Time After Time (1979)


One night in 1893, British novelist and inventor H.G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell, A Clockwork Orange) informs a group of friends that he has built a time machine. However, one of his guests turns out to be Jack the Ripper (David Warner, Time Bandits), and he uses the machine to escape from the police. Wells follows Jack to 1970s San Francisco, and with the help of a bank teller, Amy Robbins (Mary Steenburgen, Melvin and Howard), Wells sets out to stop Jack’s murderous streak.

Reaction & Thoughts:

“Every age is the same. It’s only love that makes any of them bearable.”

First-time director Nicholas Meyer (of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan fame) performs a small miracle here: Time After Time tries to be many things at once, which increases the chance for failure, yet the movie succeeds exceedingly well at all levels — Meyer infuses the story with a great sense of energy and sly humor.

Time After Time is a combination of genres that reportedly don’t belong together, and the movie triumphs where so many others fail because filmmaker Meyer is somehow able to blend different ideas into a cohesive adventure piece. Additionally, the narrative playfully mixes facts with fiction, and there are some clever references to literary characters and other movies, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s sleuth Sherlock Holmes and George Pal’s beloved sci-fi classic The Time Machine (1960).

As just stated above, the movie wears many hats: Time After Time is a fanciful time-travel story, a sharp social satire, a quirky romance and a suspenseful serial-killer thriller. Amazingly, director-writer Meyer doesn’t stumble once, despite ample opportunities to do so. There isn’t a single dull patch throughout the film. Like any other time-travel movie, Time After Time has its share of inconsistencies, but it’s such a thrilling and fun ride that you won’t care about the occasional lapses in logic.

Aside from Meyer’s skills as a storyteller, Time After Time works because of a trio of superb performances. Malcolm McDowell is a fantastic hero. It’s hard to believe this is the same actor that scared the living daylights out of me in Stanley Kubrick’s controversial masterpiece A Clockwork Orange (1971). McDowell’s Wells is charming and winsome, words I thought I would never use to describe McDowell’s work.

In only her second movie role, Mary Steenburgen is an appealing heroine — she perfectly embodies all the strengths and weaknesses of a modern woman. Furthermore, Steenburgen and McDowell have tremendous chemistry — I wasn’t surprised at all to read that they married right after completing the film. British character actor David Warner’s chilling performance as the infamous “Jack The Ripper” offers a perfect contrast to McDowell and Steenburgen’s warm characterizations.

Miklós Rózsa’s (Spellbound) bombastic music score is one of his best. Because the mood of the film changes from scene to scene, Rózsa had to play catch up. I don’t know anything about music, but I imagine it would be difficult to score a movie that doesn’t stay in one lane. All I can say is that I was impressed with Rózsa’s versatility.

And this is also a great San Francisco movie. Taking a page from Hitchcock, director Meyer builds scene after scene around The Golden City’s most famous landmarks (e.g. Transamerica Pyramid, Palace of Fine Arts Theater, Hyatt Regency, etc.). Paul Lohmann’s (Robert Altman’s Nashville and Mel Brooks’s High Anxiety) breathtaking cinematography highlights the beauty of these popular locales.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Time After Time is my idea of a perfect Sunday afternoon movie. The film has everything: action, humor, romance, suspense, and even a bit of social commentary. Time After Time is tons of fun and therefore highly recommended to all movie lovers! P.S. The little kid at the museum is Corey Feldman (Stand by Me). And yes, pop star Cyndi Lauper named her signature song after the movie. Color, 112 minutes, Rated PG.


21 responses to “Time After Time (1979)

  1. I enthusiastically agree! Time after Time shouldn’t work, it’s a mashup before mashups were cool, when they were called convoluted and overwrought, yet it does–masterfully. Too bad Meyer never again came close to bottling the lighting of this voluptuous film.

    Liked by 2 people

    • In a strange way, Star Trek derailed Meyer’s career, what do you think? (the same thing happened with Lucas and Star Wars — no more small gems like THX 1138 and American Graffiti). Don’t get me wrong, I think Meyer wrote the best ST movies, but I think ST was a blessing/curse.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I really can’t say because I haven’t seen any of the Star Trek films. I’m not a big sci-fi fan. As for Lucas, I would say that American Graffiti is his best film, then again I’ve only seen it, the original Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark; all three of them I consider fantastic films.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Really insightful review. Considering McDowell was about to do “Caligula”, he really had a wide range of film! I interviewed him at the Cannes Film Festival in the late 90’s and told him “O Lucky Man” is my second favorite film of all time. “Second?!?!?” he mocked asked…I told him “Godfather” was first and he said, “OK, understood!”

    Liked by 2 people

  3. This is a super and little remembered movie! So glad you’ve covered it so well with your great review. Adventure, sci fi, romance, comedy, horror—this one has it all. And McDowell playing a lovable leading man for a change is a nice change of pace. This could be David Warner’s best performance—and Mary Steenburgen’s too ( good chemistry with her ex!) So glad I own the blu ray dvd so I can watch again this weekend!!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Yeah, we watched it again four or five years ago, on a Sunday afternoon, just like you said, haha, and we laughed up a storm and had a good time. It held up pretty well, considering!
    And I looked up Mary and Malcolm. They stayed together for 10 years, so….not bad, lol !

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I looked up Cross Creek. I have vague, vague memories of that. I think I saw it. Thanks for the reminder. I should see it again, ’cause it looks like a sweet movie.

    Liked by 2 people

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