May 19, 1972 ... opening night of a new play at Millfield College. At the post-production party given for student author Richard Collier, (Christopher Reeve), an old woman (Susan French) appears and walks up to him.
She places an antique watch in Richard's hands and quietly whispers, "Come back to me." She then mysteriously disappears. The woman has returned to the nearby Grand Hotel, walking past her secretary, Laura Roberts, as if she isn't even there. She goes to a rocking chair and listens to a beautiful piece of classical music. Suddenly, her chair comes to a stop.
We are now taken to 1979. Richard Collier, now a successful playwright, struggles as he works on his latest production. Recently broken up from girlfriend, he decides to return to the place of his greatest success ... Millfield College. He checks into the Grand Hotel.
Richard is shown to his room by an elderly bellman named Arthur, who shares with Richard his own arrival at this beautiful hotel in 1910, when his father was employed there. Richard visits the Hall of History, where historic hotel memorabilia is on display. Richard is drawn to portrait of a beautiful woman. The image seems to hold him captive, and he feels she is trying to communicate to him through the photograph. He asks Arthur who she was, and is told that she was Elise McKenna (Jane Seymour), a famous actress who starred in a play at the hotel theatre in 1912.
Richard goes to the library, where he reads anything he can find pertaining to the actress ... she never appeared in public, was never quoted in the press, never married. Her early career was devoted to comedy, although her fame was later hightened by the world's great tragic pieces. Elise McKenna died on May 19, 1972. When he sees a photo of the actress in her later years, Richard realizes she was the same woman who gave him the gold watch.
Her former secretary, Laura Roberts, is now the author of Elise McKenna's biography and lives near the Grand Hotel. Richard goes to see her, but at first she is not forthcoming with much information concerning her former employer. When Richard takes the watch from his pocket, Laura realizes that it is the same watch that disappeared the night Elise McKenna died, eight years previously.
Laura Roberts now answers Richard's questions about the actress and tells him of her overpowering manager, William Fawcett Robinson (Chrisopher Plummer). She shows Richard some of Elise's belongings, including a report entitled Travels Through Time, written by Dr. Gerald Finney, a professor at Millfield College. Laura shares that Elise often read books dealing with time travel. She shows Richard a music box Elise had made, a miniature of the Grand Hotel. When the lid is lifted, it is plays Richard's favorite classical tune.
Richard goes to see Dr. Finney and asks about time travel. The professor tells him that in order for the experiment to be a success, one would have to disassociate themselves entirely from the present day by removing anything having to do with the present day. Richard is now determined. He buys a turn-of-the-century suit and hat, and cuts his hair to a style befitting the era. He replaces his current money with early 20th century coins. He records a message to himself ("You're lying on a bed in the Grand Hotel, and it's June 27, 1912. Your mind accepts this absolutely..."), but the project is not successful, and Richard spends a restless night, repeatedly returning to the McKenna portrait.
On an impulse, he wakes up Arthur and asks to to be taken to the hotel attic. There, Richard finds the old hotel registers and learns that Elise McKenna checked into Room 117 on June 12, 1912. Looking down the page, he sees his own signature registered into Room 416 at 9:18 a.m. the next day.
He returns to his room, once again dresses in his antique suit and makes one more attempt to will himself into the past.
This time he is successful!
The Grand Hotel lobby is alive with elegant guests at the height of the summer season. Richard sees a little boy being scolded by the desk clerk and realizes that this child the five-year old Arthur.
Richard quickly goes to Room 117, but is told by Elises's maid that Miss McKenna is out. He then goes to the theater, where rehearsals are in progress. One of the actress suggests he look by the lake, where Elise often goes for a walk.
As he approaches by a grove of trees, he and Elise make eye contact, and she asks the famous question ... "Is it you?"
Before there is time for anything else, Robinson (her manager) calls for Elise to come for dinner. Richard follows them to the dining hall. Elise is on the dance floor, and when Richard cuts in, Robinson asks the manager to remove him.
But Elise informs Robinson that she will leave with Richard and return shortly. She and Richard talk for a few moments, and she returns to the dining hall. When they return to Elise's suite, Robinson warns her about Richard (who at the moment is sleeping on the front veranda of the hotel, waiting to check in at the appointed time the next morning).
The next morning, Richard knocks at Elise's door and asks her to breakfast. She agrees to meet him. He is waiting for her when Robinson arrives. Richard recognizes that the manager is trying to intimidate him, but it isn't working. Richard leaves to go to the registration desk, and checks in at precisely 9:18 a.m. Everything is right on schedule.
That afternoon, Richard and Elise go for a carriage ride, attempting to avoid Robinson. They go for a ride on the lake in a row out and get to know each other better. Elise tells that Robinson had predicted that a strange man who would change her life. She also informs him that the acting troupe is leaving the next day. Richard pleads for more time with her, and she takes him back to her suite where they share their first kiss. Robinson interrupts and tells Richard to leave. Elise defends Richard, and tells him that she will leave a ticket in his name at the theatre door for the evening's performance.
That night, knowing Richard is in the audience, Elise replaces her lines with a declaration of her love for him. Richard sits spellbound from his second row seat, while Robinson angrily leaves the theatre. Robinson exits the wings in a huff.
Between acts, Elise poses for a photographer. When she sees Richard enter the room, her love for him shines through her expression, and the photographer captures the look. It becomes the portrait that later hangs in the hotel's Hall of History.
During the next act, Richard receives a message from Robinson to meet him outside. Robinson informs Richard that HE discovered Miss McKenna and has groomed her into what she has become. He further informs him that he will let nothing take her away from him, even though Richard tells him that he would never interfer with Elise's career. On orders from Robinson, two stage works grab Richard and leave him beatne and tied in the hotel stable.
Aware that Richard is no longer in the audience, Elise takes only one curtain call. She rushes to her room, where Robinson falsely tells her that Richard has not only left the hotel, but also her life.
The next morning, Richard is conscious. He frees himself and immediately goes to Elise's suite. But the acting company has checked out. Devestated, he goes outside and sits in front of the hotel. Suddenly, he hears her call out to him. Together once more, Richard and Elise return to her suite, where they make love.
Afterward, they have a romantic picnic on the floor of her room. Elise wants to marry him, and says she would buy him a new suit as an engagement gift. Richard teases in return and puts on his jacket. Going through one of the pockets, he removes a coin and looks at it. It is a 1979 penny. The past is now taken from him, as he sees Elise, crying out for him, slowly fade from view. Richard has returned to the present.
He returns to his own room, where he once more tries to will himself back to Elise, with no success. He visits the places where they had spent their time together. He then goes back to his room, where he collapses in a chair.
Arthur finds Richard in a near comatose state of being, and sends for a doctor to help him. But Richard is beyond all hope.
Suddenly Richard sees Elise beckoning to him. She has returned to him! His spirit rises from the chair, to join his true love forever.
Be sure to get the 20th Anniversary DVD or Video while it's still available!
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