Tick tock, it’s Burl here with a touch of time travel for you! Ha ha, when you think of late 70s-early 80s time-travel pictures, what comes to mind? The Final Countdown, of course, and also, no doubt, Time After Time! But there was another time-travel extravaganza of the era, in which not a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, not Jack the Ripper, but a simple lovelorn longuebönes is sent hurtling through the temporal rift! Yes, I’m talking about the cult romance picture Somewhere in Time!
The longuebönes is a playwright named Richard Collier, played by Christopher Reeve, whom we all recall from Monsignor! In 1972, when he’s a young scribe celebrating his first success beneath the proscenium, an old lady approaches, gives him a pocket watch, and whispers “Come back to me!” Ha ha, eerie! But horror isn’t where we’re going with this, more’s the pity: we flash forward eight years by which time Collier is well-known and much-produced, and struggling to finish his next play! He decides on a change of scenery and drives to the giant Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, where he soon becomes infatuated with a woman in a portrait: a famed stage actress from yesteryear called Elise McKenna, played by Jane Seymour from Live and Let Die!
Well, ha ha, he figures out this is the very same old lady who approached him eight years before, and, his infatuation rapidly metastasizing into obsession, he attempts to hypnotize himself into the year 1912 so that he can meet the object of his fancy! Eventually this actually works, and sure, why not? He manages to meet and charm Elise despite energetic counterefforts from her moustache-twirling manager Robinson, essayed by Christopher Plummer, whom we know so well from bad-guy roles in Dragnet and The Silent Partner and Dreamscape and so many others! But Robinson, though evidently in the grip of his own Elise obsession, even willing to employ toughs to rough Collier up, is unable to prevent the couple from achieving their romantic and sexual destinies! However, the ill-timed discovery by Collier of an anachronistic coin in his pocket sends the gangling clockhopper hurtling back into 1980, where he becomes so depressed that he locks himself in his room, turns white, and dies!
Now, ha ha, this movie was no hit when it was released, but in the years since it’s attracted a cult of romantically-minded people nearly as obsessed with the movie as its hero is with Elise! That doesn’t make it a good movie, but it suggests that there’s something to it, some core attraction worth considering! Is it in the concept, or the execution of that concept, or both? I think it’s maybe a bit of both: the concept is compelling but not exactly groundbreaking or unique; the execution is competent but not exactly brilliant, and these virtues together add up to something that a certain sort of person is just going to love!
The story is very simple: maybe, it seems to me, too much so! That simplicity is probably one of the secrets of its appeal to those who love the picture so much that they travel to Mackinac Island every year for the big Somewhere in Time celebration! Yes, there really is one! But there are lots of little virtues here that I appreciated – the location is very nice, and the acting is strong, for example! And it’s dandy to see veterans like Teresa Wright from Shadow of a Doubt, who plays Elise’s latter day companion, Miss Robert, and Bill Erwin from Jet Pilot and Planes, Trains & Automobiles, who is the elderly bellboy Arthur!
And I do like a time travel story! This one suggests a looping and rhyming time structure, especially once we realize that the photo which initially entranced Collier is the same one we see being taken in a later scene, and that her smile in the photograph was her genuine reaction to catching sight of him coming into the room, so the smile was indeed and directly meant for Collier, which is what entranced him about the photo and led him to do his time travel in the first place! Phew, ha ha!
There’s something very 1980 about the picture, and it fits in, or at least alongside, the other movies of the era that fascinated me as a youngster by the insights into the adult condition which I believed they provided! (I’ve spoken about this elsewhere regarding pictures like The Last Married Couple in America, Six Weeks and It’s My Turn!) As a time travel picture it slots more into the dreamy, was-it-even-real tradition of Midnight in Paris than it does the nuts and bolts approach of, say, The Terminator, but I say there’s room enough for all of them! I can’t say I’ve ever fallen under this film’s spell, but I’ll acknowledge that the spell is real, and that weaving a spell for anyone regardless of their predispositions, is a genuine achievement, and so I give Somewhere in Time two old suits!