Friday, 2 October 2015

Timeslip (1955)

Timeslip (released in the US as The Atomic Man) is an obscure but very enjoyable little British science fiction B-movie rescued from oblivion and made available to us on DVD by Network in the UK.

It’s really more of a thriller with some science fictional elements thrown in but those science fictional elements are at least original and quite clever.

A man is pulled out of the river in London. He’s close to death, and in fact he does die after being taken to hospital. Just as the doctors have give up trying to resuscitate him he comes back to life. Unfortunately he seems to be suffering from amnesia and no-one knows who he is. A keen American journalist working for an English news magazine doers however recognise him - the man saved from death is none other than eminent nuclear physicist Stephen Rayner. The only problem is that when the police contact the laboratory at which Dr Rayner works they are informed that Dr Rayner is perfectly well and currently engaged on a major research project. So who on earth is the man pulled from the river?

The American journalist, Mike Delaney (Gene Nelson), is convinced the man in hospital is Stephen Rayner and that something strange is going on, something that could lead him to a very big story. With the help of his news photographer girlfriend Jill Rabowski (Faith Domergue) he starts digging into the case. There are a number of puzzling aspects to it. The photographs of the man in the hospital are all fogged. This is very odd - Jill is a very experienced photographer who doesn’t make mistakes and she can offer no explanation for this. Even more odd is that the hospital cannot take X-rays of their patient - the x-ray films come out entirely blank.

Mike figures this might have something to do with the fact that Stephen Rayner is a nuclear physicist - maybe he’s been exposed to so much radiation that he is now immune to it! Mike is on the right track but the truth turns out to be even more bizarre - this man has come unstuck in time! Because radioactivity does that sort of thing.

This is all very well, but why do there appear to be two Stephen Rayners, what is the explanation of the hat from Buenos Aires, and why is someone trying to kill Mike Delaney? And if Dr Rayner is a nuclear physicist exactly what is the research program he was working on?

The plot is a mixture of standard thriller tropes with a few genuinely original twists that are just about enough to make it a legitimate science fiction film, and they certainly make it interesting. It builds to a fairly exciting climax with a race against time to head off disaster at the nuclear research facility.

It was common practice for British B-movies of this era to feature second-rank American stars whose careers were starting to fade. They were cheap and they were grateful for the work. More surprisingly they often turned in very decent performances in these British B-pictures. In this case the two American imports, Gene Nelson and Faith Domergue, do ma very creditable job.

Gene Nelson never did become a star (although he later had a successful career as a television director). He makes a fine pushy but likeable reporter.

Faith Domergue went very close to stardom after being discovered by Howard Hughes. You won’t be surprised to learn that Hughes was interested in more than just her acting talents. After things cooled off between the starlet and the mogul her career failed to take off. She did however make a number of very notable 1950s science fiction films, most famously This Island Earth, and as a result she has quite a following among sci-fi movie fans. She’s actually very good indeed in Timeslip and she and Nelson have excellent chemistry. The relationship between Jill and Mike adds some gentle humour as well as romance but without derailing the main plot.

Peter Arne is both creepy and sympathetic as the two Stephen Rayners. Look out for Charles Hawtrey (of Carry On fame) in an amusing bit part.

This movie was made at Merton Park Studios so you know it’s going to be a very low-budget effort. Despite this it’s a well-made little movie, very competently directed by Ken Hughes and nicely paced.

The DVD is what we’ve come to expect from Network - it offers a very decent anamorphic transfer, there are virtually no extras, and it’s ridiculously cheap. 

Timeslip is a well-crafted forgotten gem of a B-movie, very much worth seeking out. Don’t expect spectacular special effects (there aren’t any), but it has suspense and a few thrills, a bit of science fiction weirdness, some creepy atmosphere, just enough humour and romance, fine acting and in general plenty of entertainment value. Highly recommended. 

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