An American nuclear scientist lives alone in an 18th Century house in London, spending his evenings reading his family’s old diaries and papers. He confesses to a colleague that he feels as if he belongs back in that era, rather than in modern times. Shortly afterwards, he is struck by lightning and his wish comes true.
Sweeping, romantic costume drama led by Hollywood stars Tyrone Power and Ann Blyth. It’s unashamedly what was known as a ‘woman’s picture’ back in the day with its themes of doomed romance and eternal love. Not surprisingly, it’s a remake of a much older property, ‘Berkeley Square’ (1933), which had starred Leslie Howard and was itself based on a play by John L Balderston. However, it’s to the credit of director Roy Ward Baker that the plot never seems unduly old hat, even if the addition of Power’s job as a nuclear physicist seems like a rather clumsy ‘modernising’ device.
The main thread of the love story is pretty standard stuff, boy meets girl, no one approves and the conventions of the time and the ignorance of others keeps them apart. But there are some nice touches here. Power has idolised the past; the courtly manners, the great houses, the lavish parties, the lord and ladies, but what he isn’t prepared for is the grinding poverty of the lower classes and the indifference of the privileged. Also, his in-depth knowledge of his family’s past and wider historical events is not quite the advantage you would think. He constantly refers to things that haven’t happened yet, and quickly gains a somewhat unhealthy reputation. He ‘reinvents’ several technological advances, such as the electric light bulb, but finds himself branded as a madman and his inventions smashed.
In fact, this is a story that could probably benefit from an update. With the right handling, there’s enough scope to create something quite thought provoking and relevant to current times. Here, it’s our principal players that engage the audience and drive the story. Power was a Hollywood heartthrob and never gained his due as an actor. He is outshone here by the excellent Blyth, but still delivers a persuasive performance, free from the overly mannered style that still marred films of the time.
Michael Rennie makes his usual strong showing as Power’s modern day colleague in the same year that he was unforgettable as Klaatu in ‘The Day The Earth Stood Still’ (1951). There’s also a very striking cameo from the under-rated Kathleen Byron, best known these days for her showings in the Powell-Pressburger classics ‘A Matter of Life and Death’ (1945) and ‘Black Narcissus’ (1947).
Power didn’t have that many films left in him, dying of a sudden heart attack at the age of 44, and Blyth‘s career somehow petered out into TV shows like ‘Wagon Train’. Similarly, director Baker did a lot of television; episodes of routine adventure shows like ‘The Saint’, ‘The Champions’ and ‘Department S’. But, check his filmography, and you find that he was also behind some of the Diana Rigg shows on ‘The Avengers’. Additionally, he was heavily involved with the Hammer Studios in the late 1960s and early 1970s and, although his films aren’t perhaps titles that immediately spring to mind, for my money they are some of the very best the studio ever offered. There was the chilling ‘Quatermass and the Pit’ (1967), pitch black comedy ‘The Anniversary’ (1968) with Bette Davis, ‘The Vampire Lovers’ (1970) with Ingrid Pitt and Peter Cushing, and the sadly neglected ‘Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde’ (1971). Unfortunately, it’s probably best to look away now rather than watch the tatty, appalling mess that was ‘Scars of Dracula’ (1970). Well, you can’t win ‘em all, I guess.
This is a decent romantic drama with a science fiction twist, that works due to the fine performances and some interesting themes and unexpected angles to the story.