Somewhere in Time (film)

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Somewhere in Time
Somewhere sheetr.jpg
Theatrical film poster
Directed by Jeannot Szwarc
Produced by Stephen Deutsch
Ray Stark
Screenplay by Richard Matheson
Based on Bid Time Return
by Richard Matheson
Starring Christopher Reeve
Jane Seymour
Christopher Plummer
Music by John Barry
Cinematography Isidore Mankofsky
Edited by Jeff Gourson
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release dates
  • October 3, 1980 (1980-10-03)
Running time
103 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $5.1 million
Box office $9.7 million

Somewhere in Time is a 1980 romantic fantasy drama film directed by Jeannot Szwarc. It is a film adaptation of the 1975 novel Bid Time Return by Richard Matheson, who also wrote the screenplay. The film stars Christopher Reeve, Jane Seymour, and Christopher Plummer.

Reeve plays Richard Collier, a playwright who becomes smitten by a photograph of a young woman at the Grand Hotel. Through self-hypnosis, he travels back in time to the year 1912 to find love with actress Elise McKenna (portrayed by Seymour). However, this relationship may not last as long as the two of them think; Elise's manager, William Fawcett Robinson (portrayed by Plummer), fears that romance will derail her career and resolves to stop him.

The film is known for its musical score composed by John Barry. The 18th variation of Sergei Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini also appears several times.


In May 1972, college theatre student Richard Collier (Christopher Reeve) is celebrating the debut of a play he has written. During the celebration, he is approached by an elderly woman (Susan French) who places a pocket watch in his hand and pleads, "Come back to me." Richard does not recognize the woman, who returns to her own residence and dies soon afterward.

Eight years later, Richard is a successful playwright living in Chicago, but has recently broken up with his girlfriend and is struggling with writer's block. Feeling stressed from writing his play, he decides to take a break and travels out of town to the Grand Hotel. While looking at a display in the hotel's museum, Richard becomes enthralled by a photograph of a beautiful woman. With the assistance of Arthur Biehl (Bill Erwin), an old bellhop who has been at the hotel since 1910, Richard discovers that the woman is Elise McKenna (Jane Seymour), a famous early 20th century stage actress. Upon digging deeper, Richard learns that she was the aged woman who gave him the pocket watch eight years earlier. Traveling to the home of Laura Roberts (Teresa Wright), McKenna's former housekeeper and companion, he discovers a music box Elise had made, in the shape of the Grand Hotel, that plays his favorite melody. He also discovers among her effects a book on time travel written by his old college professor, Dr. Gerard Finney (George Voskovec). Learning that McKenna read the book several times, Richard becomes obsessed with the idea of traveling back to 1912 and meeting Elise McKenna, with whom he has fallen in love.

Visiting Finney, Richard learns that the professor believes that he very briefly time traveled once to 1571 through the power of self-suggestion. To accomplish this feat of self-hypnosis, Finney tells Richard, one must remove from sight all things that are related to the current time and trick the mind into believing that one is in the past. He also warns that such a process would leave one very weak, perhaps dangerously so. Richard buys an early 20th-century suit and some vintage money; he cuts his hair in a time-appropriate style. Dressing in the suit, he removes all modern objects from his hotel room and attempts to will himself into the year 1912 using tape-recorded suggestions, only to fail for lack of real conviction. Later, while searching the hotel's attic, Richard finds an old guest book from 1912 with his signature in it and realizes that he will eventually succeed.

Richard again hypnotizes himself, this time with the tape recorder hidden under the bed. He allows his absolute faith in his eventual success to become the trigger for the journey back through time. He drifts off to sleep and awakens on June 27, 1912 to the sound of whinnying horses. Richard looks all over the hotel for Elise, even meeting Arthur Biehl as a little boy, but he has no luck finding her. Finally, he stumbles upon Elise walking by a tree near the lake. She seems to swoon slightly at the sight of him, but suddenly asks him "Is it you?" McKenna's manager, William Fawcett Robinson (Christopher Plummer), abruptly intervenes and sends Richard away. Richard stubbornly continues to pursue Elise until she agrees to accompany him on a stroll through the surrounding idyllic landscape. It is during their boat ride that Richard hums the theme from the 18th variation of opus 43, and Elise says it's lovely but she never heard it before. (It was written 22 years into the future. In 1980 Richard had learned that it was her favorite piece of music and he hears her recording of it.) Richard ultimately asks why Elise wondered aloud "Is it you". She replies that Robinson somehow knows that she will meet a man one day who will change her life forever. Richard shows Elise the same pocket watch which she will eventually give him in 1972, but he does not reveal its origin, merely saying it was a gift.

Richard accepts Elise's invitation to her play, where she recites an impromptu monologue dedicated to him. During intermission, he finds her posing formally for a photograph. Upon spotting Richard, Elise breaks into a radiant smile, the camera capturing the image which Richard first saw 68 years later. Afterward, Richard receives an urgent message from Robinson requesting a meeting. Robinson tries to get Richard to leave Elise, saying it is for her own good. When Richard professes his love for her, Robinson has him tied up and locked in the stables. Later, Robinson tells Elise that Richard has left her and is not the one, but she does not believe him. She says that she loves Richard.

Richard wakes up the next morning and manages to free himself. He runs to Elise's room and finds that her party has left. Despondent, he goes out to the hotel's porch. Suddenly, he hears Elise calling his name and sees her running towards him. They return to his room together and make love. The next morning they agree to marry. Elise tells him that the first thing she will do for him is buy him a new suit, since the one he has been wearing is about 15 years out of date. Richard begins to show her how practical the suit is because of its many pockets. He is alarmed when he reaches into one and finds a Lincoln penny with a mint date of 1979. Seeing an item from his real present wrenches him out of his hypnotically induced time trip, and Richard feels himself rushing forward in time. Elise screams his name in horror as he is pulled inexorably out of 1912.

Richard wakes up back in 1980, in the same room where he and Elise were last together in 1912. He is drenched in sweat and very weak, apparently exhausted from his trip through time and back. He scrambles desperately back to his own room and tries to hypnotize himself again, without success. Heartbroken, after wandering around the hotel property and sitting interminably at the places where he spent time with Elise, he eventually retires to his room. He remains there unmoving for days until discovered by Arthur and the hotel manager; they send for a doctor and paramedics. Richard suddenly smiles and sees himself drifting above his body. Having presumably died of a broken heart, he is drawn to a light shining through the nearby window, where he is reunited with Elise.

Main cast[edit]

Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour in the final scene from Somewhere in Time
Actor Role
Christopher Reeve Richard Collier
Jane Seymour Elise McKenna
Christopher Plummer William Fawcett Robinson
Teresa Wright Laura Roberts
Bill Erwin Arthur Biehl
Susan French Older Elise
George Voskovec Dr. Gerard Finney
Eddra Gale Genevieve
Tim Kazurinsky Photographer, in 1912
Bruce Jarchow Bones, in 1912

Richard Matheson, who wrote the original novel and screenplay, appears in a cameo role as a 1912 hotel guest. He is shocked by Richard's having cut himself shaving with a straight razor.

A then-unknown William H. Macy has a bit role as a critic in the 1972 scene before Elise hands the watch to Richard. George Wendt is credited as a student during this same scene, but his appearance was omitted from the final cut of the film. Richard Matheson's daughter, Ali, is similarly credited as a student.

Many Mackinac Island residents at the time were cast as extras.

Production notes[edit]

The Grand Hotel where the film was shot
  • Bringing cars onto the island for use in the film required special permission from the City of Mackinac Island. Motorized vehicles, other than emergency vehicles and snowmobiles in the winter, are prohibited on the Island. With very few exceptions, transportation is limited to horse and buggy or bicycle.
  • Director Jeannot Szwarc had a slight problem directing the scenes between Plummer and Reeve in that whenever he said "Chris," both men would respond with "Yes?" Szwarc resolved this by addressing Plummer as "Mr. Plummer" and addressing Reeve as "Bigfoot".
  • The final scene between Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour before Reeve's character is thrown back into his own time was difficult for Reeve to shoot as he had just learned that his girlfriend and companion, Gae Exton, was pregnant with his first son Matthew. For much of that day his attention was understandably elsewhere. Reeve says on the bonus material of the 2000 DVD, "The day we shot the picnic scene on the floor I found out, and the world found out, that I was about to be a father for the first time."
  • In the film, Reeve's character consults with a Dr. Finney (played by George Voskovec), a time travel theorist. This is a deliberate nod to author Jack Finney, whose novel Time and Again, published five years before the book on which this film is based, features an almost identical theory on the mechanics of time travel.
  • Elise McKenna was a fictional actress. Collier is filmed in the library searching and looking through an old theater album, which has photos of historic stage actresses. The three little girls are Blanche Ring and her sisters. A child holding a doll is actress Rose Stahl. A faded picture of a woman in nun's habit is Ethel Barrymore in a 1928 play, The Kingdom of God. (Barrymore's head is left out of the frame as she would be readily recognizable by alert fans of old films.)[1]
  • Elise McKenna's character was loosely based upon the life of theatre actress Maude Adams, who was born Maude Ewing Adams Kiskadden in Salt Lake City, Utah on November 11, 1872. She died in Tannersville, New York on July 17, 1953. Her manager, Charles Frohman (the basis for the William Fawcett Robinson character) was very protective of her. He died on the RMS Lusitania on May 7, 1915 when it was torpedoed by a German submarine during World War I.[2]

Differences from the novel[edit]

In the novel, Richard travels from 1971 to 1896 rather than from 1980 to 1912. The setting is the Hotel del Coronado in California, rather than the Grand Hotel in Michigan. Richard begins the book with the knowledge that he is dying of a brain tumor, and the book ultimately raises the possibility that the whole time-traveling experience was merely a series of hallucinations brought on by the tumor. The scene where the old woman hands Richard a pocket watch (which he had given to her in the past) does not appear in the book. Thus, the ontological paradox generated by this event (that the watch was never made, but simply exists eternally) is absent. In the book, there are two psychics, not William Fawcett Robinson, who anticipate Richard's appearance, and Richard's death is brought about by his tumor, not by heartbreak.


Although this movie was well received during its previews, it was widely derided by critics upon release and underperformed at the box office. In 2009, in an interview with WGN America, Jane Seymour stated that "[i]t was just a little movie... The Blues Brothers came out the same week and it was a $4 million budget, so Universal didn't really support it. There was also an actors' strike, so Chris [Reeve] and I weren't allowed to publicize it. And they barely put it out because I don't think anyone really believed in it."[3]

Critical response[edit]

The film received negative reviews from critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 59% of 17 film critics have given the film a positive review, with a rating average of 5.7 out of 10.[4] Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average score out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, gives the film a score of 29 based on 7 reviews, signifying "Generally unfavorable reviews".[5] After cable TV broadcast and home video rentals, the film went on to become an underground cult classic.[6]


Somewhere in Time has received several awards, including Saturn Awards for Best Costume, Best Music, and Best Fantasy Film. The film was also nominated for the Academy Award for Costume Design (Jean-Pierre Dorleac).[7]


Despite reviews calling the film "horrible" and a "superficial tear-jerker," the International Network of Somewhere In Time Enthusiasts (I.N.S.I.T.E.), an official fan club, was formed in 1990 and continues to meet regularly.[8][9] During the month of October, the Grand Hotel hosts a Somewhere In Time Weekend the club uses for an annual convention for such events as a big-screen showing of the film, panel discussions with some of the film's celebrities and crew, and a costume ball of members dressed in Edwardian attire.[10] Adding to the film's legacy, is a Ken Davenport produced Broadway theatrical adaption of the story in the works with assistance from Matheson on the story book.[11][12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Blum, Daniel. Great Stars of the American Stage, c.1952. All of these photos are in Blum's book.
  2. ^ Robbins, Phyllis (1956), Maude Adams: An Intimate Portrait, New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons .
  3. ^ Interview with Jane Seymour (video) on YouTube
  4. ^ "Somewhere in Time Movie Reviews, Pictures". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved March 14, 2013. 
  5. ^ "Somewhere in Time Reviews, Ratings, Credits, and More – Metacritic". Metacritic. Retrieved March 14, 2013. 
  6. ^ Quin, Eleanor (2015). "Somewhere in Time". Turner Classic Movies. Turner Entertainment Networks, Inc. Retrieved April 16, 2015. 
  7. ^ "The 53rd Academy Awards (1981) Nominees and Winners". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved March 14, 2013. 
  8. ^ Slater, Eric (May 14, 1995). "Fans of 1980 'Tear-Jerker' Celebrate Film : Entertainment: Devotees of 'Somewhere in Time' gather in Universal City to honor movie as the pinnacle of romance cinema". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved May 20, 2015. 
  9. ^ Paulin, David (October 6, 2013). "Celebrating a Movie the Critics Hated". American Thinker. American Thinker. Retrieved May 20, 2015. 
  10. ^ Storch, Charles (October 23, 1992). "`Somewhere In Time` Travelers: Fans Of Cult Romance Movie Descending On Mackinac Island To Wallow In The Fantasy". Chicago Tribune. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved May 26, 2015. 
  11. ^ Cox, Gordon (March 7, 2006). "‘Somewhere’ rights nabbed by Davenport". Variety. Variety. Retrieved May 27, 2015. 
  12. ^ Hoffman, Barbara (April 15, 2012). "Blockbusters go Broadway". New York Post. New York Post. Retrieved May 27, 2015. 

External links[edit]