour After Hour.
Before he became famous as the “man who saved Star Trek” after instructions Khan’s angerMeyer was mostly known for The Seven Percent Solutiona historical fiction collection where the real Sigmund Freud helps treat Sherlock Holmes’ cocaine addiction. Hour After Hour it seemed, as it suggested the following – what if HG Welles really did invent a time machine and had to fight Jack the Ripper? At the time, Saucy Jack was in the zeitgeist, but usually when they made movies he was somehow pitted against the more capable Sherlock Holmes, as in Murder by Order (starring Christopher Plummer as a tougher-than-usual Holmes).
Pitting Wells vs. Jack was a great idea, and was actually based on an unpublished (at the time) novel by Karl Alexander. The film received good reviews but did only moderately (but not terribly) at the box office, and is highly regarded today – by those who have seen it. The film itself certainly paid off for the two leads, Malcolm McDowell and Mary Steenburgen, who were married soon after, with a ten-year marriage that produced two children, including their son Charles McDowell, director The one I love & The Discovery.
The thing is, I’ve never been a great supervisor, so let’s not get carried away. I am very happy to be where I am. In fact, HG Wells is truly a character director; it is not a romantic lead, although it is a romance. And actually, when the studio originally sold the movie, they sold it as a Jack the Ripper chase movie, which killed him dead. If they had sold it as a romance, a love story, I think they would have done much better with it, because the audience loved that movie. – Malcolm McDowell – Random positions
Why it’s good: Hour After Hour It’s a charming film, and probably my favorite Malcolm McDowell role outside A Clockwork Orangework. It is a minor miracle that he was cast as Wells, as he would normally have played Jack the Ripper, an assessment McDowell himself would agree with. However, he is extremely wonderful as the idealistic author. It’s especially fun to see the calm, intellectual wells trying to fit into 1970s New York, and Meyer shows that there’s a light touch here, lighter than you’d think because he’s been the same guy went on to make the most boring movie of. all the time – The Day After.
It helps that McDowell’s chemistry with Mary Steenburgen is palpable. The two were falling in love as the film was shooting and that really shows on the screen. She is very charming as the bank teller who finds herself drawn to Wells, with the part, in many ways, very similar to her role in Back to the Future Part III. It seems that time traveling boys can’t help but fall in love with Mary Steenburgen, right? Who could blame them?
But, it’s not trips to McDonald’s (which Wells loves) and The Exorcist (which he is not so fond of). Hour After Hour also works as a throttle, and a good one at that. David Warner is excellent as the small town Jack, who finds himself at home in the seventies, continuing his murderous streak without the reputation that cost him in London Victoria. In 1979 San Francisco, the murders are almost routine. Despite the PG rating, Hour After Hour gets pretty brutal in spots, with a few really gory bits that always surprise me with how lighthearted the rest of the film is.
BEST ACTION: What makes the film work so well is McDowell’s evolution as Wells. The seventies change his character in both good and bad ways. For one, he falls in love and learns to be truly happy, but in another sense he loses his heritage when he is faced with a society where Jack the Ripper is no longer one of – sort of. Their conflict, where Warner confronts him about his place in society, is one for the books.
PART SHOT: I will say this – often when I do this column I highlight movies that, while fun, aren’t always legitimately good movies. Hour After Hour it’s a different animal. It is a minor classic that is undeservedly obscure and deserves to be considered a classic.