Friday, March 12, 2010
I offered a trivial question a couple of days ago. No replies. See this and then read below.
The film still is from director William Cameron Menzies' adaptation of H. G. Wells' Things to Come released in 1936 staring Raymond Massey, Edward Chapman, Ralph Richardson, Margaretta Scott, Cedric Hardwicke.
A global war begins in 1940. This war drags out over many decades until most of the people still alive do not even know who started it or why. Nothing is being manufactured at all any more and society has broken down into primitive localized communities. In 1966 a great plague wipes out most of what people are left but small numbers still survive. One day a strange aircraft lands at one of these communities and its pilot tells of an organization which is rebuilding civilization and slowly moving across the world re-civilizing these groups of survivors. Great reconstruction takes place over the next few decades and society is once again great and strong. The world's population is now living in underground cities. In the year 2035, on the eve of man's first flight to the moon, a popular uprising against progress gains support and becomes violent.--Kevin Steinhauer.
Things to Come sets out a future history from 1936 to 2036. It is set in the fictional British city of 'Everytown' (based on London; a facsimile of St Paul's Cathedral is in the background).
Successful businessman John Cabal (Raymond Massey) cannot get into the festive spirit of Christmas Day, 1940, what with the ominous news of possible war. His guest Harding (Maurice Braddell) shares his worries, but overly-optimistic friend Passworthy (Edward Chapman) believes it will not come to pass, or even if it does, it will do good by accelerating technological progress. A sneak bombing raid on the city that night results in general mobilization and global war.
Some time later, Cabal, now piloting a biplane fighter, shoots down a small, one-man enemy bomber. He then lands and pulls the badly injured enemy (John Clements) from the wreckage. As they dwell on the madness of war, they hurry to put on their gas masks, as the poison gas the pilot dropped drifts in their direction. When a little girl runs towards them, the wounded man insists she take his mask, saying he is done for anyway. Cabal takes the girl to his aeroplane, pausing to leave the doomed man a gun. The man dwells on the irony that he may have gassed the child's family and yet he has saved her. He then commits suicide.
The war continues for decades, long enough for the wretched survivors to have forgotten who the enemy was or the reasons for it in the first place. Humanity falls into a new Dark Age. The city is in ruins and there is little technology left, other than the small arms used to wage war. In 1966, a plague called the "wandering sickness" is spread by the unnamed enemy using its last few remaining aircraft. Dr. Harding and his daughter Mary struggle to find a cure, but with little equipment, it is hopeless.
By 1970, a local warlord called the "Boss" or the "Chief" (Ralph Richardson) has eradicated the sickness by ruthlessly having those infected shot. He dreams of conquering the "hill people" by getting his reluctant mechanic Richard Gordon (Derrick De Marney) to repair the few remaining biplanes so they can fly again.
On May Day 1970, a futuristic aeroplane lands outside the town. The pilot and sole occupant, John Cabal, emerges and proclaims that the last surviving band of "engineers and mechanics" have formed an organization known as "Wings Over the World". They are building a civilization, based in Basra, Iraq, that has renounced war and outlawed independent nation-states. The Chief takes the pilot prisoner, ignoring the shrewd advice of his mistress Roxana (Margaretta Scott), and forces him to work for Gordon. Together, they manage to fix a biplane. When Gordon takes it up for a test flight, he flees and alerts Cabal's friends.
Wings Over the World attacks Everytown, filling the skies with gigantic aeroplanes and bombing the town with a sleeping gas. The Chief orders his biplanes to repel them, but they are shot down. The people of Everytown awaken shortly thereafter, to find it occupied by the Airmen, and the Chief dead, an unexpected victim of the gas.
A montage sequence follows, showing decades of technological progress and human achievement, beginning with Cabal explaining his plans for global consolidation by Wings Over the World. By 2036, mankind lives in pristine, modern underground cities, of which the new Everytown is one.
However, all is not well. The sculptor Theotocopulos (Cedric Hardwicke) incites the populace to demand a "rest" from the headlong rush of progress, symbolized by the impending first manned flight around the Moon. The modern-day Luddites are opposed by Oswald Cabal (Massey again), the head of the governing council and great grandson of John Cabal. Cabal's daughter Catherine (Pearl Argyle) and her boyfriend Horrie Passworthy insist on flying the spaceship, despite the misgivings of Horrie's father (Chapman again). When maddened crowds rush to destroy the space gun that is to propel the spacecraft, Cabal launches the ship ahead of schedule.
Cabal then delivers a speech to the idea of Progress and humanity's quest for knowledge, asking, "And if we’re no more than animals, we must snatch each little scrap of happiness, and live, and suffer, and pass, mattering no more than all the other animals do or have done. It is this, or that. All the universe or nothing. Which shall it be, Passworthy? Which shall it be?"
Nick Cooper's detailed website
Things to Come film [to view]
or here [to view or download]