Monday, August 17, 2015

Rod Taylor Didn't Ride a DeLorean Into the Future

"When I speak of time, I'm speaking of the fourth dimension."

George (Rod Taylor)

When Rod Taylor died back at the start of this year, there was a bit of a debate over which was his best movie — "The Birds" or "The Time Machine," which premiered on this day in 1960.

For me, there really isn't a debate. As I have written here many times, I admire the work of Alfred Hitchcock very much — and there are many of his movies that I would see and have seen over and over. "The Birds," though, is not one of them. A friend of mine and I were discussing it about a week after Taylor's death, and he described the plot of "The Birds" as a "one–trick pony." That is about as good a description as I have heard.

"The Birds" was good the first time — but "The Time Machine" is always good, no matter how many times you see it.

The cast was first rate, with faces that became more familiar to TV audiences within a few years. Alan Young had been in movies for more than a decade, but it was a year after he made "The Time Machine" that he became Wilbur Post on TV's Mister Ed, which is most likely his defining role.

Likewise, Sebastian Cabot had been in many movies by the time he appeared in "The Time Machine," but he is probably best remembered for his role as Mr. French in Family Affair.

For that matter, Taylor is probably remembered more for "The Birds." That really is a pity.

He received no Oscar nominations for either movie, but I always felt that he was the star of "The Time Machine," whereas Tippi Hedren really was the focus of "The Birds." "The Time Machine" was the story of Taylor's character's travels through time — and the people he met along the way.

The time machine remained in the same physical location but could not be seen when it was traveling in a different time. From time to time, as Taylor traveled into the future, he would stop and explore, usually encountering Young as his own descendant. (Talk about a family resemblance.)

In a minor example of director George Pal's Oscar–winning use of time–lapse photographic effects, Taylor monitored developments in women's fashions by observing the mannequin in the window of the shop across the street from his home.

Now, I liked the idea, but I was disappointed that the director didn't take it to its logical conclusion and try to forecast women's fashions after Taylor's character developed his time machine. The story took place in early January 1900, and it is reasonable to assume that, since the movie supposedly projected Taylor into a future that was thousands of years from his own time, at some time part of it must have taken place in the 20th century.

The '60s, after all, brought us mini skirts, tie–dyed T–shirts and blue jeans as the drivers of women's apparel — quite a change from what people of Taylor's real time (as far as the movie was concerned) expected.

It was also quite a change for the theatrical audiences, who, in 1960, might have been shocked to see the fashions that were soon to come their way.

Yvette Mimieux played Taylor's love interest. She was a member of the Eloi, one of two post–apocalyptic species. The Eloi were benign people. At some point, being quite intelligent for a time, the Eloi resolved all the earth's problems, then were segregated into their own group by the other species, the aggressive Morlocks.