The Rear-View Mirror: The Time Machine (1960)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

In Switzerland, where I live, this happens once a year, in early February: all public sirens across the country are tested, sounding the signal for ‘general alert’. When I grew up, in the last dozen years of the Cold War or so, most people would have associated the signal with their fears of nuclear war. If we heard these sirens on any day other than the first Wednesday in February, we’d most likely have to head for the nearest shelter because some hot-headed madman in Moscow had pushed the big red button.

For me, though, that’s not what the sirens meant. For me, they always meant this: the Morlocks are coming.

I’m not sure I was ever really frightened of the Morlocks in The Time Machine, even as a child; the early ’60s special effects and makeup made the underground-dwelling creatures look silly rather than scary. I also found the blonde, childlike Eloi silly and I didn’t much care about their plight – even before I found out about the story’s allegorical aspect. Nonetheless, there was something about the 1960 film adaptation of H.G. Wells’ novel that took hold of my imagination: the art deco beauty of the titular device, the ingenious scene depicting the passage of time through a mannequin whose outfits change in time lapse (from the late Victorian style to the modern – well, ’60s – miniskirt), the ‘talking rings’ – and the Sphinx and its sirens. I love The Time Machine the way you can only love a film you first saw as a child, and I love how, in spite of it being a rollicking, fantastic adventure, the film has a melancholy streak. But what has stayed with me most is that sound. Whenever I hear those sirens, even if I know it’s coming, it sends a shiver down my spine. The Morlocks are coming.

The Rear-View Mirror will return every Friday, looking further and further into the past. Fasten your seatbelts: it may just be a bumpy ride.

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