Time After Time

Friday, November 3rd, 2023

When I recently revisited H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine and the 1960 movie, I noticed that Max also had Time After Time, a 1979 movie I enjoyed watching on TV as a kid, in which Wells builds a working time machine, which his surgeon friend uses to escape to the future, because he is, in fact, Jack the Ripper. It’s an excellent premise for a Hollywood movie, and Malcolm McDowell does an excellent job playing a Victorian proto-nerd, even though he doesn’t look at all like the real Wells — or sound like him:

While preparing to portray Wells, McDowell obtained a copy of a 78 rpm recording of Wells speaking. McDowell was “absolutely horrified” to hear that Wells spoke in a high-pitched, squeaky voice with a pronounced Southeast London accent, which McDowell felt would have resulted in unintentional humor if he tried to mimic it for the film. McDowell abandoned any attempt to recreate Wells’s authentic speaking style and preferred a more “dignified” style.

Wells is expecting to find a socialist Utopia in 1979, but his nemesis shows him the news:

Palestine terrorists carried out their threat and began shooting the first five of 106 Israeli schoolchildren held hostage…

We’ve just received word that Mayor Margolin of Columbus was shot…

Jack also shows him football and a war movie, before commenting that, in this future world, you can just walk into a shop and buy a rifle or revolver — which pulled me right out of the film, because, of course, that was perfectly legal in England in 1893, when they left. Sherlock Holmes routinely shoves a revolver in his pocket, after all. U.K. firearms laws came about in the 20th Century:

The Pistols Act 1903 was the first to place restrictions on the sale of firearms. Titled “An Act to regulate the sale and use of Pistols or other Firearms”, it was short, with just nine sections, and applied solely to pistols. It defined a pistol as a firearm whose barrel did not exceed 9 in (230 mm) in length and made it illegal to sell or rent a pistol to anyone who could not produce a current gun licence or game licence, unless they were exempt from the Gun Licence Act, could prove that they planned to use the pistol on their own property, or had a statement signed by a police officer of inspector rank or above or a Justice of the Peace to the effect that they were about to go abroad for six months or more. The Act was more or less ineffective, as anyone wishing to buy a pistol commercially merely had to purchase a licence on demand over the counter from a Post Office before doing so. In addition, it did not regulate private sales of such firearms.

The legislators laid some emphasis on the dangers of pistols in the hands of children and drunkards and made specific provisions regarding sales to these two groups: persons under 18 could be fined 40 shillings if they bought, hired, or carried a pistol, while anyone who sold a pistol to such a person could be fined £5. Anyone who sold a pistol to someone who was “intoxicated or of unsound mind” was liable to a fine of £25 or 3 months’ imprisonment with hard labour. However, it was not an offence under the Act to give or lend a pistol to anyone belonging to the two groups.

Oddly, when they travel to the future, they don’t end up in 1979 London, but 1979 San Francisco, and, despite the premise that Wells expects Utopopia and finds something quite different, the 1979 San Francisco they show is clean and beautiful, at least until Wells goes into a hospital emergency department to check on Jack, who had been hit by a car. This is not the San Francisco of Dirty Harry — or of today.

I also found it odd that Wells goes to exchange his 15 pounds sixpence for $25.50 and only seems mildly surprised that the exchange rate was nowhere near the five-to-one ratio that held for a century, outside of major wars, and he never comments on prices being 100 times what he might expect, especially since he lived in an era with no inflation.


  1. Jim says:

    Some men foresee more clearly than others.


  2. Ezra says:

    I think Wells [McDowell] told his housekeeper to collect all the jewelry in the house. Took it with him so he could pawn for cash.

  3. Isegoria says:

    Yes, he collects jewelry too, and he has trouble selling it without ID.

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