April 28, 2018

TIME AFTER TIME (1979): Leading Man McDowell?

Starring Malcolm McDowell, David Warner, Mary Steenburgen, Charles Cioffi, Kent Williams, Patti D'Arbanville, Joseph Maher. Directed by Nicholas Meyer. (1979/112 min).


Review by Mr. Paws🙀

For Malcolm McDowell, the shadow of A Clockwork Orange has always loomed large (or DeLarge...yuk, yuk, yuk). On this side of the Atlantic, anyway, that movie pretty-much cemented him as a bad guy the same way William Shatner will always be a starship captain. That being said, there was sort-of a poetic symmetry when McDowell was tapped to kill Captain Kirk in Star Trek Generations.

In the 70s, McDowell was mostly known to American audiences for his uninhibited performance as Alex DeLarge in A Clockwork Orange and, to a lesser extent, the horse-fisting, sister-banging titular lunatic in Caligula. So 1979's Time After Time was a bit of a revelation. Here was McDowell, not only the hero, but meek, refined, almost childlike in his naivety and - shock of shocks - a completely charming leading man. It's a wonderful performance that showed he could play a fish-out-of-water just as convincingly as a sadistic thug.

"It's colonoscopy time, ol' chap."
McDowell plays a fictionalized version of H.G. Wells, who in 1893 builds a time machine and shows it off to a few colleagues during a dinner party. One of them, John Leslie Stevenson (David Warner), also happens to be the notorious Jack the Ripper, who just claimed his latest victim prior to arriving. When the police show up soon afterwards, Stevenson avoids capture by using the machine to escape into the future. When the machine returns, Wells uses the same coordinates and follows him to modern day San Francisco with the hopes of bringing Stevenson back to answer for his crimes. Stevenson, however, feels right at home in the future, which is a more violent world than the utopia Wells had always envisioned. He has no intent of returning and soon continues his murderous ways.

Nothing on TV.
Time After Time is also noteworthy for being the directorial debut of Nicholas Meyer, who'd later be tapped to save the Star Trek franchise from itself...twice. Here, he directs his own script with workmanlike skill. There isn't a lot of flash, but it's certainly a lot of fun. Similar to what he'd do with Star Trek II, he puts greater emphasis on character relationships and an engaging narrative than wowing us with visual flash. The detective story elements, contemporary social commentary and charming romance between Wells and Amy (Mary Steenburgen) more than make up for the silly special effects (which were quaint even in 1979).

Afterwards, Malcolm McDowell mostly went back to playing weirdos and bad guys (including a lot of low budget horror films), so maybe that remains his comfort zone. Still, it's nice to recall that he was equally adept - however briefly - as a leading man. Time After Time may not itself be timeless (though it recently inspired a short-lived TV series), but remains an engaging film, largely due to a guy who once committed movie murder with a giant phallus.

AUDIO COMMENTARY - By Nicholas Meyer and Malcolm McDowell

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