'Time After Time': THR's 1979 Review

Mary Steenburgen and Malcolm McDowell in 1979's 'Time After Time.'
Such a scrambling of fact, fiction and imagination in itself deserves back-patting and, for the most part, the rendering is as delightful as the basic idea.

On Sept. 28, 1979, Warner Bros. unveiled in theaters the comedy-mystery Time After Time, starring Mary Steenburgen and Malcolm McDowell. The Hollywood Reporter's original review is below: 

Jack the Ripper, in his numerous screen reincarnations, has already either slashed, or pursued, or avoided a number of familiar profiles, all the way from Merle Oberon (in 1944's The Lodger) to Sherlock Holmes (in 1966's A Study in Terror and 1979's Murder by Decree). Now, in the Warner Bros.-Orion release of Time After Time, the seemingly indestructible Ripper is partnered with H.G. Wells, of all people, with Wells' famous time machine thrown in for good measure. The result is far-fetched hokum, but entertaining enough to ensure the comedy-mystery a positively ripping session at the box office. 

The original story peg by Karl Alexander and Steve Hayes, fashioned into a screenplay by Nicholas Meyer, pursues the supposition that the real-life Wells (1866-1946) not only wrote about a time machine but actually constructed a workable one in the basement of his 19th century London digs. Further, it sets up the theory that Jack the Ripper, who mutilated prostitutes in London's East End in 1888 and was never found, was actually a Wells pal named Dr. Stevenson. And the reason he was never nabbed by the bobbies was because — get this — he fled in his buddy's time machine to San Francisco circa 1979.

In the interests of good screen fun, the story-tellers have Wells (in the persona of Malcolm McDowell) follow the Ripper (played by David Warner) to today's San Francisco in order to halt his hacking. Once there, Wells amusingly had to adjust to every modern invention from an electric toothbrush to a Big Mac, and ask stupid questions about World Wars and jet planes. Eventually, he gets some help from a daffy miss named Amy (played with low-key sparkle by Mary Steenburgen) and they hunt the Ripper together, even after Amy gets pegged for a rub-out.

Such a scrambling of fact, fiction and imagination in itself deserves back-patting and, for the most part, the rendering is as delightful as the basic idea. Picture marks the directorial debut of scripter Meyer and only occasionally does he let things drop into second gear. Sometimes the joke of observing a 19th century man stumble through a 20th century world runs thin, and actor McDowell is often allowed to play with a curious lack of verve, but overall Meyer juggles his mystery elements with the comedy threads very well. 

Special effects (credited to Larry Fuentes and Jim Blount) are especially fun, right out of any moviegoers' Saturday matinee dream, and they add immeasurably to the Time pleasure, especially when the audience is given a time machine trip through space, then into the 1979 time zone, all via effects, visuals and sounds. It's a knockout sequence. Another major plus — and selling point — is the performance of Miss Steenburgen, who again shows the promise that was hinted at in last year's Goin' South with Jack Nicholson. 

Music and production design have been handled with aplomb by two thoroughbred pros, composer Miklos Rozsa and designer Edward Carfagno, both of them again justifying their previously won three Oscars each. Cinematography by Paul Lohmann — much of it done on location in San Francisco — is excellent and, for old times' sake, the picture kicks off with the old Warner Bros. shield logo, the first time in years that trademark has been resurrected by the studio. 

The film, for all its inherent fun, does raise two rather sobering thoughts. One is that Jack the Ripper could fit rather inconspicuously into America of the 1970s, what with all our murders, mayhem and tawdriness, unlike the gentler 1890s when his deeds stood out so bluntly. Another is the disturbing lament, voiced by McDowell as Wells at the fadeout, that every age is basically the same and it's only love that makes any era bearable to live in. Probably true, but having one's own time machine in the basement wouldn't be a bad alternative. — Robert Osborne, originally published Sept. 7, 1979.