By Diane Haithman, Detroit Free Press Staff Writer
MACKINAC ISLAND – “Somewhere in Time,” the romantic fantasy filmed here in June 1979 and starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour, was shown to the hometown folks Wednesday night. And while this resort hamlet of about 500 will never make or break any film, the word from the coast (northern Michigan’s) is that a hit is at hand.
The movie is about a Chicago playwright who is drawn to Mackinac Island and falls in love with a 1912 photograph of a woman that hangs in his hotel. Through the powers of love and Hollywood magic, he travels back in time to meet her. That journey had some parts of this audience, at least, moved to tears.
The film’s 1912 setting fits right into its island location, where autos have always been banned, and time itself seems to have stood still since, well, about 1912. The movie was shot primarily at Mackinac Island’s impeccably genteel Grand Hotel, and its premiere screening took place not in a movie theater but in the red-carpeted Casino Room of, as proud townspeople call it, The Grand.
Windows of the island’s white wooden fudge and souvenir shops sported promotional posters for the movie. In the streets and restaurants late in the afternoon, people chattered excitedly about the 7 pm. screening of “the movie” — no need to specify which. Tickets had had to be picked up at the Mackinac Island Chamber of Commerce as much as 10 days in advance.
It was more like a crowded town hall meeting than a movie screening. Everyone there knew not only everyone else, but many of the extras who appeared on screen.
It was these local stars, not handsome Christopher Reeve or lovely Jane Seymour, who drew the crowd.
One such star was 80-year-old Mrs. Albert Davie, in her movie extra debut.
Before the screening began, rumor had it that her scene might have been cut. But when Mrs. Davie appeared for about five seconds on screen in period costume and a hat that must have cost the lives of several tropical birds, there was a minor thunder of applause. “Me. I saw me!” Mrs. Davie chortled later.
ANOTHER STAR was born when elderly Lloyd McDonald, a real-life employs of the Grand, drove his horse and buggy across the screen — at least in the eyes of his wife. who dug a proud elbow into nearby ribs to punctuate the debut. Mrs. McDonald, a laundress at the hotel, noted that she’d washed some pretty famous sheets and underwear during Universal Studios’ visit to the island.
“Morn got to see me — that’s what counts,” said young extra Kendra Welger of her first screen performance.
But the real star of “Somewhere in Time” was the Grand Hotel itself.
The aura of the island and its showplace hotel, no doubt, is much the same today as it was in 1912. The hollow clogging of horses’ hooves, the island’s only form of transportation, still lulls guests to sleep inside the Grand’s spacious rooms.
Ferries cut crisp white wakes in the green Lake Huron waters. Precisely ironed doilies, flowered wallpaper, cut glass and dinner music still dominate the Grand Hotel. A dress code prevails in the building and on the grounds; ladies, warns a sign, never appear after 6 pm in slacks or shorts.
TRUE, THE MOVIE had a few inaccuracies. Islanders groaned as Christopher Reeve’s car sped up the hill to the Grand. Cars are not allowed on the island — never have been, said Mary Summerfield, a lifetime islander who studies the history of the area.
Somewhere in Time is a throwback to the romantic tradition of the ’40s. It is a mutant in the evolution of women’s films, which have progressed to a style typified by Jill Clayburgh.
Technically superior, if overly sentimental, Somewhere in Time will appeal to the feminine strain in those women who have been confronted mercilessly by the Clayburghian figure, i.e., one of independence and confusion.
Movie review: Somewhere in Time
The story begins with playwright Richard Collier (Christoper Reeve) celebrating a successful opening night of his first production From a gathering of well-wishers emerges an elderly woman who presses into his palm a gold pocket watch and whispers, “Come back to me.”
It is eight years later, while vacationing at the Grand Hotel, that Collier is able to investigate this mystery. There he becomes obsessed/enchanted by a photograph (circa 1912) of a beautiful actress, Elise McKenna (Jane Seymour). It is she who has given him the watch.
With a determination that seems at times surprising even to Collier, he travels backward in time to meet her, and in meeting her he falls into a love that goes beyond the temporal. It is their affair and the bittersweet resolution to their plight that forms the basis of the film.
Somewhere in Time exudes emotion. It is laden with gazes and yearning. It is romance of the old school, incorporating the best features of the genre. The atmosphere changes visually from a sharply defined present to a past that has been smudged around the edges, softened by a more delicate costume, a more refined manner, a more gracious photography.
Even Christopher Plummer as W.F. Robinson portrays the villain with the utmost courtesy. The allusions to an “odd” relationship between Miss McKenna and Robinson, who acts as her manager, congeal into little more than actress/mentor with a touch of ruthlessness.
Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour make it easy to empathize with the couple. Reeve has done well to shed the Superman costume before the release of sequels that may set his image. Seymour is graceful and feminine, as the period requires. Costumes are stunning.
The first glimpse of Elise McKenna is of an elegant woman in her mid-80s. Dressed in a black gown of a period gone by, she appears regal. Susan French, as the actress who portrays the aged Miss McKenna, is most effective. Though making a brief appearance, it is she who sets the mood for the remainder of the film. It is for her that we sorrow. The sacrifice of her career, 60 years of waiting for an impossible return — these make us mourn and envy the love that would sustain such action.
I would suspect that Somewhere in Time will not appeal to those inclined towards action flicks, or those who equate love with sexuality.