Movie

What Went Right With… 12:01 PM (1990)?

A review of 12:01 PM starring Kurtwood Smith

12:01 PM is a short film that was first broadcast on cable television in 1990. It stars Kurtwood Smith as Myron Castleman, an office worker working for a firm named Glamdring & Glamdring. We first meet Castleman as he stands in the middle of the road, wearing a suit and tie, holding a briefcase and looking crestfallen as he stares across the road at a clock on the side of a building. He navigates the street, looking at his reflection in an optometrist window, walks through a park, and sits down to eat his lunch. Aside from the mundanity of life and the repetitiveness of work that all of us feel, Myron is depressed about something altogether different, for he is trapped in a time loop; stuck reliving the same hour of his life – his lunch hour – which begins at 12:01 P.M. hence the title.

Based on the short story by Richard A. Lupoff, 12:01 P.M. is a fantastic piece of television. Kurtwood Smith who you may recognise from other science fiction classics such as RoboCop, Star Trek, and The X-Files, does a great job of playing the dispirited Myron Castleman. When he delivers a line such as “I never knew how short an hour can be” he gives it a sense of pathos that is often missing from TV. If the runtime wasn’t so short, you’d swear you were watching a feature film.

In the United States, 12:01 PM was apparently shown on the Showtime channel as part of an anthology series called “30-Minute Movie”. I recall watching it here in the United Kingdom in the early 1990s (I’m unsure of the exact year). I’m certain that I watched it in the middle of the night on either ITV or the Sci-Fi Channel (before it became “Syfy” and stopped showing genuine science fiction). The fact that British broadcasters might have aired it close to (or possibly after) the release of Groundhog Day, I didn’t realise the importance of this film when I first viewed it.

Of course 12:01 PM did predate Groundhog Day (by three years) and according to the short story’s Wikipedia page, there was a lawsuit given the massive similarities between the two works but it was later dropped. Not only did 12:01 PM come before Groundhog Day, it also predated its copies such as Christmas Do-Over, Source Code, Edge Of Tomorrow, Happy Death Day, as well as the umpteen other time-loop movies that exist.

What some may think of as “Groundhog Day tropes” in which the protagonist experiences the same events in repeated scenes, actually originates from this film. The concept of repeating a portion of your life dates back to films like Repeat Performance (1947) in which a year is the time-frame. In Groundhog Day (1993) a day is repeated but in 12:01 PM (1990) the central character is stuck in an hour which gives this short a sense of urgency.

The whole world has become stuck, everyone’s memory seems to have been wiped but Myron’s memory isn’t erased, in fact he says he’s experienced this hour “30 or 40 times”. At one point, Myron Castleman tries to get a call through to the Tempus Institute. The “Time Bounce” which he’s stuck in was predicted by a scientist named Professor Nathan Rosenbluth who works at the institute but what help can Myron get from him in the space of an hour? Smith plays a rightly depressed human very well, after all, in his situation information can’t be retained, relationships can’t go anywhere, and suicide is pointless, so how else is he supposed to feel?

This is not a comedy. Despite its premise, 12:01 PM has a sense of melancholy to it; something so utterly fantastical is happening to someone with such a mundane life which makes for a very original story. Myron has an ordered suitcase, an organised lunch, but he isn’t in control of his life. There’s a woman named Dolores sitting on a park bench that he finds attractive (Laura Harrington of Maximum Overdrive and Quantum Leap fame), there’s a couple of suited-arseholes being mean to a homeless man. Myron intervenes in these situations but doing so is ultimately pointless.

The finale in which Castleman comes to a philosophical realisation is brilliant to watch and very memorable. The final line “I’m the only one who can change anything… Myron Casserman: God!” is undoubtedly a classic moment. This idea was also copied by Groundhog Day (remember the line “I’m a god, not the God”?) but like I said, there’s no comedy here, there’s no romance and there’s no happy ending (in fact there is no ending). That being said, there is some humour here and there. There’s an amusing quip about Myron’s job (“Seemed like a good idea 23 years ago”) which you could apply to your own dead-end occupation. There’s also the line “The whole world is going cockamamie and what am I doing about it? I’m here eating carrot sticks!”.

The likeability of Kurtwood Smith’s character coupled with the intriguing plot and warm ’90s setting, when 12:01 PM ends you want it to go on for longer. You have to recognise the irony of a half-hour movie tackling an hour-long time-loop but even as a 30 minute short, 12:01 works very well and in my opinion it’s a downbeat, sci-fi classic.

This short has yet to be officially released on either DVD or Blu-ray. The longer but inferior remake from 1993 was released on DVD but this original is nowhere to be found. 12:01 PM was once available as part of a compilation DVD here in the UK but it’s now sadly out of print. Thankfully, someone has uploaded it to Youtube…

This is another terrific TV movie that hasn’t been re-broadcast for more than two decades. Along with other missing films such as Bernard And The Genie and Way Upstream, it begs the question: “what’s with the twats in charge of television?”. There’s so much content that could be released on either physical media or streaming services but they keep recycling contemporary garbage instead of looking in their vaults for gold. Watching TV these days is like we’re stuck in a time loop with crap such as X-Factor and Strictly Come Dancing seemingly showing every day. I have no idea who owns Chanticleer Films or who has the rights to 12:01 PM but can someone out there re-scan this classic in HD and get it out before it’s too late? I’m sick of seeing the same celebs and the same setup on TV every day. It’s getting so monotonous that I might blow my brains out!

Twelve Oh One.

Writing: 8/10

Directing: 8/10

Acting: 8/10

Overall: 8/10

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