If you thought killing prostitutes for fun in a simulacrum of San Francisco was just for Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, you don’t know the half of it. In 1979, Jack the Ripper was cutting up North Beach pros. Yes, London’s Jack the Ripper. And H.G. Wells was hot on his trail. Or at least that’s how it goes in Time After Time.

Loosely based off Wells’s sci-fi novel The Time Machine, this film supposes a battle of wits and mayhem between H.G. and Jack. Soon after H.G. discovers that his friend John is the murderer Jack, he also realizes that Jack has used his new time machine to evade Scotland Yard. He follows him and winds up in San Francisco (because his time machine is on display there at a museum exhibition). But the future isn’t what H.G. imagined it to be.

When H.G. accosts Jack at the hotel, Jack tells the famed pacifist that the world is full of violence. He flicks on the TV, surfing through the various shows depicting explosions and war. H.G. doesn’t belong here in San Francisco–Jack does, where the prevalence of violence provides him a cloak of anonymity instead of infamy.

Is that true? If San Francisco took one of those stupid quizzes, would it be H.G. Wells, author, socialist, pacifist, freethinker, suffragette supporter, or Jack the Ripper, the man who liked to cut up prostitutes for kicks? Maybe it’s one of those Jekyll and Hyde things.

Sure, the violence of the modern day terrifies H.G., but he fits in so well that he finds a love interest within a matter of hours. Amy is a sex-deprived, feminist career woman (with ambitions!) who asks H.G. out for lunch and doesn’t lose sight of him until the next morning when she leaves for work. Talk about a great first date. Though there are a few issues with which SF liberals wouldn’t agree (eugenics, only the educated citizenry should vote), H.G. is liberal enough and odd enough for the city. His fuddy-duddy 19th century clothes are out of place, but Amy finds them sexy. She nearly creams her proverbial jeans over his old-fashioned buttons.

If San Francisco took one of those stupid quizzes, would it be H.G. Wells or Jack the Ripper?Jack, on the other hand, blends in. Sporting a moptop, he decks himself out in colored glasses and a denim vest as he begins to relax into the city. North Beach becomes the perfect playground for him, especially in a town that grew into city in part because of its prostitution. Though San Francisco did not pass 2008’s Prop K, which would have decriminalized prostitution, the proposition did garner 41% of the vote. If you’re looking for sex workers, you’re in the right neighborhood. Unfortunately, that customer is also Jack the Ripper, who still manages to escape the silver bracelets. With no record of his existence, he gets away with his crimes and becomes a part of the city even though we’d rather not admit it. One cop sees him in the city’s pattern of crime: “First Zodiac, and now this!”

The money is H.G. for this one, but mostly because it doesn’t seem likely that San Franciscans would accept the notion that Jack the Ripper could survive so well in our fair city. Besides, San Francisco likes authors. Serial killers? Not so much.

Time After Time is available on iTunes, Netflix, and Amazon.

Starring San Francisco is Appeal events editor, Christine Borden’s, take on the city’s cinematic past to illuminate today. Have a locally set film you’d like to see featured? Tell her at christine@sfappeal.com.

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  • Xenu

    The same guy who wrote this film went on to write Star Trek IV, which has a remarkably similar plot — Kirk & Co. have to travel back in time to San Francisco. But instead of saving prostitutes, they have to save the whales.

    The best part of that film, of course, is watching Kirk and Spock ride Muni.

  • Christine Borden

    You know, you’re totally right. I completely forgot about that choice tidbit. Incidentally, I already wrote a SSF on “The Voyage Home.”

    You can find it here: http://sfappeal.com/culture/2009/04/starring-san-francisco-save-the-whales-man.php

    Perhaps there is a time machine pattern here I need to investigate.