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THINGS TO COME (director: William Cameron Menzies; screenwriters: from the book The Shape Of Things To Come by H.G. Wells/H.G. Wells/Lajos Biro; cinematographer: Georges Périnal; editors: Charles Crichton/Francis Lyon; music: Arthur Bliss; cast: Raymond Massey (John Cabal/Oswald Cabal), Edward Chapman (Pippa Passworthy/Raymond Passworthy), Ralph Richardson (Rudolf, The Boss), Margaretta Scott (Roxana/Rowena), Cedric Hardwicke (Theotocopulos), Maurice Braddell (Dr. Harding), Maurice Braddell (Dr. Harding), Derrick de Marney (Richard Gordon), Ann Todd (Mary Gordon), Pearl Argyle (Katherine Cabal); Runtime: 92; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Alexander Korda; United Artists; 1936)
“An astonishing black-and-white visualization of Wells’ view of the future.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Producer Alexander Korda’s Things to Come was adapted by H.G. Wells from his own prophetic 1933 essay The Shape of Things to Come. It covers from 1940 through 2036 — a time when war is followed by plague, rebellion, a new progressive glass-based society, and the first moon voyage by rocketship. The film is set in the metropolis of Everytown, a place similar to London. William Cameron Menzies (director of Invaders From Mars and art director for Gone With The Wind, Around the World in 80 Days, and The Thief of Bagdad) directs this epic sci-fi film by squeezing out of it every ounce of joy and any other emotion but, nevertheless, comes up with an ingenious technical bid, an astonishing black-and-white visualization of Wells’ view of the future and a chillingly accurate prophesy for WW II (three years prior to Adolf Hitler’s invasion of Poland in 1939 and the start of WW II).

Since 1940, during Christmas, a string of world wars have left parts of the globe destroyed; localized wars continue as a normal way of life. Idealistic pacifist pilot John Cabal (Raymond Massey) warns that war is no solution to the world’s problems. But bombs destroy the city and the war rages on, and a new Dark Age emerges with the citizens living like moles. As pestilence becomes more widespread, those who wander are shot. The epidemic grinds to a halt just as the humanitarian Dr. Harding (Maurice Braddell) has run out of medicine.

Flying into such a setting, in 1970, is the much older but still wise John Cabal, a spokesperson for the scientific pacifist group Wings Over the World. The moralistic pilot says that scientists are trying to save civilization without bosses and sovereign nations. But he’s arrested by the ruthless tyrannical boss Rudolph (Ralph Richardson), who is only interested in defeating his current enemy and demands planes and poison gas. John’s advice to stop this endless cycle of warfare because it’s futile is resisted by the boss, who only want to use his expertise in building planes so he can replace the horses used in the war with something more efficient. Harding refuses to make poison gas, which further irks the boss. Roxana (Margaretta Scott) advises the boss to talk to John in a more cunning way instead of angering him, and when the boss fails to take her advice she visits John and gets him to build a plane. John turns the plane over to Richard Gordon (Derrick De Marney), a mechanic who believes in world peace. Richard contacts World Communications, a group monitoring the pilot’s mission, and warns about this warlike region. The World Communications drop a non-lethal gas that puts the area to sleep, while the boss is killed in the raid. Planning to build a peaceful place from scratch, John envisions a new day of scientific progress and machines. But the successful regime is eventually challenged by those who feel the human element has been left out of the equation.

In 2036, the sculptor Theotocopulos (Cedric Hardwicke) is an unhappy camper, believing art and humanity has been sacrificed for technology and science, as he exclaims: “What is this progress? What is the good of all this progress onward and onward? We demand a halt. We demand a rest … an end to progress! Make an end to progress ! Make an end to this progress now! Let this be the last day of the scientific age!” In the name of humanity, Theotocopulos leads an attack on the first manned rocketship to the moon. The film grandly concludes with the territory’s political leader, the great-grandson of John Cabal, Oswald Cabal (again Massey), motioning upwards and saying: “All the universe…or nothing. Which shall it be?”

As silly as it was and as cardboard as the acting was, nevertheless it does ask big questions that still concern the world community and leaves one wondering if there will be an organization around in the future that acts to prevent global wars. What was clearly evident, was that Theotocopulos seemed to be onto something about how cold a technological world could be without being married to the world of art.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”