Saturday, January 10, 2015

Rod Taylor: RIP
It has made the rounds that Rod Taylor has passed away at 84. The stories ran in EW and out of Australia here. And of course other numerous outlets. He starred in films like The Birds and of course the film that impacted me The Time Machine.

This is more about my experience with The Time Machine and Rod Taylor as the lead in that awesome film rather than Rod Taylor the actor. To eulogize the man here is to only repeat what his family and other fans have said about him and his body of work over the years. Better that I focus on how he was to me in The Time Machine.

The Time Machine was a novel by H.G Wells, published in 1895. This is now the well-known tale of human hubris, the horror of mutually assured destruction, and strong social commentary. All wrapped in an epic adventure that helped set the tone not only for the sci-fi tales that would come, but time-travel as a sub-genre all its own.

The 1960 film that stared Rod Taylor was this and more. This film also introduced me, subconsciously, to the Renaissance Man as a pulp hero. This was not the Over The Top Man of Bronze, but a thinking man’s hero all the same. A match for his adventure intellectually as well as physically.

Rod Taylor, playing H. George Wells an inventor (the novel only called the narrator The Time Traveler), invites his friends to dinner at the turn of the 20th century and appears quite dramatically with an amazing story.

The film sees Wells witness the First and Second World Wars and then witness the destruction of his world through nuclear destruction. He is entombed for millennia, to find himself in the year 802,721, where he becomes embroiled in the gruesome relationship between the elfin, surface dwelling Eloi and the trollish subterranean Morlocks.

The movie ends with Wells in his own time with his cautionary tale, but then returning to the far future to the waiting Weena.

This was the best of all the films and adaptions of Well’s story as far as I am concerned. The time lapse filming, the sphinx, the sets and of course the glowing eyes of the Morlocks made this movie all kinds of awesome to me.

Taylor looked like an adventurer, of course he had the leading man good looks, but his physical presence spoke of his ability to handle the hardships ahead. He also carried himself with intelligence and insight. When he is among the Eloi he seeks the knowledge that was lost, he asks after books and finds them to be little more than book-shaped piles of dust. He rails against the loss of knowledge and the degeneration of the human race, himself holding intellect and science that truest, greatest pursuits of man. Yet, this hero takes to the Morlocks with thundering fists. He practically weeps at the folly of man that led to its near total destruction, in the end, he abandons man to his fate to return to the far future to help them start again.

When he departs his friend David Filby (Alan Young) sees books are gone. When Well’s house keeper asks after them, Filby replies: “Which would you take?” Of course what books would you take to restart civilization?  

The hero Rod Taylor portrayed is an icon of boyish adventure. He stands with Guy Williams’ Zorro, Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood, and James Mason’s Captain Nemo in my Saturday Matinee reality. I appreciate that late actor for creating that celluloid hero for me to emulate in my back-yard play as a boy.

Thank you, Sir.



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