On 5 January 1900, four friends arrive for dinner at the home of H. George Wells (Rod Taylor), but George himself is not there. He arrives suddenly, exhausted and dishevelled, and tells them an amazing story. He reminds them of a previous dinner in which he had spoken of the fourth dimension and displayed a model of a time-machine to David Filby (Alan Young), Dr, Philip Hillyer (Sebastian Cabot), Anthony Bridewell (Tom Helmore), and Walter Kemp (Whit Bissell). The model vanishes when a lever is pressed.
Well, he made a model later that was large enough to carry a man and traveled forward in time. At first, on 13 September 1917, he meets Filby’s son James (also Alan Young), who tells him Filby has died in the War. Then he travels to 19 June 1940, during the Blitz, then to 18 August 1966, when people are scurrying to fallout shelters. He meets an elderly James Filby. Then a volcanic eruption caused by a nuclear weapon traps him inside hardened lava until the year 802,701.
There is a group of delicate young people, so effete that they do not bother to save a young woman carried off by a stream. But George does. Her name is Weena (Yvette Mimieux). They are called Eloi and know nothing of machines, books, or History. Taken to a library, George finds the books crumbling in his hands. He discovers that the time machine has been dragged into a cave inhabited by ugly and bestial Morlocks who only come out at might.
The next day, he is taken to a museum, where talking rings tell of a 326-year-long war so destructive that the human race lived underground. The Morlocks stayed there and the Eloi came back to the surface. As George is trying to climb down an airshaft into the cave, a siren goes off and the docile Eloi enter the cave. George discovers that the Eloi are kept as food by the Morlocks. He fights them off to save Weena and sets fires to help the Eloi escape. The next day, he enters the cave, accesses the time machine and returns to 1900.
George’s friends are sceptical, so he produces a flower Weena gave him, which the botanist Filby declares an unknown species. His friends leave, but Filby returns to find George, the time-machine, and three books missing.
The film was produced and directed by George Pal, based on George Wells’s 1895 novella. It won an Oscar for special effects. Rejecting established actors like David Niven and James Mason, Pal hired the unknown Australian actor Rod Taylor for a more athletic hero. There have been four Time Machine movies, all headed by Australian actors. The time machine was designed by Bill Ferrari and built by Wah Chang, who also designed the Morlocks. Their design later appeared as the Abominable Snowman in George Pal’s Seven Faces of Doctor Lao (1964). They were played by wrestlers. Some of the costumes and props came from Forbidden Planet. Though H. G. Wells is called George in the film, in the book he is referred to as the Time Traveller.
Yvette Mimieux was actually underage and not supposed to work. When George stops for a look around in mid-journey, he sees the latest tubeless TV in a store window, looking much like a flat-screen computer monitor. The model of the time machine was destroyed in a fire at George Pal’s house. It was built like a sled to slide through time. The full-sized machine was sold by MGM in 1971 in the same auction as Dorothy’s ruby slippers. Later found in a thrift store, it was bought by film historian Bob Burns and restored by D.C. Fontana and Michael Minor of Star Trek. A song was written by Peggy Lee for the film but was not used. The later movie Time After Time basically begins with the dinner among friends, but the doctor is Jack the Ripper and uses the time machine to escape from the police into the future. Another great movie.