“Time After Time” is a time-travel tale about H.G. Wells, Jack the Ripper and unexpected love. It commences much like George Pal’s adaptation of Well’s classic (see "Time Travel Time #1: Feb '14), commencing in 1893 London, but springs to 1979 San Francisco. So much for the Eloi and Morlocks in this regard, but as far as historical, fish-out-of-water adventures go, “Time After Time” remains a most pleasant gem.
Much of the film’s success comes from writer/director Nicolas Meyer, who previously gave us a splendid mesh of factual and fictional icons in “The Seven-Per-Cent Solution” (i.e., Sigmund Freud meets Sherlock Holmes) and would later energize the “Star Trek” movie franchise with “Wrath of Khan” through “Voyage Home”: the latter also a time-travel tale. (Incidentally the concept behind “Time After Time” stems from a novel by Karl Alexander, which Meyers and Steve Hayes adapted after the author’s passing.)
The remainder of the film’s success comes from its distinguished cast: Malcolm McDowell as Wells; Mary Steenburgen as the liberated Amy Robbins; and David Warner as Dr. John Leslie Stevenson/Jack the Ripper (and it must be noted, White Chapel's Chief of Surgery, who has a tendency of triggering a musical pocket watch whenever he's set to murder).
Stevenson is present during Well’s time-travel demonstration, and in witnessing the magic of the marvelous device (which possesses all the required Victorian charm in its quaint but sturdy construction), the madman flees inside it to future California, where a Wells exhibit just happens to be on display.
The catch is, the Ripper can't hold onto the machine. It swings back in time to its London origin, because Wells holds the specialized key that would otherwise make it stationary. Stevenson desires both the machine and the key, and when Wells hops aboard the device to track down his acquaintance, the dreadful doctor is ironically granted his opportunity.
A confrontation between Wells and the Stevenson isn't immediate, however. At first, some detective work is required on Wells' part, which he initiates by visiting local banks, assuming the doctor would have exchanged his coinage for U.S. currency. It's during this quest that Wells meets the brassy Amy Robbins, who works at the Bank of London. She takes an immediate liking to the gentlemanly Wells and supplies the information he seeks.
A quick but affable courtship follows, where McDowell and Steenburgen churn up the charm, as the author/inventor continues to learn the ropes. Wells, after all, must acquaint himself to his new world's wonders and alas, its disappointments. Violence prevails during a time that he thought would be idyllic, but thanks to Robbins, some serenity ensues.
As the courtship builds, Stevenson demonstrates he's ever the clever fiend (even making it appear he's dead for spell). He eventually resurfaces to kidnap Robbins in exchange for the key, but what's the ethical Wells to do in such a confounding situation?
The clever script (accompanied by Miklos Rozsas' sweeping score) handles matters with just the right foreboding and grace to make it all click, balancing Victorian splendor with a hip, '70s sensibility. One cares for the characters and wishes to see Wells and Robbins culminate their relationship, while the Ripper injects a consistent air of menace.
A generous sum of philosophy also enriches the tale, which mostly pours from Warner's devilish lips. He often makes sense, even though we wish he wouldn't. Poor Wells, on the other hand, epitomizes rationality (and sometimes naivety) in the face of the Stevenson's crazed, selfish pursuits. To add to his misery, Wells finds that he must reveal the truth to Robbins: not the easiest task considering her no-nonsense mode, but boy, does he ever try, and in many respects, this becomes the most endearing part of the story.
"Time After Time" is one of those wonderful, offbeat escapades that despite its unsavory elements, makes one feel pretty darn good. Like "Somewhere in Time" (see "Time Travel Time # 11: Feb '15), it's most suitable to watch around Valentine's Day, but any time of the year would work equally fine, for good stories invariably transcend the test of time. Indeed, "Time After Time" is one such charming case in point.