Heavy is the Hand of H.G. Wells, pt 1

by zunguzungu

This 1936 film is Things to Come. And it’s exactly as incoherently bombastic and grandiose as it sounds. Not only is the main city in the first ten minutes called “Everytown,” in a non-ironical way (as in, we hear the announcement “Air raids approaching Everytown!”), and the hearth and home Christmas set-piece that opens the film too horrible for words, but before you’ve recovered from these crimes against aesthetics, there’s this scene:

(Above the cliffs of Dover, approximately a million billion single-wing jets streak across the sky. The camera cuts away to two biplanes locked in combat, now the only two planes in the air. The world’s least exciting dog-fight ensues. One of them shoots down the other. The downed plane drops like a stone, but luckily, the pilot is okay.)

Airman #1 (having landed and now cradling Airman #2’s head in his arms): Why has it come to this? Why are we murdering each other?

Airman #2: Go my friend. That is my gas. It is a bad gas.

(He is, however, not referring to the melodramatic flatulence that passes for dialogue but some kind of bombing raid nearby. Airman #1 struggles to give Airman #2 his gas mask, but out of absolutely nowhere, a little girl runs into frame, and stands there waiting to be aided.)

Airman #2: Give it to her! I’ve given it plenty to others! Why should I not have some myself? Give it to her! I’m done!

(If only it were true. As the others scurry away, Airman #2 goes into a horrible soliloquy about how funny it is that he bombs people with poison gas and then gives them his own gas mask. Soon he starts to strangle on this horribly misguided attempt at ironic insight into the modernist plight of humanity, and the shovel he was using to deliver it, and he has to shoot himself, not a moment too soon. It is a bad gas, indeed).

Things get mildly more interesting once the movie gets seriously into the business of wiping out humanity. After decades of warfare, there’s apparently some kind of bizarre “wandering sickness,” where people who are infected sort of wander around until somebody shoots them. A sizeable chunk of humanity gets wiped out–with a Malthusian logic hamfistedly linked to the black plague of the middle ages and its role in starting the industrial revolution–such that the survivors devolve into warring clans, setting up little petty states in which ludicrous furs are considered the height of fashion. “Everytown” turns into some kind of feudal kingdom and we get to hear both a doctor and an airplane engineer bitching about lacking medicine and petrol. They are quite petulant about how the collapse of civilization has greatly inconvenienced them, and I wish someone would drop poison gas on them.

But this is not to be, for the plane that comes circling in is carrying a character introduced much earlier, way back in the nightmarish parody of a domestic scene that opened the movie, who has since become a member of the “brotherhood of efficiency.” As this expositionary force informs us, a group of engineers have banded together, now calling themselves “Wings over the World” and they apparently fly around the countryside starting civilization over again, sort of like in Star Trek but with much, much worse helmets.

More to come, perhaps; 37 minutes of this dreck has left me a little disoriented and its not even halfway through. I’ve had fever dreams with more consistent plotting and characterization, but then I am interested to find out if it can top itself. Those enormous helmets were a nice touch; I’m hoping we’ll get more of that, and a “dark lady” was just introduced (she’s a brunette, that’s how you know) so maybe the phallic imagery in the background will take a more active hand in the action. Or not, but hope is the only thing that keeps me going here. Stay tuned.