Malcolm McDowell is H.G. Wells. He has invented a time machine and is about to use it to explore the past and future from his home in 1890, London. But at a dinner party where he is announcing his project one of his friends John Leslie Stevenson steals it to escape from the police who have discovered that he is Jack the Ripper. Stevenson is played by David Warner that I only know from his turn as Bob Cratchit in the 1984 version of A Christmas Carol.
After the time machine returns empty from the Ripper’s escape Wells follows him back to 1979 San Francisco. No explanation is given as to how the time machine can also move through space but since this movie isn’t very good, we won’t quibble about unimportant gaps.
In San Francisco Wells meets up with a currency exchange bank clerk named Amy Robbins played abysmally by Mary Steenburgen and naturally they fall in love and we’re trapped into listening to their various thoughts on women’s liberation and casual sex. It’s pretty awful. Amy thinks her “career” at the bank is her whole life. She left her husband because he wanted her to raise a family. The monster.
Wells finds Stevenson and he tells Wells that 1979 is the greatest place in the world for Jack the Ripper with casual sex and easy access to women and sharp knives. Then there is this ridiculous chase scene where the two Englishmen are running around on the streets of San Francisco. It looks ludicrous and they’re not really running very fast. Then supposedly Stevenson is killed in a minor car accident. Wells takes this opportunity to see the Redwoods outside of San Francisco and talk to Amy about women’s lib again.
Then we find out that Jack the Ripper must not have been killed because women start turning up butchered. Wells tells Amy that he’s from 1890. She tells him he’s nuts and to prove to her that he is telling the truth he uses the time machine to bring her forward a week and she finds a newspaper that shows that Jack the Ripper has killed her the day before.
So, they go back to the week before and try to catch the Ripper and save Amy’s life. Cars get flat tires; Wells is arrested by the police as the Ripper and it appears that Amy is murdered and hacked to pieces by the Ripper. The police let Wells go because he couldn’t have killed Amy while he was in custody. But, big mistake, it was Amy’s friend who was butchered and now Stevenson has her hostage and wants to trade her life for the key to the time machine.
Stevenson tricks Wells and after getting the key takes Amy with him as he heads to the time machine. Wells takes a car and somehow figures out how to drive at night in a crowded city and follows them to the machine. There he begs for Amy’s life but Stevenson decides to take her with him but somehow in a way that doesn’t make any sense she escapes him. As Stevenson enters into the machine and begins setting it for the future Wells removes another key from the outside of the machine and this sends Stevenson to “infinity,” whatever that means. Hoorah for Wells and Amy. Now Amy decides that her bank job isn’t as important as marrying Wells back in 1890. And they live happily ever after.
This movie is so bad that it both sucks and blows. The special effects are laughably bad and cheap looking. They remind me of some effects that they used on Gilligan’s Island. The dialog is awful and the 1970s disco hedonism is embarrassing. Mary Steenburgen is an awful actress but this part is even below her talents. The quality of this film is at the level of a made for television movie. McDowell and Warner are decent actors but they aren’t given anything to work with here. It’s all too silly and badly done.
Tonight, I was talking to a friend who lives in Manhattan. He was so claustrophobic from the endless lockdown that he decided to go to a restaurant. That means he was so sick of being trapped in his apartment that he was willing to eat outside at night in temperatures below the freezing point. He then walked twenty-five blocks just so he could be outdoors and feel like there was some normalcy to his life. But that illusion was quickly dispelled. He told me that at one point there were twenty city busses in virtually a convoy headed up Madison Avenue, all empty. They probably weren’t attempting to maintain this configuration but since nobody was attempting to ride on them and since there is virtually no traffic, they basically pile up at the slower traffic signals and form this absurd wagon train.
Think about it, Manhattan at Christmas time and the streets are deserted. The stores on Fifth Avenue are not just empty but looted and boarded up and the ruinously expensive transit system is empty and running like some sort of ghost of itself through a modern-day necropolis. Well at least something has finally come along to put an end to the “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” crowd interviews. They’ll just set up a zoom meeting between Miley Cyrus, Mariah Carey, Yoko Ono and the ghost of Cindy Lauper’s hair stylist.
Any other year in the last hundred and fifty years and Manhattan during Christmas week would be standing room only in every store, restaurant, sidewalk, hospital, jail and stairwell. Money equivalent to the gross national product of medium sized countries would be changing hands in the upscale boutiques, restaurants and jewelry stores and every little kid for fifty miles around would be trooping past the giant Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center on his way to seeing Santa Claus at Macy’s.
If you remember the H. G. Wells’ book or the movie adaption, “The Time Machine,” in the far future humans have devolved into two populations. On the surface are beautiful but effete people called the Eloi. They are completely passive and only survive because their food is provided by the other population, the underground dwelling, monstrously ugly but technically capable Morlocks. We learn that the Morlocks are cannibals and they harvest a certain number of Eloi by summoning them into underground air raid shelters by means of an old-style air raid siren. And the Eloi are so bovine that they never think to question that none of those going underground ever come back.
Honestly, is it really a stretch to say that we have become the Eloi? Maybe not all of us and maybe not quite to the point where we are literally thrown in the soup pot but the difference is one of degree not kind. Granted the worst of it is in the Blue States and Cities. In these places the situation is worst. They’ve sacrificed the livelihoods and future of the small business owners and the educations and mental health of all of their children to play games with the mortality statistics from a flu that only strikes the very old or the very ill. And even in places where they followed all their absurd rules the same number of people died as in the places where restrictions weren’t enforced. And at the same time the Morlocks have unleashed another plague on us. They’ve empowered the Antifa/BLM monsters to cannibalize what’s left after the COVID harvesting is complete. That is assuming COVID is ever really allowed to end.
It makes you wonder what it would take to wake these people up. In the Time Machine movie what it took was an outsider who wasn’t conditioned to their passivity to show them how to fight back. Today I’m not even sure that something like that would work. There is no fight left in them. They’ve become domestic animals, cattle.
This movie is a cinematic retelling of H. G. Wells’ novel “The Island of Dr. Moreau.” As opposed to the majority of the creature features and horror flicks this film has a very substantial actor involved. Charles Laughton plays Dr. Moreau. He’s a scientist who was chased out of the civilized world for the experimentation he was doing on animals. So, he lives on a small island in the South Pacific and a boat skipper delivers a cargo of live animals once a year. As the story opens up the boat picks up a survivor of a shipwreck. This survivor, Edward Parker, is headed for a nearby island but he gets into a beef with the captain and gets dumped into Moreau’s launch as it is transferring the animals to the island. When he arrives there, he notices that the island is inhabited by the strangest looking people imaginable. Most of them resemble apes in pants. Later on, when Parker walks out in the jungle he is accosted by a group of the natives and has to be rescued by Moreau. Moreau sounds a gong and the natives assemble and to the accompaniment of Moreau’s cracking bullwhip they recite their creed.
Moreau: What is the law?
Sayer of the Law (SOTL): Not to spill blood, that is the law. Are we not men?
Moreau: What is the law?
SOTL: Not to eat meat, that is the law. Are we not men?
Moreau: What is the law?
SOTL: Not to walk on all fours, that is the law. Are we not men?
Incidentally, The Sayer of the Law is Bela Lugosi but his face is so completely covered with fur that the only way to tell is by his unmistakable voice. Parker is confused by all that’s going on and in the next scene he hears agonized screams coming from Moreau’s laboratory. Breaking in he thinks he is witnessing Moreau vivisecting one of the natives without anesthesia. And now Moreau explains to Parker the truth about the natives. They are actually animals that Moreau has modified through biochemical and surgical modifications. The laboratory where Moreau performs these modifications is called by the patients, for obvious reasons, “the house of pain.”
Moreau uses a subterfuge to keep Parker from leaving the island because he wants to carry out an experiment on him. He has manufactured a woman out of a panther named Lota and he wants to test whether she reacts like a woman when brought into contact with a man, Parker. This experiment is a success until Parker notices that Lota’s fingernails have reverted to panther’s claws.
And just at this point Parker’s fiancée, Ruth, arrives at Moreau’s island to bring him home. But Moreau cancels his Lota plan and instead plans to test his male creatures by having one of them kidnap Ruth. When this plan is thwarted Moreau orders one of his creatures to murder the ship captain who is helping Ruth to free Parker. But when the creature realizes that Moreau has ordered him to break the law by spilling blood he goes before the assembly and tells them that the law is no more. And then they figure out that since the captain is like Moreau and since they can kill the captain then by the transitive law of monster logic, they can kill Moreau. And that’s just what they get ready to do. While Parker and Ruth are escaping out the back door to safety on the boat, the creature mob catches up with the whip wielding Moreau and back him into his compound. Finally, in desperation when he has reached the wall, he reminds them that they are at the house of pain. The Sayer of the Law makes one more imaginative leap and has the mob drag Moreau into his laboratory and using his own surgical instruments they gleefully vivisect him to the rousing accompaniment of his screams.
I get the feeling that Laughton enjoyed this part. He played the part with great verve. He endowed Moreau with humor and perverse curiosity in the details of his cruel experiments. And like all good mad scientists of the 1930’s he does mention to Parker that he knows what it’s like to be God.
From a special effects point of view, the creature costumes are pretty cheesy. More interestingly it does appear that certain of the actors playing creatures had facial and other anomalies that could not have been simulated. But even if the special effects were rudimentary this is an interesting plot. Moreau’s relationship with his creatures is nuanced. Their obvious investment in the concept of their humanity is pitted against the fear and hatred they feel toward their creator. Moreau is a cruel god but he is completely absorbed in the wonder of his ability to create people. He doesn’t realize his peril when he provides the forbidden fruit of knowledge to his creatures by breaking his own law and by demonstrating that regular humans are mortal. Good story, fun horror movie, good work by Laughton. Recommended.
It’s been a few years since I last saw this old science fiction film. The screenplay was written by H. G. Wells based on his story of the same name. And it has some distinguished British Shakespearean actors in the persons of Ralph Richardson and Cedric Hardwicke. But it also has Raymond Massey who can chew up scenery with the best of them.
The plot is remarkably realistic at the start. A Second World War begins in 1940 (this was made in 1935) and goes on for decades killing off most of humanity. Then a plague finishes off the majority of the survivors and throws humanity into a virtual dark age where isolated communities battle for the meager resources that remain in what is practically a pre-industrial age. In a section of England Ralph Richardson portrays a “Chief” who controls his villages as a rough and ready princeling battling the surrounding mini-states for control of the food and other resources. Suddenly an advanced airplane lands and Raymond Massey reveals that a scientific community has survived the war and is re-establishing civilization and putting an end to nation-states. He is taken prisoner by the chief but the writing is on the wall and eventually Massey’s friends show up with aircraft that looks like something out of a Buck Rogers serial. They use the “gas of peace” to knock out the population and shepherd them into the Global Socialist Future complete with “science.” We are then regaled with the wonderful futuristic science and engineering marvels that allow the world to be converted into a paradise on earth.
Flash forward fifty years and everyone lives underground and the world is a garden of delights where no one seems to work very hard or gets sick and everyone is happy, sort of like San Francisco but without the human feces everywhere. The descendant of Raymond Massey, who looks remarkably like Raymond Massey, is working on the Space Gun that will shoot a space capsule around the Moon. But Cedric Hardwicke won’t have it. He rallies the non-scientists (actors and hair stylists) to attack the Space Gun and destroy it with their own soft and well-manicured hands. Raymond Massey takes his helicopter and races the mob to the Space Gun and loads his daughter and her boyfriend into the bullet just in time to fire them into space and coincidentally allow the shockwave from the firing of the gun to murder all the raging doofuses attempting to stop him.
Then Massey gives a monologue that goes on and on. It’s a panegyric to progress. We’ll go to the Moon and colonize it and out to the planets and then onto the stars. We’ll never stop. It’s all or nothing. There’s even a choir at the end. I think they were repeating “all or nothing.” For someone who is a big fan of the space program he managed to make it sound unhinged even to me.
Here’s my take. The beginning of the movie is frighteningly prescient. He saw the rest of the twentieth century coming. That was right on the nose. But Wells was a socialist. Basically he might as well have been doing forward work for Stalin. All that was missing was the hammer and sickle. His belief that the socialists would build some kind of scientific utopia was laughably misguided. And the smugness of the Massey character made me immediately think of Barack Obama. All he needed to do to make the effect perfect would have been to say a couple of times “it’s not who we are.” Honestly, I was solidly behind the “Chief” character and would gladly have put up with the lice and dysentery to avoid having to hear the speeches about “science.”
This really is a period piece and worth seeing just to get a flavor for what the British socialists thought the future should be. It’s very enlightening. And the histrionics by Massey are so over the top that they’re really quite funny to see and hear.
Re-posted from October 2017
The Invisible Man, to be pedantically precise, is not a monster movie but a science fiction story. H.G. Wells’ tale of a scientist who develops a technique to render the human body (his own) invisible is not really monstrous in a physical sense but because the technique drives the inventor insane we are back in the neighborhood of the Mad Scientist. And since Dr. Frankenstein is then brought to mind we can shoehorn this science fiction story into the genre. Claude Rains (the Wolfman’s father from an earlier chapter of this review) is the Invisible Man. Or rather Claude Rains voice is the star of the movie, since until the very last scene we can’t see his face. But it’s a very good voice. And since often we can’t exactly tell what he’s doing he spends a fair amount of time telegraphing his actions to help us guess what his actions are that the other characters are pantomiming around. And he’s an active fellow. He kills a few people with his bare (invisible) hands. He bludgeons some others and he goes in for some mass murder via railway sabotage. He ends up a rather unsavory fellow. But somehow there remains a somewhat sympathetic core to the character. Based on the people who still try to help him he must have been a good man before his descent into madness. Therefore, we can look at him as a victim of his own scientific curiosity.
All that aside, it’s a fun movie. The scientific intelligence, megalomania and irritable persona of the Invisible Man is juxtaposed against the plodding mediocrity, skeptical common sense and parochial outlook of the English villagers and local constables who are dumbfounded and unbelieving as to the true cause of the strange goings on. Whenever they declare the inexplicable events a hoax the Invisible Man steps in and gives them a painful (and sometimes fatal) object lesson in his reality.
In the thick of these goings on is my favorite supporting character Una O’Connor as the Innkeeper’s wife. She is a wonderfully shrewish landlady whose suspicious and unkind treatment of the Invisible Man throws him off the deep end. She possesses the most remarkable shrieking scream ever recorded on film. She is a national treasure of sorts. And as a tie-in she plays Dr. Frankenstein’s housekeeper in “The Bride of Frankenstein,” another movie where she chews up the scenery and shrieks a blue streak.
Of course, by the end of the movie and after murdering so many innocent people, the Invisible Man has lost almost all of the audience’s sympathy so that it seems just that he should pay the price for his crimes. But he is allowed the touching death scene where he regains his humanity and seemingly his sanity.
So, to reiterate, this is not a monster movie but there is a Mad Scientist and several of our old friends from earlier Universal Monster Movies do show up. It’s basically a tour de force for Claude Rains (or rather his voice). I give it my seal of approval. Good stuff.