SOMEWHERE IN TIME: Christopher Reeve’s Greatest Role Beyond SUPERMAN

A birthday tribute to one of Hollywood’s most beloved actors…


“O, call back yesterday, bid time return.” Richard II, Act III, Scene 2. — William Shakespeare.

A recent magazine about Superman through the ages titled the article on Christopher Reeve as “The Greatest of All Time.” No greater truth was ever spoken. Notice how that even though it has been 36 years since the last time Reeve was Superman (in Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, 1987), he still gets the predominant cover spot (plus another spot as Clark Kent.)

The Ultimate Guide to Superman. Published by Hollywood Spotlight, 2023.

Reeve, who was born 71 years ago, on Sept. 25, 1952, left behind too short a list of appearances on the big and small screens. His death at the age of 52 on Oct. 10, 2004, from cardiac arrest, following lengthy paralysis from the neck down brought on by a horse-riding accident in 1995, is a great tragedy.

Reeve had come from Broadway to define Superman onscreen (and proved to be a Superman in his personal life after the accident). His four appearances as Superman are a legacy but he also branched out to do a variety of other films, including Deathtrap (1982), Noises Off (1992), and The Remains of the Day (1993). He also acted in two episodes of TV’s Smallville after his accident and in a TV remake of Rear Window (1998).


To me, however, my favorite Christopher Reeve performance, second only to that of Superman, was as Richard Collier, a modern day playwright who travels back to 1912 to meet the greatest love of his life in Somewhere in Time (1980), a film I consider the most romantic movie of all.

The origin of the film actually begins with famed author and screenwriter Richard Matheson during a trip when he was in the ghost town of Virginia City. To pass the time, he visited the Piper’s Opera House. He glanced through historical displays and stopped when he saw a photo of Maude Adams, a beloved stage actress from the turn of the century (her most famous role was being the first stage Peter Pan).

The photograph of Maude Adams at Piper’s Opera House that inspired Matheson.

Looking at the picture of the young actress, Matheson had the germ of an idea about a man who sees the photo and wants to go back in time to meet her. It got put on the backburner of Matheson’s imagination but was revived when he visited the majestic Hotel del Coronado in San Diego. This is where he wanted to set the story. (The hotel is familiar to anyone who has seen the Marilyn Monroe movie, Some Like It Hot.)

The atmosphere of the hotel was one set in the past. In the history of great hotels, she was a grand duchess. Matheson returned to his idea and got himself into the character of Richard Collier by carrying around a tape recorder and speaking into it the preamble of the story prior to the trip back in time. At the Del, Matheson worked with staff to research the atmosphere of the hotel circa 1896 and the story grew and grew.  While he was tempted to have the female actress actually be Maude Adams, he wanted the character to have certain attributes of her own and so he created Elise McKenna.

Producer Stephen Deutsch read the book, titled Bid Time Return, and asked Matheson for the rights. Deutsch approached director Jeannot Szwarc, who had saved Universal’s bacon by agreeing to direct their Jaws 2 after the original director was fired. He agreed if they would give the greenlight to whatever project he wanted to do afterward. It was Somewhere in Time, the new title for Bid Time Return.  Christopher Reeve had his choice of roles after Superman: The Movie, but what he was being offered were action pictures. He didn’t want that and decided to do Somewhere in Time. Jane Seymour was signed to play Elise McKenna with Christopher Plummer as Elise’s manager, William Robinson.

The Grand Hotel, Mackinac Island, Michigan

It was the first screen role Reeve took after Superman: The Movie and most of the filming was done on Mackinac (pronounced “Macinaw”) Island in Michigan, in and around the Grand Hotel there. The island is a special getaway where cars are not allowed and people travel by foot or by horse-drawn carriages. An exception was allowed for equipment trucks and for the scenes with Collier driving his car on the island.

“We began filming in late May 1979 and the location quickly cast a spell on the entire company,” Reeve said in his 1998 autobiography Still Me. “The real world fell away as the story and the setting took hold of us. I’ve rarely worked on a production that was so relaxed and harmonious.”

Various signatures of the Somewhere in Time cast and crew, most acquired during a 20th anniversary event held at Universal Studios.

Any synopsis of the screen story needs to express the deeply emotional performances of Reeve and Seymour (the love on screen between them also extended into their private lives), the sweeping music of John Barry (including Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini”), and the living recreation of 1912 at the hotel. The only way to do all that is through these 13 clips from the movie (all copyright Universal Studios):

Richard Collier at the opening night party of his college play in 1972:

Eight years later, while staying at the Grand Hotel, Richard sees Elise McKenna’s portrait for the first time:

Richard’s research into Elise McKenna’s history reveals a personal shock:

Using his will to transport himself to 1912:

“Is it you?”

Overcoming Elise’s worries about getting to know him:

Richard and Elise spend the afternoon together:

Elise goes off script to confess her feelings to Richard:

Director Jeannot Szwarc comments on the photo session scene, with Richard realizing the smile of Elise in the portrait was meant for him:

While Elise was still performing the play, Robinson had Richard kidnapped. Getting free from the ropes the next morning, Richard rushes back to the hotel only to find the stage company has gone:

SPOILER WARNING – The next three scenes reveal the dramatic ending of the film:

Richard and Elise have a playful meal together but it ends suddenly:

In the present, Richard rushes back to his room and tries vainly to will himself back to Elise in 1912:

Nothing can separate them again:


— 13 QUICK THOUGHTS: Why CHRISTOPHER REEVE Was the Greatest SUPERMAN Ever. Click here.


13th Dimension contributor-at-large PETER BOSCH’s first book, American TV Comic Books: 1940s-1980s – From the Small Screen to the Printed Pagewas published by TwoMorrows. He is currently at work on a sequel, about movie comics. Peter has written articles and conducted celebrity interviews for various magazines and newspapers. He lives in Hollywood.

Author: Dan Greenfield

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  1. Good movie…shocking ending.

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  2. I loved this movie when it came out, I loved it when it played on cable fifteen years ago when my future husband was still out in California and hadn’t moved to me yet (we both watched it on cable that day!) and now that he is deceased the ending of the film holds a special poignance for me and I cannot bear to watch that scene.

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    • Richard Collier doesn’t end up in a wheelchair.

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  3. If you have never been, the island is beautiful.

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  4. Ironic that his character’s last name is similar to that of Bud Collyer who did the voice of Superman on radio.

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  5. This is a wonderful film, and it was my late mother’s all-time favorite movie. She was a big fan of Reeve, which worked out for me, as I could always count on her to take me to see the Superman films. But what a great, heartfelt movie. Everyone is giving it their all. Thank you for spotlighting it.

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  6. Nice piece and a really great film.

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  7. I watched this film on cable when I was a 12 year old boy back in 1981 or so. I watched it solely because Reeve was in it and because my mom was watching it. I could barely tolerate dramas at that age much less a romance, but I watched the whole thing – the time travel aspect hooked me – and the ending blew me away. I loved it. I watched it again as an adult and was more aware of how swooningly romantically over the top it is, but I loved it just the same. That score!! That score! And the performances are fantastic. They commit to the romance and it just works. I read Matheson’s book also and loved that too. Thanks for this post.

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  8. I love this movie. It was penned mercilessly by the critics and was only in the theaters for a short time. But that was vindicated by the fans who watched it on cable and it became a cult classic. There’s a fan network, INSITE, which is dedicated to this film. They meet annually at the Grand Hotel in period garb to celebrate it. Reeve attended in 1994 before his accident.

    INSITE got a star for Reeve on the walk of fame as well as pushed for a 20th anniversary DVD for the movie, which also culminated in a belated premiere for the movie in 2000, 20 years after it came out.

    Reeve will always be Superman for me, and a super hero for all that he had done in his life, before and after his accident.

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