Time After Time

HG Wells (Malcolm McDowell) is lost in San Francisco

Director: Nicholas Meyer
Screenwriter: Nicholas Meyer
Starring: Malcolm McDowell, Mary Steenburgen, David Warner, Charles Cioffi, Patti D'Arbanville
Release details: Orion/Warner Bros, US 1979, 103mins
Full details: IMDb
Genre: Sci-Fi/Thriller
Rating: 7 out of 10

In 1888, the real Jack the Ripper terrorised the working girls of Whitechapel. In 1895, the real Herbert George Wells married his student, Amy Catherine Robbins, and began his novel, The Time Machine. Time After Time is what Tim Burton might call a "re-imagining" of these events. It's not meant to be taken particularly seriously. In fact, for a serial killer movie with a particularly graphic crime scene in the final reel, it's surprisingly light in tone.

Our film begins in London, 1893, with Dr John Lesley Stevenson (Warner), Chief of Surgery at St Bartholemew's Hospital and well-known gentleman about town, visiting his friend, HG Wells (McDowell). Wells has summoned a few close confidants to unveil his latest invention - a time machine. Of course, neither Wells nor the other guests are aware that the good doctor stopped on his way to the Wells residence in order to murder a prostitute because he is, in fact, none other than Jack the Ripper.

When the police arrive at the door looking for the killer, Stevenson hops into the Time Machine and makes for 1979. Due to some movie science, the machine returns to Wells' home and he immediately follows him into the future. HG is shocked to find that he has re-materialised in a museum in San Francisco. Or, maybe he's just shocked because the first face he sees is that of former child star and all-time party boy, Corey Feldman, here playing the pivotal role of "small boy at museum."

Armed with only his wits and the help of bank teller, Amy Robbins (Steenburgen), Wells sets out to capture the Ripper before he unleashes his particular brand of charm on the women of San Francisco. Meanwhile, the police don't believe that HG knows who the killer is, possibly because he chooses Sherlock Holmes as his pseudonym, in the belief that they won't believe he's the real HG Wells.

Those of you who though that, after A Clockwork Orange, McDowell's career slid inexorably into lazy performances as the epitome of evil in dross like Train to Hell will be touched by his soft-spoken Wells. It's easy to see why Steenburgen's modern girl gets swept off her feet by his genteel charm and solicitous ways. To further muddy the waters between fact and fiction, McDowell and Steenburgen themselves married soon after, although they divorced ten years later.

There's a nice line in fish-out-of-water gags, with 1979 proving perplexing to the innocent Herbert, while Stevenson finds the constant parade of drugs, sex and violence a veritable playground. Warner, as ever, makes a dependably sleazy villain. You actually never get to see any of the killings themselves, but there's an unforgettable moment when, in killing Patti D'Arbanville, a single drop of blood lands on his face and drips down his cheek.

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