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Things to Come (1936)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment

Main image of Things to Come (1936)
DirectorWilliam Cameron Menzies
Production CompanyAlexander Korda Film Productions
ScriptR.C. Sherriff
 Walter Reisch
PhotographyRudolph Maté

Cast: Raymond Massey (John Cabal/Oswald Cabal); Ralph Richardson (The Boss); Edward Chapman (Pippa Passworthy/Raymond Passworthy); Margaretta Scott (Roxana/Rowena); Ann Todd (Mary Gordon)

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The city of Everytown endures thirty years of gruelling war, famine and disease. But in the distant future Everytown is rebuilt, heralding a new era of scientific progress.

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Released in 1936, Things to Come, adapted by H.G. Wells from his own 1933 science fiction novel The Shape of Things to Come, was the most ambitious production to date from Korda's London Films, and cemented its reputation for producing intelligent drama on an epic scale.

Things to Come was an ambitious project with a vast scope - covering a century of future history - and a scale to match: enormous sets, particularly in the sequences set in 2036, thousands of extras, and imaginative design and editing. Several of the performances are equally impressive, notably Raymond Massey as the messianic Cabal and Ralph Richardson as the thuggish 'Boss', a role he modelled explicitly on Mussolini (the dictator's response was to ban the film outright in Italian cinemas).

However the human story at times feels overshadowed by the design, with the ending, particularly, lacking impact. The film's overwhelming seriousness is a problem, although understandable given the immediate fear of war. But it still has moments of real power, including a subtle and moving scene in which an airman (John Clements) offers his gas mask to a young girl whose town he has just attacked, as well as the dazzling montage of the re-building of Everytown.

Things to Come offered a very different vision of the future to Fritz Lang's classic Metropolis (Germany, 1926), to which it was inevitably compared; Wells was scathing in his criticism of Lang's film, which offered a portrait of a world enslaved by science. By contrast, Wells saw science as a promise of mankind's salvation.

The design of the film presented one of the greatest challenges, particularly the representation of the fabulous Everytown of the future. Wells approached artist Fernand Léger, architect Le Corbusier and Bauhaus legend László Moholy-Nagy before finally settling on in-house talent in the form of Vincent Korda and his own son Frank Wells. Some 90 seconds of Moholy-Nagy's apparently designs made the final cut, but he is not credited.

The film is certainly less glossy and shallow than much of Korda's output, but was not a great success, perhaps because the real threat of war was something people preferred not to be reminded of. Regardless, its relative failure probably confirmed Korda in his preference for lighter subjects. A second Korda/Wells association, The Man Who Could Work Miracles (d. Lothar Mendes, 1937) was notably more whimsical in tone.

Mark Duguid

*This film is the subject of a BFI Film Classics book by Christopher Frayling.

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Video Clips
1. The onset of war (3:37)
2. Wings Over the World (2:06)
3. 'The peace of the strong man' (1:01)
4. Rebuilding of Everytown (2:40)
5. 'Conquest beyond conquest' (1:40)
Original Poster
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Bliss, Sir Arthur (1891-1975)
De Marney, Derrick (1906-1978)
Hardwicke, Sir Cedric (1893-1964)
Korda, Alexander (1893-1956)
Korda, Vincent (1896-1979)
Massey, Raymond (1896-1983)
Menzies, William Cameron (1896-1957)
Périnal, Georges (1897-1965)
Richardson, Ralph (1902-1983)
Todd, Ann (1909-1993)
Alexander Korda and London Films
Science Fiction