in association with
Time at the Top is a family picture adapted from the award winning young adult's novel by Edward Ormondroyd, whose other best-selling books include Castaways on Long Ago and the sequel All in Good Time. It debuted on Showtime January 17, 1999. It is now available exclusively from Blockbuster Video [click here to go to Blockbuster info].
Fourteen-year old Susan Shaw (Elisha Cuthbert) mysteriously disappears one night from her apartment building in the suburbs of an eastern city. The last persons to see are her Mr. Reynolds, a blind, upstairs neighbor, a retired physicist and widower, for whom Susan reads the mail and newspapers; Mr. Ormondroyd, a mystery writer who meets her in the elevator; and Bodoni, the super, who encounters her in Reynolds' storage locker in the building's basement. After a day of unsuccessfully sifting through puzzling clues, police Detective Gagin finds Susan in Reynolds' apartment. But she won't explain her disappearance to either Gagin or her single-parent father, Frank Shawson (Timothy Busfield). Of course, the audience knows where Susan has been: she's gone back in time to 1881!
After Susan came across a brass plate in Mr. Reynolds' apartment, he asked her to put it in his storage locker. En route, Susan met Ormondroyd in the building elevator, where both noticed that the plate matched the call button cover. By comparing the two covers, Susan discovered that the current plate had an additional opening for what seemed an override key. Interrupted by Bodoni when curiously examining other contents in Reynolds' locker, Susan snuck back down after her father went to bed for a further look. In trying to get away when Bodoni again appeared in the basement but unable to get the elevator to move, Susan tried a key in Reynolds' ring that looked like it might turn in the override slot. It worked, the elevator started, but it stopped on a very strange floor, which happened to be the upstairs of the Walker house in 1881.
As Susan steps out to see where she is, the elevator doors close behind her. Susan turns to discover that the doors have disappeared behind a seamless expanse of flowered wallpaper. Panicked she searches fruitlessly for the call button. Before Susan can find it, she hears footsteps and decides to hide behind some curtains. From there she overhears a brief conversation between a girl her own age, Victoria Walker (Gabrielle Boni), and her mother. Eventually, Susan makes her way down to a garden surrounded by lush countryside. Unable to make sense of anything but having pinched herself to verify it's no dream, Susan eventually encounters Victoria and learns that she has been transported back to 1881. Despite her pleas and one or two items she has with her, Victoria cannot believe that Susan comes from 1998. But the next day, Susan's casual assertion that she thought President Garfield had been assassinated becomes a chilling reality; and Victoria believes. Distracted from her own family's money problems, Victoria helps Susan to figure out that what seems like a remote control for a car alarm incongrously present on the blind Mr. Reynolds' key ring is the way to recall the elevator. With barely time to say goodbye, Susan jumps in and is gone.
Gagin finds Susan in Reynolds' apartment before she can question the physicist about the time machine, so she decides to say nothing. That night she sneaks out again. Not yet knowing that the order in which the call buttons are pushed selects a year, Susan unwittingly goes to 1357 for an exciting encounter with some Algonquin Indians. Retracing her actions to figure out how it works, Susan gets back to 1881 to find Victoria in tears after learning the widowed Mrs. Walker plans to marry for her children's sake. With Victoria and her brother Robert (Matthew Harbour), Susan devises a plan to drive off the fortune-hunting Mr. Sweeney. She pretends to be an upstairs maid dismissed with half wages who lets slip to Sweeney that there is no more fortune to hunt. Challenge number two is to restore the Walker finances.
Susan goes back to the basement for a newspaper article about a cache of gold coins found at a nearby construction site. Assuming that Susan's building and the Walker house occupy the same space at different times, the young trio try to find the coins in 1881. After a frustrating and unsuccessful day, it suddenly dawns on Susan: "I've got a time machine! I can find a better way." Susan takes Victoria with her to 1998. While Victoria marvels at everything from ATMs to minivans to pizza and tacos, Susan goes from merely taking more accurate notes on where the construction site is to researching sound investments of the past on the internet. With that information, Susan and Victoria both go back in time and alter the contents of the Walker's holdings. By buying shares of Anaconda mining in 1879, the 1881 Walkers are far from destitute. A skeptical Robert insists they keep searching for the gold coins, which as a bonus are also unearthed.
It's time for Susan to go back; but somehow the techo-babble of 1998 has lost its allure. Despite her photos, an 1881 newspaper, and other souvenirs, her father cannot believe that she has gone back into time and threatens to ground her for life. Susan's answer is truth or dare: "Take a ride with me in the elevator, Dad, and see for yourself."
The following week, Mr. Ormondroyd and Det. Gagin are discussing the disappearance of both the Shawsons, where Gagin reveals that he has had the FBI lab analyze the newspaper found in the apartment. It contains inking agents not used for 75 years but the acidification suggests a paper less than a month old. The next day Ormondroyd discovers a photo he's found at the local historical society. It's a Victorian family pose, a man and woman, three adolescent children, and an infant. If Gagin could see it, he'd have to admit two of those people look a lot like his missing persons.
LINDA BROOKOVER, Co-Writer