Ten Dared, Disney Style!

DATELINE: Cliffhanger!

 John Beal Dangles by his one arm!

In 1960 Walt Disney studios took on an unusual adventure story for them: the true historical tale of John Wesley Powell who explored the Colorado River in 1869.

As Davy Crockett proved a few years earlier, there was no historical truth that Disney could not whitewash. Powell’s misfit crew of tough guys has been turned into a second-banana costar cast of familiar faces and comfortable stereotypes. Ten Who Dared is satisfying emotional comfort food. It falls short of classic, but will do in a pinch.

That’s not to say it isn’t a solid entry in biographical adventure.

You do have a bunch of scene-stealers around John Beal, the 1930s leading man now in late middle-age playing the one-armed Powell. His younger brother could be his son: James Drury in a pre-Virginianemesis role, complete with handlebar mustache.

Our money is on the grizzled Brian Keith, long before his TV comedy stuff, he could always be counted on to give an accounting worth watching. Up against Ben Johnson and R.G. Armstrong, you have marvelous performers. Throw in the spoiled rich kid from the Spin and Martyseries, David Stollery did one more Disney film before leaving acting entirely.

Those Disney moments feature Stollery being ordered to shoot his dog, and James Drury as a villain tormenting everyone.

By modern CGI effects, the rapids and the actors together are less than effective, as the disgruntled men begin to think Powell is searching for gold—and cutting them out of the process.

Other character flaws, amid greed and impatience, lead to more problems, making it your less than happy Disney film.

In true Disney fashion, the most hideous events are left for narrator explanation.

Yet, there is something of an experiment here for a later style of Disney movie. You cannot go awry with the Grand Canyon and notable character actors at the acme of their careers.

 

 

 

 

Josh & Kyle Allen, Twin QBs of NFL

DATELINE: Boys Will be Quarterbacks!

 Siamese Twins?

Are we seeing double? Are they separated at birth? Are they twins?

The Red Zone of NFL has given us a double dose of cutie-pie QBs. We are now in double jeopardy of wondering how the NFL can allow players to take the field before they can shave.

Josh Allen and Kyle Allen are among the new generation of NFL quarterbacks. They have leapt into the Internet social media and beefcake dreamboat category simultaneously.

They are not joined at the hip because we saw them in different cities on the same day. However, we still cannot tell them apart without a scorecard.

Of course, one is always a tad shocked to find out that the star players are so young that they look like teenagers who could play the Hardy Boys in a new cable series.

TeenBeat might be featuring them on the cover. They could play Tom Brady’s sons in a movie.

One of them plays for the Buffalo Bills and the other now has taken over the Carolina Panthers. They are not your average blue-collar city boys. They are fresh off the farm.

Gleaming smiles and boyish good looks are not the kind of tough guy image you expect from grizzled NFL leaders, like Troy and Peyton. This is the new generation following in the footsteps of botox Tom Brady, whose looks now try to defy the twenty-somethings whom he must play against.

Of course, there is a big difference between looking young and actually being young. We don’t know if the Bobsey Twins of Josh and Kyle will fall into the youth movement of 2040 and find silicone to fill their wrinkles and cracks.

Right now they are so adorable that you wish the time machine would hold still for a few years.

We wish them long careers and hope they never are able to grow a beard like Ryan Fitzpatrick and cover up those beautiful doll looks. Movie contracts are sure to follow.

Resurrecting James Dean

DATELINE: Dug Out of the Film Mausoleum

Two hundred years ago Resurrection Men stole bodies out of graves and sold them to medical students.

Today Resurrection Men steal movie star images out of film archives to sell to fans. The body of work of James Dean is about to be dissected by film students.

A generation ago we wondered if old clips of TV and movies could be merged into a new script with old, dead actors as stars. It seemed fantastic to think James Dean could, at long last, costar with Marilyn Monroe.

Well, we have reached one plateau, or perhaps hole in the ground. It appears that James Dean, with permission of his greedy surviving relatives, will rise from the dead thespian hall of fame.

 

A script about some Vietnam-era characters will cannibalize a few of his past scenes, dubbed with a sound-alike actor, to create, without his knowledge or permission, a new movie: yes, his fourth leading role, sixty years after he won Oscar nominations for East of EdenandGiant, will likely result in no Oscar this time.

Some fans are incensed, and others are utterly perplexed at how such a task can be completed.

Can Dean be colorized, animated, and computer-generated into a character he never heard of, studied, or believed he could depict?

It won’t matter because the notion is out of his hands. It is a new-fangled out-of-body experience. It might have driven James Dean out of his mind or sent him speeding off in a Porsche to his doom.

Nearly all of his costars are gone, and a few who lived long enough to entertain the misuse of their images in a post-death world, have left wills and other documents that will forbid any such action. Dean, alas, died long before such a notion was possible.

Dean will costar with other actors he never screen-tested, and it is impossible for him to create chemistry. He will be like a wooden statue in a department store window. Oh, his costars may be able to respond to his behavior, but he will be denied any chance to upstage them.

The film will be called FindingJack, and it’s entering pre-production.  It’s more like Finding Jack Spratt, as he is an invisible and hidden carbohydrate in a world of spaghetti film stock.

Space Cowboys Ride Into the Sunset

DATELINE:  Elder Stars Shine

  Maverick and Rowdy Yates with Tommy Lee!

How did we miss this action comedy directed by Clint Eastwood with an assemblage of geriatric stars?

Space Cowboysfrom 2000 unites a few genuine TV and movie cowboys (Eastwood and James Garner), but there are ringers in the bunch:  Tommy Lee Jones and Donald Sutherland. It does not matter: it is pure golden agers.

They were old then, but it was almost twenty years ago. Yet, only one has passed away since–James Garner.

Starting with a black and white prologue, you have the distinctive voices of the stars superimposed on younger, lookalike actors, which is effective. In the pre-NASA days, they are washed out of the space program and replaced by a monkey (not a first for Clint).

Even a dated late-night show host (Jay Leno) makes an appearance.

What is ineffective is the screenplay, all rather formulaic. Clint also does the story by the numbers: there are some old feuds and fights. He must reunite the old team.

And then in a plot twist that is cruel and nasty, the NASA honchos try to wash out the oldsters by killing them with physical training. Meant to be funny, it is simply unpleasant to watch. The charm of the actors is sorely challenged by the script. But, Clint as director is, as always, pure no-nonsense.

The enemies include William Devane and James Cromwell, which is not exactly chopped liver. This is an actors’ delight. Yet, the actual space trip in the shuttle is almost anti-climactic, and also rekindles the old Cold War.

Old, broken down space shuttles never die.

 

 

 

Missouri Breakage! Classic Brando/Nicholson

DATELINE: Them’s the Breaks, Pardner

 

Mother Hubbard aside? Smile when you say that! 

Return with us to the thrilling days of yesteryear when Marlon Brando teamed up with and up against Jack Nicholson to make a Western. It’s called deceptively The Missouri Breaks.

It was 1976, and both Godfather and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest were history.

What’s left is the new frontier of two highly-charged actors going head-to-head.  However, like most of these superstar confrontations, the actual meetings are limited to some off-beat actors’ studio hambone. Brando actually has a small role and does not appear during the first half-hour.

Nicholson plays a horse thief whose gang falls under the observation of a “regulator.” It’s Brando in a dress and looking less zaftig than usual.

We may see parallels to The Left-Handed Gun in that adolescent world of cowboys because Arthur Penn is on board to direct the strange antics.

If there is a surprise, it is that Brando looks much younger than you’d expect, and Nicholson looks somewhat older.

You should expect the usual Brando laundry list: he has an inexplicable Irish brogue and other quirks that characters disdain (lilac cologne? walking under ladders?).  It is doubtful they could have switched roles like Burton and O’Toole in Becket. When Brando inexplicably wears a Mother Hubbard dress, you figure Nicholson surrendered the prize.

There is some wry humor interspersed and some outlandish details to take the Western into the Far Country. In case you are wondering, the Breaks in the river Missouri can be found in Montana.

We cannot imagine that Brando and Nicholson rehearsed any of this stuff, probably trying to shock the other’s performance. Already Brando is self-limiting, but there is no later laziness in his performance. He is up against the high-stakes gunslinging Jack Nicholson. And, perhaps, he saw this as High Noonfor the age.

Since this movie cannot be enjoyed on any conventional Western level, you take it as a psychedelic trip down memory lane. Don’t even think about the symbolism of Jack pulling a gun on Brando as he sits in his bubble bath.

With so many desperadoes (Harry Dean Stanton, Randy Quaid), you can count the deserving bad ends for western villains. It’s a romp.

Who Was Paul Walker?

DATELINE: Short, Full Life

If you were not a fan of the action series Fast and Furious, you likely never saw actor Paul Walker appear in a big movie. Oh, you likely saw him grow up on TV, as he was a child actor in commercials and series guest roles. He was absolutely stunning to look at from the earliest age.

This documentary titled I am Paul Walker is another in a series of biographical films to study  flashy stars who died prematurely.  This entry presents us with someone you might enjoy knowing.  He was easy-going, charming, beautiful to look at, with a sense of adventure (swimming, surfing, fast cars).

The film is hagiography, without a critical bone, but what’s to criticize except the hideous monster called Fate?

The film is an homage, and really is a family photo album. His brothers and sisters, as well as parents, all devout Mormons, are as all-American as apple pie. They can be angry and have a short-fuse, or so they tell us, but their gleaming smiles and bright eyes belie that assessment. His brothers are just as handsome as Paul. His friends are like brothers.

With an abundance of videos, photos, and film clips, each more intensely picturing Paul, you have a valentine, not a movie.

Paul may not have been Olivier, but he did what he did quite convincingly and with commitment. One of his earliest boosters was actor Michael Landon.

Yet, no one points out that he was robbed of childhood by a stage mother, no matter how sweet she is, who was behind his every audition. Of course, he was always called back: he was a head turner.

Since the film puts most focus on his intense relationships with other men, it comes as a shock that fathers a child out of wedlock, and out of the Varsity Blues. Life with Paul was Pleasantville.

How could you not fall in love with him? He was a surprise and delight at every turn.

As a daredevil surfer boy, he grew into a humanitarian and amateur marine biologist, fascinated by the white sharks that surrounded his favorite surfing haunts. He used his wherewithal to help Haitian earthquake victims—and visited there. He was unconventional and ultimately transcended his outward beauty.

His death in a fiery car crash put an end to potential just starting.

Air Force One is One Fat Half-Wit

DATELINE: Ford Trumps Lincoln

 Prez Ford Shoots from Hip

Can it be that Trump thinks he is Harrison Ford in the hilarious presidential/terrorist movie called Air Force One?

Delusion takes many forms: for a fat old man to see himself as an idealized President Harrison Ford may not be a stretch for Mr. Trump. Here’s a president who goes off script in public speeches, much to the shock of his aides.

Ford’s president is no Gerald and no Lincoln. He orders outrageous tactical attacks on the Ukraine in conjunction with the Russian president! In 1997’s now sentient movie about the future of the American presidency should give everyone a nightmare.

Gary Oldman shows up with a suspicious crew in Moscow who plan to board Air Force One and do mayhem. Back at the White House, Vice President Glenn Close and Secretary of Defense Dean Stockwell are at loggerheads. The U.S. government is run by buffoons. Most of the movie takes place in mid-air: They are on a jet flying around, but there is not even the hum of an engine in this aircraft.

Within a matter of moments, the terror team has fairly much wiped out the highly trained and highly touted Secret Service aboard the aircraft. Hmmm. This is not a high recommendation for American protection service. We suppose most people tell themselves that it’s only a movie meant to give Harrison Ford some heroic moments.

Since this film takes place in the years right before 9-11, there is something creepy about a stolen plane filled with hostages about to fly into some kind of explosive crash.

Of course, the POTUS here is a Medal of Honor winner who was a hero in Vietnam: no, it’s not John McCain, but it isn’t exactly Trump. However, the President is surrounded by a bunch of cowering bureaucrats or power-grabbing traitors.

In one ridiculous moment, the President must cross fuel line wires to dump fuel: we figure this is realistic because Trump crosses wires daily. As a stable genius, we presume Trump can also fly Air Force One.

It is a cynical view of entertainment.

 

 

Joan Crawford as Faye Dunaway as Mommie Dearest

 DATELINE: More Like Twin Peaks?

 

Is it Joan or is it Memorex?

 

Where does one begin? Where does one end up? You could put this movie on the end of Joan’s long career—or did that happen when Feud hit the miniseries on TV forty years later? Mommie Dearest is now streaming on Amazon Prime.

Mommie Dearest is child abuse taken to levels not seen until Jeffrey Epstein chose to play the role in a Manhattan playhouse.

The twisted tale of Christina Crawford and her adoptive mother is one for the cautionary ages.

You may half expect the dead Joan Crawford to jump out of her coffin and continue to terrify the world. Was she a monster?

Bring us the axe but leave the wire hangers. We want to be objective.

Suffering the strains and stresses of aging would destroy any movie queen but being fired by Metro and re-inventing herself as a tough, savvy career woman, Joan Crawfish seems to deserve all rotten tomatoes that are tossed at her.

Our dear friend Jim Kirkwood, actor and writer of novels like Good Times/Bad Timesand There Must be a Pony, took a role in the movie as the MC who gives Crawford an award: he later had nightmares that his movie star parents would come back to haunt him for participating in this hallucinogenic version of Sunset Boulevard.

The film cannot be viewed on any normal level today, nor could it back then! It had transmuted and altered itself into a zombie of movie history.

Norma Desmond and Joan Crawford were the same height. It was the movies that got small.

  Discovering Rains in a Torrent!

DATELINE: Marvel of Supporting Actor

Bogart & Rains! Shocked, shocked! (and shocked again).

No, it’s not a meteorological treatise on the workings of Donald Trump’s weathermen series. Discovering Claude Rains is a short biographic documentary on the great character actor.

Like most entries in this series, it is truly short on real life details, but heavy handed when it comes to movie clips.

We do learn that Rains came from poverty, not privilege, and he was a self-made man who looked like he was born to the manor and the manner.

It was his voice that brought his accolades for stage, well before there were talky movies. He was far too short to be a leading man, but he could be the foil and nemesis to the hero.

Rains did not need too many scenes to steal a movie—as Bette Davis learned the hard way. In one film she even shoots him, but his dying breath underscores the film. He could underplay Errol Flynn as Robin Hood, and he could be completely hidden by bandages in The Invisible Man, and still show a full personality through his voice.

When visiting a friend of Rains, Howard Gottlieb who ran the Special Collections Library at Boston University, he gave this writer the special treat of trying on the plastic laurel wreath Rains wore in Caesar and Cleopatra. It didn’t fit. Gottlieb had many of Claude’s memorabilia, including an impressive oil portrait.

Later, Rains’ wry expressions added to the repertoire. Casablanca gave him a charming rogue, but he returned regularly to horror films: Phantom of the Opera and The Wolf Man. He often played fatherly sorts, many years beyond his real age. He was like Walter Brennan in that score. It seemed he was old for fifty years.

His end never gave away his roots: he moved to New Hampshire—and there lived in retirement as a New England gentleman. He became what the world wanted him to be.

The best part of this short documentary is the ending when Dooley Wilson sings an unusual version of “As Time Goes By,” as there is a reprise of clips of Claude Rains in his best scenes.

 

 

 

  Discovering Rains in a Torrent!

DATELINE: It Takes Character!

Bogart & Rains! Shocked, shocked!

 No, it’s not a meteorological treatise on the workings of Donald Trump’s weathermen series. Discovering Claude Rains is a short biographic documentary on the great character actor.

Like most entries in this series, it is truly short on real life details, but heavy handed when it comes to movie clips.

We do learn that Rains came from poverty, not privilege, and he was a self-made man who looked like he was born to the manor and the manner.

It was his voice that brought his accolades for stage, well before there were talky movies. He was far too short to be a leading man, but he could be the foil and nemesis to the hero.

Rains did not need too many scenes to steal a movie—as Bette Davis learned the hard way. In one film she even shoots him, but his dying breath underscores the film. He could underplay Errol Flynn as Robin Hood, and he could be completely hidden by bandages in The Invisible Man, and still show a full personality through his voice.

Director James Whale needed a voice because his star would be under bandages when not invisible in his classic movie. Rains could project his voice through the wrappings and called it a wrap.

Later, his wry expressions added to the repertoire. Casablanca gave him a charming rogue, but he returned regularly to horror films: Invisible ManPhantom of the Opera and The Wolf Man. He often played fatherly sorts, many years beyond his real age. He was like Walter Brennan in that score. It seemed he was old for fifty years.

His end never gave away his roots: he moved to New Hampshire—and there lived in retirement as a New England gentleman. He became what the world wanted him to be.

The best part of this short documentary is the ending when Dooley Wilson sings an unusual version of “As Time Goes By,” as there is a reprise of clips of Claude Rains in his best scenes.

Angels in America: “Messenger”

DATELINE: Ghost of Ethel Meets Ghoul of Cohn 

 Streep & Pacino

The third episode of the miniseries Angels in America takes us to the hallucinogenic, paranormal world where Louis (Ben Shenkman) insists in his liberal way that there are no angels in America.

On the other hand, the evil Roy Cohn is the devil in America, dying of AIDS like the saintly Prior whose survival seems preordained by some supernatural force. He is to “Prepare” for an event of monumental proportions:  this is foreshadowed when two ancestor ghosts show up in his bedroom to give him a Dickensian warning.

Emma Thompson is his down to earth nurse, but she speaks in tongues (only to the ears of Prior (Justin Kirk). He is also seeing Talmudic eruptions of Torah as he prepares for the descent (or is it an ascent?).

If you have held on to this point, you will be hooked by the mixed metaphors of paranormal and political messages in crossover.

The episode builds to one of the most astounding special effects dramas and ghost stories in American literature. And, however uncomfortable the sexual situations are, they are part of the political whirlwind of America. Roy Cohn was a hypocritical gay man who worked with Joe McCarthy, McCarthyism, associated with Edgar Hoover socially, and was responsible for the execution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg…

With Prior Walter ghosts from the Mayflower setting the stage, we are also about to see an Angel in America. Yet, for our money, the highlight of any film has to be a confrontation between Pacino’s Cohn and Streep’s Ethel Rosenberg. It is hilarious and horrifying—as ghost and her ghoul banter nastily. An extraordinary moment in movie history.

Jan Merlin: Statuesque Among the Stars, 1925-2019

  Jan with his Emmy Award!

My co-author and most important literary collaborator has gone from this world.

Jan Merlin might be recognizable to a generation or two of film and TV fans as the villain who populated a hundred TV shows. He made movies with Ann Sheridan, George C. Scott, and Woody Allen. He starred in two 1950s TV series, The Rough Riders—and Tom Corbett, Space Cadet, with Frankie Thomas.

A veteran of the Navy in World War II, Jan went from the military during the big war to the Neighborhood Playhouse where he learned the craft of acting, though he had many talents. He always thought his acting fame was a lesser role. He was always the antagonist to some western star, or some dubious military man.

Yet, despite playing dastardly villains almost constantly, with his Aryan looks (Polish American out of New York City), he was a genteel man with a sense of art and brilliantly self-educated. Like a generation of those who were never able to attend college, he more than made up for it with a dozen books to his credit. He loved fiction—drawing  upon his movie background, or his experiences in Japan after the war.

Together we did a half-dozen books of which I am most proud. We did only one work of fiction, The Paid Companion of J. Wilkes Booth. Most of our Hollywood history tales were based on his insider knowledge of how a set work, from knowing nearly every star of the 1950s and 1960s. He laughed they were all “six feet tall,” no matter what the truth might be.

We wrote about Boys Town, Billy Budd, Reflections in a Golden Eye, among other films, giving a unique perspective on daily life during the studio shoot. He knew Brando, Taylor, Clift, James Dean, in ways that others could never understand. He threw James Dean out of the Pier Angeli house at her mother’s request.

When we did not write books together, he gave me editorial and research insights for my books on James Kirkwood and Audie Murphy. Oh, he knew them too.

Now he is gone, irreplaceable in my life and in Hollywood history, with all those insights and memories. He had stories he would not tell about the damaged figures of show business. He took those secrets with him, as much as I wanted to hear them. He was loyal to the memory of the business he loved and hated.

Once I called it ‘Tinseltown’, and he reprimanded me: it was a cherished professional location, not a frivolous tabloid fantasy to him. He introduced me as his “son” on occasion, which amused me–and made movie star Frankie Thomas look at me with quite an impression.

Goodbye, dear Jan. I am so lucky to have known you and to have worked with you. I have been left a treasure trove of his life, and maybe one day I will tell what he told me. He was my touchstone to a bygone era and glorious movie history.

World’s “Best” Commercials?

DATELINE: From Wine to Cigarettes

‘Swedish’ lady sells coffee!

We now interrupt your viewing pleasure for a word from many, many sponsors from the alleged Golden Age of Advertising. For you more historically-minded, but young readers, that’s apparently the 1960s when this documentary collection of old black and white commercials dominated the airwaves.

The World’s Best Commercials is a misnomer at best. It was surely the Era of Advertising.

Your favorite TV show or movie was at the mercy of two or three minutes of sales pitches with a curve ball—or maybe that’s a screwball.

Yes, you may have the mad impulse to turn the channel, but you are facing 90 minutes of unrelenting, idiotic, culturally-altering advertisements, often lasting a minute in length. You will see rare cigarette and wine commercials, complete with marching cigarettes (after all, LS/MFT).

Attention spans were greater back then, or sponsors fewer.

In any respect, you will shock your sensibilities to learn about the Swing-Ding in which kids give themselves a self-propelled concussion with a tie-on toy. You wil meet again the “Swedish” Mrs. Olson who hucksters Folger’s coffee. You will learn that Miami is a hotspot as America’s Riviera.

And, without any organizing principle, or narrator, you simply sit back and are hit repeatedly with an endless barrage of products, many that are now gone (we think) or evolved into something else. We saw Baggies in three sizes. They were all the suburban rage back then, when you could pour silver dollars into them—and they would not rip or shred.

Several times we were moved to get up and go to the bathroom.

This compendium has nothing to do with quality, but likely what was readily available to the producers of this collection. Were we the only masochists who would force this stuff upon ourselves? If you are a student of sociology, marketing, or sociological marketing history, this film will thrill you.

This stuff is campy and may have even been humorous in its day.

You clearly see what was on the minds of the people controlling the purse-strings in those days:  suburban Mom. Kids, husbands, pets, all were at her whim to purchase or allow such items into the home. If you want to know who the big powers of the era were, this little ad ditties will tell you.

Pay TV reportedly was to end this blight on America’s vast wasteland of free TV.

Superman on Earth!

DATELINE: Roots of Superhero!

 Boundless Leaper, George Reeves!

Let’s go back in time to the thrilling days of yesteryear! No, wait, that’s the wrong one: “it’s a bird, it’s a plane,” no, no….You guessed it. We took in a short black and white classic of TV special effects: Superman from 1951, the premier episode of the series starring George Reeves.

We expected campy silliness, but the ridiculous was overwhelmed by the sublime.

It really is the progenitor of the superhero craze that sprang out of its low-budget roots: yet, the great council of Krypton ignores Jor-el, the young scientist (Robert Rockwell, no less) who predicts that the planet’s environmental climate problems mean instant evacuation.

There are more nay-sayers in the leadership ranks than at a Trump Cabinet meeting. We swore one of the cabinet members on the show was Wilbur Ross. They scoff at the nuclear winter predictions, and refuse to build a bunch of spaceships to go to Earth where this race of supermen could enslave us all.

Thank heavens, the baby sent out in a nick of time is the child of the enlightened—and he has come to Earth to save humanity. He will do it by working for the fake media, where stories like a man flying faster than a bullet saves a man hanging off a dirigible.

Thank heavens the baby was rescued from the spaceship by Ma and Pa Kettle, er, we mean Kent. They only talk like Marjorie Main and Percy Kilbride. When Clark’s father dies, he must go to Metropolis, and the rest as they say is history.

We were a tad surprised that a children’s show (as it was billed) featured destruction of an entire race of people, and then the death of a stepfather! Wouldn’t happen in a movie today, or would it?

We love the years passing by—from 1926 to 1951 when Clark cleverly hides his identity as a mild-mannered reporter with eyeglasses.

The cast was stellar: John Hamilton as the Editor of the Daily Planet, irascible and cantankerous. The first Lois is Phyllis Coates, more cynical and career girl than the later Noell Neill. We were also bemused that playwright Jack Larson lied to his friends back on Broadway—who never knew he moonlighted as Jimmy Olson, cub reporter.

It was a telescopic twenty-minutes that glossed over much to fit the story to the pilot episode. We think it is instructive to see how a movement that has taken over Hollywood and movies began.

Time & Again Machine

DATELINE: Wells Novel on Screen Again

 Guy Pearce face-off with hologram enacted by Orlando Jones!

 

Back in 2002, forty years after the original classic George Pal movie, there came a remake of The Time Machine, based on the H.G. Wells classic.

This time the stalwart hero is Guy Pearce, and the story once set in London during the Victorian Age with an American as the time traveler, is now set in New York with an Austrailian as the American scientist. It doesn’t matter much as Guy Pearce is so brilliant, humorous, and always watchable. His rebel scientist eschews hats and wears his long hair greasy. It is quasi-Victorian, but totally Hollywood.

The film’s best moments are its paeon to the earlier film and story. As if to underscore the homage, they have brought Mr. Ed’s Alan Young out of retirement to play a cameo. He was one of the stars of the 1960 version.

Our favorite moment is when Orlando Jones shows up as a hologram at the New York Public Library who can tell us about the earlier movie, the Wells novel, and can even sing a tune from the bad musical version of the same.

The time machine itself is a Rube Goldberg mess that looks worse than the one used in 1960, and one character even calls it a “cappuccino maker.”

The impetus for time travel is, of course, the unfortunate death of our hero’s girlfriend. He goes back to fix the problem but discovers that you might go back a thousand times, but her death will occur every time, however differently.

The interesting travels through time also takes us 802,000 years into the future when the planet has clearly gone through some ice ages and re-growth. It is interesting that the evolving of humans seems minimal. You can blame that lack of insight on Wells, not the movie.

All in all, this old-fashioned and fun movie plays with the subject and our memories of it. It’s hard to believe that it was almost twenty years ago that it escaped our attention.