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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.

May 14, 1995|ERIC SLATER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Janice Adams was pale and queasy, sitting on the floor with her head between her knees and gulping in deep breaths.

"I think I'm gonna faint," the young, aspiring actress from Attleboro, Mass., said. "I think I'm gonna die."

Adams had just met, touched, had her picture taken with and received the autograph of Jane Seymour, star of television's "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman" and, much more importantly, co-star of the 1980 film "Somewhere in Time."

The more gentle critics called the film a "superficial tear-jerker," and the less delicate dubbed it just plain "horrible."

Yet, homemakers, salesmen and retired school teachers traveled thousands of miles to celebrate the film as the pinnacle of romance cinema.

About 200 fans, members of the International Network of Somewhere in Time Enthusiasts, met Saturday at the Sheraton Hotel in Universal City to watch and discuss the film that many of them call "magic."

Back in 1980, the critics' view of the film prevailed. "Leonard Maltin's Movie and Video Guide" gave the film 1 1/2 stars for "stilted dialogue, corny situations." His two backhanded words of praise: "pretty scenery."

"Somewhere in Time" is the story of a lonely playwright--Christopher Reeve--who falls in love with the sepia-toned portrait of a 70-year-old actress--Seymour--and wishes himself back to 1912 to meet her. The film died quickly and ungloriously at the box office, drowned, the naysayers said, in its own syrup.

"The critics didn't like it so it disappeared," said Bill Shepard, a silver-haired Covina security official who founded the fan club in 1990, one of only a handful of such groups dedicated not to a star, but to a single movie. But, Shepard added, when the film found its way to the cable market in 1981, people "like myself, couldn't watch it enough.

"I get letters from people all the time saying, 'I thought I was the only one who liked this move,' " Shepard said.

Despite its lack of chain-saw mayhem and not a single appearance by quirky character-actor Harry Dean Stanton, "Somewhere in Time" acquired a serious cult following.

Before a viewing of the film and a panel discussion with notables, including the director, writer and actors, members of the fan club perused an eclectic collection of film memorabilia. There was Shepard's self-published book on the making of the film, and another volume of "Somewhere in Time" trivia. Other members of the fan club hawked movie posters from the film's release in China, France and Brazil. And then there were replicas of the portrait of Seymour--$95 framed--that led Reeve's character down his bittersweet trail d'amour .

One man at Saturday's event displayed his scale-model replica of the Grand Hotel on Michigan's Mackinack Island, where the film was shot. Open the miniature and the hotel becomes a music box, chiming the "Somewhere in Time" theme.

David DeLozier, who wooed his wife, Loris, with screenings of the film, suggested it as the perfect test for lovers' compatibility. If one or the other cringes at the lovesick, time-traveling plot, you might as well dump the dolt right then, he said.

So what is it? Why do 600-plus members of the fan club travel each October to Mackinack Island and race to rent the rooms where the filming was done? What is it about this mostly forgotten picture that causes grown men to cry the 10th time they see it? Why did one fan write to the newsletter saying it was more than a coincidence that she married a man named Richard, the name of Reeve's character in the film.

"That's like asking, 'What is love?' " said Bob Simonson of Ridgefield, Conn. All he knows, Simonson said, is "I took it home, watched it, and life hasn't been the same since."

For Seymour, who admits she gets teary-eyed herself during viewings, "It's the ultimate romance, the idea that the person, the one, does exist."

Even after being encouraged by Seymour's husband, actor-director James Keach, to "breathe, breathe," Adams, the hyperventilating actress from Massachusetts, couldn't quite explain the film's appeal.

"I don't know," she said. "I think I should sit."

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