The Time Machine (1960)


George Pal brings H.G. Wells’ classic sci-fi story to the big screen, casting Rod Taylor as the British inventor who travels from 1899 centuries into the future to discover humanity has devolved into two primitive races — the monstrous Morlocks and the innocent Eloi. When Taylor discovers the Morlocks are breeding the Eloi as food, he decides to help them launch a rebellion, even if it means sacrificing his time machine and stranding himself in the distant future.

The Time Machine is faithful to Wells in its broad strokes, throwing in some added emphasis on atomic terror as Taylor’s character skims through the twentieth century. Taylor’s role is often a thankless one, forcing him to narrate the obvious events happening around him. The central relationship in the film is between him and Weena (Yvette Mimieux), a young Eloi woman he rescues from drowning. Unfortunately, the script gives them insipid dialogue when the Eloi are better off as mute characters. The only other performance of note is Alan Young (the voice of Disney’s Scrooge McDuck) as the inventor’s academic friend and colleague. Young cautions Taylor about time travel and provides one of the more emotional moments in the movie, when Taylor shouts out to him in a mid-century pit stop. Taylor discovers it is not his old friend, but the man’s son — and that his friend perished in the first World War.

Like the book, the movie isn’t really as interested in time travel as much as class warfare — a blight Wells seems to think we’ll be stuck with forever. Despite earning an Academy Award, the special effects compositing and stop-motion animation have not aged well. With too much light on them, the Morlocks look like shaggy blue Paul Williamses. But what do you expect seventeen years before Star Wars? With the strength of its source material, Pal’s movie gets more right than wrong. One could argue whether it’s cheesy or charming, but I’ll just call it thoughtful escapist fun.

Academy Award: Best Special Effects

Share Button