Things to Come
THINGS TO COME
Director: William Cameron Menzies
Production: London Film Productions; black and white, 35mm; running time: 130 minutes, a shorter version of 96 minutes also exists. Released 1936 by United Artists.
Producer: Alexander Korda; screenplay: H. G. Wells and Lajos Biro, from Wells's novel The Shape of Things to Come; photography: Georges Perinal; editor: Charles Crichton; art director: Vincent Korda; music: Arthur Bliss; special effects: Ned Mann; special camera effects: Edward Cohen and Harry Zech; costume designers: John Armstrong, René Hubert and the Marchioness of Queensbery.
Cast: Raymond Massey (John Cabal/Oswald Cabal); Ralph Richardson (The Boss); Edward Chapman (Pippa Passworthy/Raymond Passworthy); Margaretta Scott (Roxana Black); Sir Cedric Hardwicke (Theotocopulos); Maurice Bardell (Dr. Harding); Sophie Stewart (Mrs. Cabal); Derrick de Marney (Richard Gordon); Ann Todd (Mary Gordon); Pearl Argyle (Katherine Cabal); Kenneth Villiers (Maurice Passworthy); Ivan Brandt (Mitani); Anthony Holles (Simon Burton); Allan Jeayes (Mr. Cabal); John Clements (Airman); Pickles Livingston (Horrie Passworthy); Patricia Hilliard (Janet Gordon); George Sanders (Pilot).
Wells, H. G., and Lajos Biro, in The Prophetic Soul: A Reading ofH. G. Wells's Things to Come together with his Film Treatment,Whither Mankind? and the Post Production Script, by Leon Stover, Jefferson, North Carolina, 1987.
Balcon, Michael, and others, 20 Years of British Films, 1925–45, London, 1947.
Johnson, William, editor, Focus on Science Fiction, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1972.
Kulik, Karol, Alexander Korda: The Man Who Could Work Miracles, London, 1975.
Barsacq, Leon, Caligari's Cabinet and other Grand Illusions: A History of Film Design, New York, 1976.
Parish, James Robert, The Science Fiction Pictures, Metuchen, New Jersey, 1977.
Korda, Michael, Charmed Lives, London, 1979.
Stover, Leon E., The Prophetic Soul: A Reading of H.G. Wells'sThings to Come, Together with His Film Treatment, WhitherMankind? and the Postproduction Script, Jefferson, 1987.
Frayling, Christopher, Things to Come, London, 1995.
O'Connor, Garry, Ralph Richardson: An Actor's Life, New York, 1999.
Greene, Graham, in Spectator (London), 28 February 1936.
New Statesman and Nation (London), 29 February 1936.
Variety (New York), 4 March 1936.
Time (New York), 6 April 1936.
New York Times, 18 April 1936.
Campbell, Colin, "The Producer: Sir Alexander Korda," in Sight andSound (London), Summer 1951.
Gilliat, Sidney, Graham Greene, and Ralph Richardson, "Sir Alexander Korda," in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1956.
Stein, Jeanne, "Raymond Massey," in Films in Review (New York), August-September 1963.
Cowie, Peter, "Korda," in Anthologie du cinéma 6, Paris, 1965.
Roman, Robert, "Cedric Hardwicke," in Films in Review (New York), January 1965.
Coulson, Alan, "Ralph Richardson," in Films in Review (New York), October 1969.
McFeeley, Connie, in Magill's Survey of Cinema 4, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1980.
American Cinemeditor (Los Angeles), Summer-Fall 1983.
Reid's Film Index (Wyong), no. 15, 1995.
Burr, Ty, in Entertainment Weekly, no. 335, 12 July 1996.
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One of the most characteristic aspects of science fiction in the 1930s is its being influenced by another fantastic genre—horror—so intensively that in many cases it is hardly possible to establish a dividing line between these two categories of fantastic creation. There are very few movies which are exclusively devoted to considering scientific and societal evolution in terms of an extrapolation into the future. An exception is the English film of 1936, Things to Come. The book on which the film is based, The Shape of Things to Come, is a speculative continuation of H. G. Wells's The Outline of History and is, according to the author, "basically an imaginative discussion about social and political forces and possibilities." The story of the movie covers a period of 100 years of civilization. It begins in 1940, in a time permeated by fear of an imminent war which finally explodes and lasts 25 years. During that period, the entire globe is devastated and almost all of mankind exterminated. However, the human will and spirit remain active, and so at the end of the book, in 2040, a completely different world is depicted, in which human hardships have been eliminated and man is assured of all his material as well as mental needs. Progress is unrelenting as mankind plans to leave Mother Earth and take over the universe.
Wells's work fascinated and still fascinates readers by its original images of the future. Wells himself, however, valued more highly his scientific studies than his fiction, and so the speculative aspect of Things to Come receives more attention than the story. The plot of the film proceeds from Wells's assumption that a war will mean the end of the Western civilization. The structure of the story is based on a conflict of two forces always present in humanity's evolution. One of them represents chaos and regression and encourages man's barbaric nature; and the other represents order, healthy reasoning, scientific progress. When these forces collide, science and intellect win although this victory will always be threatened by other pressures, due to our imperfect understanding of how best to invest our human resources.
Wells, who wrote the screenplay, was not able to transfer his ideas, opinions, or doubts into a form which would utilize all the components of the psychic process involved during the perception of a movie. Only the spectator's intellect and reason are called upon, his emotions remain untouched. In the film, the characters are not people of flesh and blood; they are merely symbols of various ideological convictions. They do not furnish the spectator with an opportunity to penetrate into the soul and mind in order to identify with them. Director William Cameron Menzies, who was working with actors for the first time, was unable, because of his lack of experience, to influence the movie's screenplay as much as the production design. He concentrates fully on the visual aspect of the movie, its structuralizations, sets, and special effects. From this point of view, the film attracted well-merited attention and, till the present time, has kept its place in film history precisely for its remarkable formal design. Cameron Menzies thoughtfully composed the movie's space; his plastic fantasy triumphs especially in his presentation of a city of the future where he exhibits a sense of balance and visual contrast. The sets dominate the action as well as the characters who, deprived of their psychological hinterland, become the compositions's style-creating element. The refined sophistication of Ned Mann's special effects and his extraordinary miniature models and buildings give the impression of a "life size" dimension, and create a sense of unity of space and man. Some objects look real and concrete although they are a product of more fantasy, such as the machine by which the new city is built, or the attack of delta-winged airplanes which he used despite the protests of contemporary experts. Wells in his screenplay revealed a spirit of vision not only in details but also in basic principle—he announced the coming of the Second World War. The English public received the idea of an air attack on London with laughter; after a few years, however, this fiction became reality.
The filming of this ambitious movie devoured a significant sum of money. The producer never recovered his investment, but Things to Come remains a testament to its creator's thoughtful examination of mankind's path into the future, and it occupies an important place in the history of the science fiction genre.
Things to Come
Things to Come ★★★½ 1936
Using technology, scientists aim to rebuild the world after a lengthy war, followed by a plague and other unfortunate events. Massey and Scott each play two roles, in different generations. Startling picture of the world to come, with fine sets and good acting. Based on an H.G. Wells story, “The Shape of Things to Come.” 92m/B VHS, DVD . GB Raymond Massey, Margaretta Scott, Ralph Richardson, Cedric Hardwicke, Derrick DeMarney, Maurice Braddell; D: William Cameron Menzies; W: H.G. Wells; C: Georges Perinal; M: Arthur Bliss.