It's Christmastime 1940 in Everytown. People are happy and enjoying the holiday season but all is shattered when war is declared. Some see war as necessary but John Cabal for one knows there is always a heavy price to pay where war is concerned. As the decades roll by the war continues and in the 1960's the ravages of disease, the Walking Sickness, takes its toll. By the 1970's the disease is gone and society begins to rebuild itself. The return of John Cabal brings hope for the future but even by 2040, there are still those who are prepared to fight to stop progress.
Directed by: William Cameron Menzies
. Starring: Raymond Massey
, Edward Chapman
, Ralph Richardson
, Margaretta Scott
, Cedric Hardwicke
, Maurice Braddell
, Sophie Stewart
, Derrick De Marney
, Ann Todd
, Pearl Argyle
, Kenneth Villiers
, Ivan Brandt
, Anne McLaren
. Music by: Arthur Bliss
?Released in Britain in 1936, as the first drumbeats of World War II began with Hitler's occupation of the Rhineland, Things to Come was an epic science-fiction film, the first of its kind in English, full of presentiments of the coming catastrophe, and exemplary of the idealism of the decade that fueled that catastrophe.
The film opens projecting four years into the future, to 1940, in "Everytown" that looks suspiciously like London. It's Christmas and the world stands at the brink of war. When hostilities break out, troops are mobilized, and we see an eerily prescient depiction of the bombing of the city with mass pandemonium and destruction. Thousands of planes cross the cliffs of Dover, poison gas rains from the sky.
The war drags on for ten and then twenty years. A plague appears, "The Wandering Sickness." By 1966, Everytown is a ruin, the few survivors scratching out a bare subsistence among the rubble. By 1970, the sickness has burned out and an autocratic subsistence society has emerged among the wreckage of the previous civilization. This is the first post- apocalyptic dystopian movie, with horse-drawn autos and airplanes grounded by lack of petrol, small scale warfare continuing on horseback and on foot.
Then from the sky descends a futuristic aircraft piloted by a former resident of the town, played by Raymond Massey. His flight-suit is ridiculous by our standards, but cutting-edge by 1930's criteria. He represents an alliance of the pre-war engineers and mechanics, "Wings Over the World," banded together to reclaim the world from brigandage. Massey waxes poetic in describing his group: "The Brotherhood of Efficiency!, The Freemasonry of Science!"--an end to bosses and the rule of civilization itself. Seeming to be the voice of Light and Order and Science, Massey still represents his own brand of well-intended authoritarianism, banning private ownership of airplanes and local autonomous authority independent of his group. "A conspiracy of bus drivers," as the local boss derisively describes them.
Of course the Old Order and the New Order come to blows, but it's no contest. A flotilla of tremendous futuristic airships, looking like Jack Northrop's B-35 Flying Wing, trundle overhead and the New Order, ironically, gases the town, not with poison but with a gentle sedative mist, "The Gas of Peace." The Old Order quietly euthanized, the New Order paratroops in and sets things aright. "And now for the rule of the air and a new life for mankind," Massey intones to a great fanfare.
On cannot help note, though, that the soldiers of "Wings Over the World," dress in snappy black suits that recall the sartorial flare of the SS. They speak in a dynamic verbiage that the Nazis could have related to. What follows is a montage of the rise of the new age, but its not a placid sight to contemporary eyes, with great machines drilling and excavating and exploding, generators whirring, assembly lines churning, people in futuristic jump suits careening about. It seems that everyone exists just to service machines, wearing isolation suits as if the environment were not entirely healthy.
Flash forward to Everytown in 2036, which is mostly countryside now, with the buildings below ground in great arcades that looks like Bauhaus Art Deco fantasies. Everyone is materially satisfied and walks around in Greco-Roman tunics with padded shoulders, and short-shorts. A giant space-gun is being built to carry man to the moon, but a wave of populist Luddite reaction erupts in fear at the scientist's restless challenge of ever-expanding frontiers. Inflamed by a demagogue, using television, the mob rushes the space-gun, but the young astronauts manage to take off in the nick of time, continuing man's boldly going where no man etc. etc., despite the fact that the entire population of Everytown is storming the facility, placing their lives at risk should the launch proceed. I imagine NASA would have put a hold on the countdown until the Army had cleared all those little blighters off the launch pad, but their leaders fire away, casualties be damned.
What is undeniable by the end is what a profoundly anti-democratic and elitist work this is. The idealized future is seen as a stark and incommodious world where people live underground under artificial light, dressing in spectacularly uncomfortable get-ups that even George Jetson would have trouble carrying off, and jetting about on little hover platforms servicing vast machines. The general populous are seen as either casualties, idiots, or an irrational mob. All enlightenment comes from the few who value the ideals of "engineering and mechanics," and, most importantly, material progress. This elite rules ideologically and autocratically, apparently resorting to the sedative "Gas of Peace" whenever the rabble get out of line. While being portrayed as wise rulers, their unyielding, materialist ideology and willingness to suppress the masses forcibly are not far removed from the authoritarian and totalitarian regimes that sprouted everywhere in the 1930's.
What is most striking about any era is how often lines of thought run in parallel. Just as in our time, waves of bloody-minded religious reaction sweep through many countries, so in the 30's Russia lived a Stalinist nightmare, Germany, Italy and Spain gloried in Fascist fantasies, and the scientific intellectuals in the West toyed with notions of a techno-science elite ruling as philosopher kings. Of course, when the techno-elite were actually convened by government, they opened the Pandora's Box of nuclear weapons and promptly handed it to the bureaucrats. This film is important in the history of film, and also as an example of the occultly frightening dreams of intellectual elitists. It would be repeated in later films such as The Day the Earth Stood Still, When Worlds Collide, and the Star Wars series.
Review by stephenclark1 from the Internet Movie Database.