Things to Come  

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Things to Come (also known in promotional material as H. G. Wells' Things to Come) is a 1936 British black-and-white science fiction film from United Artists, produced by Alexander Korda, directed by William Cameron Menzies, and written by H. G. Wells. The film stars Raymond Massey, Edward Chapman, Ralph Richardson, Margaretta Scott, Cedric Hardwicke, Maurice Braddell, Derrick De Marney, and Ann Todd.

H. G. Wells conceived his treatment as "a new story" meant to display the "social and political forces and possibilities" that he had outlined in his 1933 book The Shape of Things to Come, a work he considered less a novel than a "discussion" in fictional form that presented itself as the notes of a 22nd century diplomat. The film was also influenced by previous works, including his 1897 story "A Story of the Days to Come" and his 1931 work on society and economics, The Work, Wealth and Happiness of Mankind. The cultural historian Christopher Frayling called Things to Come "a landmark in cinematic design".


In 1940, businessman John Cabal (Raymond Massey), living in the city of Everytown in southern England, cannot enjoy Christmas Day as the news speaks of possible war. His guest, Harding (Maurice Braddell), shares his worries, while another friend, the over-optimistic Pippa Passworthy (Edward Chapman), believes it will not come to pass, and that if it does, it will accelerate technological progress. An aerial bombing raid on the city that night results in general mobilisation and then global war.

Months later, Cabal, now a Royal Air Force airman piloting a Hawker Fury, shoots down an enemy aircraft dropping gas on the British countryside. He lands and pulls the badly injured enemy pilot (John Clements) from the wreckage. As they dwell on the madness of war, they put on their gas masks, as poison gas drifts in their direction. When a young girl runs towards them the wounded pilot insists she take his mask, choosing to accept death to save her life. Cabal takes the girl to his aeroplane, pausing to leave the doomed man a revolver. The pilot dwells on the irony that he may have gassed the child's family and yet he has sacrificed his own life in order to save her. A gun shot is heard.

The war continues into the 1960s, long enough for the people of the world to have forgotten why they are fighting. Humanity has entered a new dark age, and with every city in the world is in ruins, the economy has been devastated by hyperinflation, and there is little technology left apart from weapons of war. By 1966 the enemy's armies and navies have been defeated, but their greatly depleted air force is deploying a biological weapon called the "wandering sickness" in a final desperate bid for victory. Dr. Harding and his daughter struggle to find a cure, but with little equipment it is hopeless. The plague kills half of humanity and extinguishes the last vestiges of government.

By 1970, the warlord Rudolf (Ralph Richardson), known as the "Boss", has become the chieftain of Everytown and eradicated the pestilence by shooting the infected. He has started yet another war, this time against the "hill people" of the Floss Valley to obtain coal and shale to render into oil so his ragtag collection of prewar planes can fly again.

On May Day, that year, a sleek new aeroplane lands in Everytown, startling the inhabitants who have not seen a new machine in many years. The pilot, John Cabal, emerges and proclaims that the last surviving band of engineers and mechanics known as "World Communications" have formed a civilisation of airmen called "Wings Over the World", based in Basra, Iraq. They have outlawed war and are rebuilding civilisation throughout the Near East and the Mediterranean. Cabal considers the Boss and his band of warlords to be brigands, but offers them the opportunity to join them in rebuilding the world. The Boss immediately rejects the offer and takes Cabal prisoner, forcing him to work for his mechanic Gordon, who struggles to keep the Boss's biplanes airworthy. Gordon takes an Avro 504K up for a test flight and heads for Iraq to alert World Communications.

Gigantic flying wing aircraft arrive over Everytown and saturate its population with sleeping gas globes. The Boss orders his air force to attack, but the obsolete fighters inflict little damage. The people awaken shortly thereafter to find themselves under the control of Wings Over the World and the Boss dead from a fatal allergic reaction to the sleeping gas. Cabal observes, "Dead, and his old world dead with him ... and with a new world beginning ... And now for the rule of the Airmen and a new life for mankind".

A montage follows, showing decades of technological progress, beginning with Cabal explaining plans for global consolidation by Wings Over the World, and by 2036, mankind is now living in modern underground cities, including the new Everytown, and civilisation is at last devoted to peace and scientific progress.

All is not well, however. The sculptor Theotocopulos (Cedric Hardwicke) incites the populace to demand a "rest" from all the rush of progress, symbolised by the coming first crewed flight around the Moon. The modern-day Luddites are opposed by Oswald Cabal, the head of the governing council and grandson of John Cabal. Oswald Cabal's daughter Catherine (Pearl Argyle) and Maurice Passworthy (Kenneth Villiers) insist on manning the capsule. A mob forms and rushes to destroy the space gun, used to propel the projectile toward the Moon. Cabal launches it ahead of schedule.

Later, after the projectile is just a tiny light in the immense night sky, Oswald Cabal delivers a philosophical monologue about what is to come for mankind to his troubled and questioning friend, Raymond Passworthy (Chapman), the father of Maurice. He speaks passionately for progress and humanity's unending quest for knowledge and advancement as it journeys out into immensity of space to conquer the stars and beyond. He concludes with the rhetorical questions, "All the universe or nothing? Which shall it be, Passworthy? Which shall it be? ..."


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