As the gin-soaked wreckage of Errol Flynn was being swept off the Hollywood landscape in the late 1950s, a younger but more stable Aussie Adonis was training hard down on Santa Monica beach. A former lifeguard and amateur boxer, his name was Rod Taylor and movie critics of the day quickly got to the core of what the sandy-haired, blue-eyed newcomer was all about. He was soon being described as "solid", "ruggedly handsome", "charming" and, after proving himself in a string of successful pictures, "reliable".
Following a succession of support roles on both the big and small screen, Taylor finally got his first crack at movie stardom in 1960 when the producer-director George Pal gave him the lead in "The Time Machine", MGM's rendering of the landmark novel of the same name by H.G.Wells.
Ideally cast as George, the strong-willed inventor in late Victorian London who speculates about the possibility of being able to travel through the fourth dimension to the future, Taylor struck gold. In an effort to realize his ambition, he builds an amazing machine, a wondrous creation of brass rails, ivory and rock crystal with a red velvet seat.
Launching himself in a spectacular blaze of flashing colored lights, he hurtles away and, after a blistering burst of speed, he arrives in the year 802,701 where he comes across what looks like a paradise on earth.
Populated by a society of beautiful young people known as the Eloi, the air is fresh and clean and magnificent fruit grows in abundance. But he soon discovers that all is not well. The gentle Eloi are, in fact, being held virtual prisoners by a brutal colony of mutants called the Morlocks who run the place from their underground hideaway. After falling for Weena, a particularly cute Eloi girl, George snaps into hero mode and with, the damsel's life at stake, he decides to save her people from the evil ones. However, there are matters he has to attend to back in his own world. What follows is a study of divided loyalties and a moral dilemma which stretches between the ages.
Unsure about making another foray in science fiction, Taylor was swayed after he met George Pal as he explained in the July,1986 edition of Starlog magazine. "George was a genius. He had a marvelous talent for illustration and I was fascinated by his pre -production drawings".
Movie novice Yvette Mimieux played Weena and provided just the right look of wide-eyed innocence and vulnerability for the brave and chivalrous Taylor to defend. Other cast members included TV regular Alan Young as the inventor's closest friend David Filby together with Sebastian Cabot, Tom Helmore and Whit Bissell. Writer David Duncan supplied an intelligent and imaginative script while veteran cameraman Paul Vogel did the cinematography and Russell Garcia handled the music.
Released on August 16,1960, The Time Machine became an overnight sensation at the box office, with the special effects by Gene Warren and Tim Baer going on to win an Oscar.
Now considered to be a classic of the genre, both the picture in general and Taylor's contribution in particular were hailed by the critics. Pauline Kael, of the New Yorker later described it as being "one of the best of its kind". Bosley Crowther of the New York Times drew attention to the standard of the photography, saying that "The color lends exciting hues to everything from Victorian wine glasses to the Morlocks flashing green eyes". Variety called Taylor's characterization "a gem".
Most significantly, it marked the beginning of Taylor's big career which, as it turned out, barely extended beyond the end of the decade.However, during his stay at the top he stood alone as Australia's only major Hollywood identity. Greatly respected for his range and versatility as an actor, he moved easily and competently between drama, comedy, romance and, later, action movies as he co - starred opposite the likes of Rock Hudson, Doris Day, John Wayne and many others.
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