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The Best Somewhere In Time Review
(The following review was originally published in the Summer 1981 issue of Cinemacabre magazine. It is reprinted here by permission of the author. Steve Vertlieb is a writer, a poet, and an authority on films and film soundtrack music. He is the subject of an upcoming documentary film, Steve Vertlieb: The Man Who "Saved" the Movies)
The movies have once again taken a step backward, not in a negative or misdirected sense but in a positive rechanneling of the empty cynicism that seemed to engulf the screen over the past two decades. Perhaps it is the painful realization that doubt for its own sake yields little more than further doubt. Whatever the reasons, it seems clear that world cinema is drifting slowly backward to the timeless innocence which, for many of us, shaped and nurtured our most precious dreams of fulfillment.
Somewhere In Time is an exquisite film, a lovely, moving, romantic fantasy whose like has not graced theatre screens in more than thirty years. It is an irony that so splendid a film has emerged in the callous eighties, a decade which promises still less humanity than the years that preceded it. And yet these are those callous eighties, and Somewhere In Time has managed to survive its translation to the screen. Perhaps there remains a tiny glimmer of hope that dreams of beauty continue to brighten the human spirit.
Based upon the novel Bid Time Return by Richard Matheson and meticulously adapted for the screen, Somewhere In Time tells the torturous story of a man whose obsession for the haunting portrait of a famous actress leads him on a tantalizing odyssey through the gates of time. The call from the past is doubly intense for this is a shared obsession. In a marvelously directed prologue, a frail elderly woman emerges slowly from the shadows of a room brightly lit with well-wishers to place in the hands of an astonished Richard Collier a rare, delicately crafted pocket watch. As she takes his hands into her own, the old woman whispers a message: "Come back to me." She turns from Collier and from life as she walks slowly out of the room and enters her own apartment for the last time. Her goal completed, Elise McKenna, the most celebrated actress of her generation, dies peacefully in her sleep.
Richard Matheson borrowed his original title from a quotation found in Shakespeare. The play is Richard II, Act 3, Scene 2. The simple dialogue that inspired the writer... "O, call back yesterday, bid time return." Richard Collier attempts to find the love that he lost in another life and to himself bid time return. Utilizing the hidden resources within his own mind, Collier commits himself to a laborious process of self-hypnosis and wills his consciousness back to the turn of the century. There he meets and courts the elusive spirit who has summoned him from somewhere in time.
Filmed in its entirety at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island in Michigan, this tender love story is, in a sense, itself lost within the eternal current of time. Director Jeannot Szwarc, whose pedestrian handling of Jaws 2 drowned in a ravenous sea of creative indecision, has come miraculously to life with a screenplay obviously suited to his profoundly sensitive inclination. Permitting two years to elapse before deciding on a project worthy of his consideration, Szwarc's obvious affinity for horizons lost has found expression in the green and fertile hills of Shangri-La. As in James Hilton's celebrated tale of an idealized land, safe from strife and torment and found perhaps in dreams alone, Matheson's bittersweet novel aspires to the ethereal. It is in this celestial embrace between lovers marooned on opposing ends of infinity that Szwarc and Matheson envision their romantic Valley of the Blue Moon, a perfect and wonderfully improbable romance whose players transcend the boundaries of wistful imaginings.
Szwarc's handling of each haunting moment is as subtle as it is tender. Never allowing the pace of the story to be eclipsed by the momentary demands of television's fast food bred audiences, the director's realization of every sequence is timeless and almost painfully precise. Like Portrait of Jennie, William Dieterle's masterpiece of another age, Szwarc's framing of every moment reflects the care and meticulous preservation of beauty that in the last analysis separates mere commercial success from artistic achievement. In that rare and wondrous awakening of Richard Collier's senses as he wanders through the Hall of History, discovering among the relics the precious portrait of Elise McKenna beckoning to him from the past, there is a warmth, a sense of coming home, that seems to light up the screen. The film is filled with such lovely moments. As Collier struggles to will his mind back to the turn of the century, the subtle imprint of antique furnishings appears subliminally against the wall of his room, as though his consciousness were trying to imagine and retain an elusive thought.
Somewhere In Time owes much to the tender, romantic fantasies of the forties … films such as Stairway to Heaven/A Matter of Life and Death, Between Two Worlds, Wuthering Heights, and, in particular, the aforementioned Portrait of Jennie and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir … and certainly to the directorial influence of Michael Powell, William Dieterle, and Joseph L. Mankiewicz. While these debts must be acknowledged, Somewhere In Time remains a distinctly original creation with ample charm, grace, and warmth to sustain its own magical influence for years to come.
Christopher Reeve in the pivotal role of Richard Collier is superb, proving to his detractors that an actor lay beneath the cape of blue and red. The depth of Reeve's performance builds gently and deliberately, culminating in an astonishingly moving signature to his work. Jane Seymour is a vision of haunting loveliness, capturing perfectly the eternal allure of the memorable Elise McKenna, her beauty endearing and enduring. Christopher Plummer, as ever suave, debonair and joyously eloquent … a formidable adversary in any respectable triangle.
However, the real stars of this enchanted film are director Szwarc, screenwriter Matheson, cinematographer Isidore Mankofsky, and composer John Barry whose apparent feeling for his material transcended mere contractual agreements, inspiring the loveliest work of his career. For Richard Matheson, perhaps the most gifted and versatile fantasy writer of his time, the successful filming of Bid Time Return is yet another milestone in a career already sparkling with achievement. Interestingly, the author has taken a part in his own story, appearing briefly as the "astonished man" who greets Christopher Reeve with ill-concealed contempt as the latter exits the hotel washroom.
In its final bittersweet moments, Somewhere In Time suggests a glimpse at the eternal, a poetic prelude to love after death whose haunting ascent and profoundly disturbing significance guide the film to its unforgettable conclusion. Somewhere In Time is an exquisite pearl draped in film, an ethereal journey whose heart and soul realize no earthly boundaries... for these are matters of the spirit alone, matters to be resolved at last … somewhere in time.
Copyright Steve Vertlieb and Cinemacabre