Saturday Night Cinema: “Things to Come” an Ode To Post America

Things to Come (1936) is a British science fiction film produced by Alexander Korda and directed by William Cameron Menzies. The screenplay was written by H. G. Wells and is a loose adaptation of his own 1933 novel The Shape of Things to Come and his 1931 non-fiction work, The Work, Wealth and Happiness of Mankind. The film stars Raymond Massey, Ralph Richardson, Cedric Hardwicke, Pearl Argyle and Margaretta Scott.

The cultural historian Christopher Frayling calls Things to Come “a landmark in cinematic design.”

Things to Come sets out a future history from 1940 to 2036. It is set in the fictional British city of ‘Everytown’. Successful businessman John Cabal (Raymond Massey) cannot enjoy Christmas Day, 1940, with the ominous news of possible war. His guest Harding (Maurice Braddell) shares his worries, but over-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 bombing raid on the city that night results in general mobilization and global war.

Some time later, Cabal, now piloting a biplane, shoots down a one-man enemy bomber. He lands and pulls the badly injured enemy (John Clements) from the wreckage. As they dwell on the madness of war, they have to put on their gas masks, as poison gas 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 revolver. The man dwells on the irony that he may have gassed the child’s family and yet he has saved her. He then shoots himself.

The war continues for decades, long enough for the survivors to have forgotten why they are fighting in the first place. Humanity enters a new Dark Age. The world is in ruins and there is little technology left apart from the firearms 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.

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