Cast: Raymond Massey, Ralph Richardson, Cedric Hardwicke, Pearl Argyle, Margaretta Scott
SUMMARY: It’s Christmas 1940 in Everytown, Britain, but most people are concerned with the threat of war. One of these men is John Cabal (Raymond Massey), who is worried that the outbreak of war will mean destruction on an enormous and devastating scale. His concerns are shared by his friend Harding, but scoffed at by another friend, Passworthy. Passworthy believes that war will not erupt, but even if it does, he thinks it will be good for technological advancement. The same night, the city undergoes an aerial attack; not long after, a global war breaks out. Cabal becomes a pilot, and fights using a biplane. On one occasion, he shoots down an enemy fighter, then lands to check on the man. The enemy is gravely injured, but when he realizes that poison gas is coming their way, Cabal puts on his own masks, and tries to put the other man’s mask on his face. Just then, they notice a little girl running toward them. The injured man insists on giving his mask to the little girl, since he will die anyway. He then muses that he may have gassed the rest of the girl’s family, only to sacrifice himself to save her. Cabal reluctantly takes the girl and walks away, leaving his pistol with the injured pilot. By 1960, the war is still being fought, though few people now remember why. Most of the world’s cities and infrastructure have been destroyed, forcing humans to live in medieval conditions. Rather than advance technology, the war has destroyed nearly all of it. A new disease, called the “wandering sickness” has been developed by the enemy. There is no cure of the illness, and it eventually kills half of the world’s population. In the process, what government remains is also wiped out.
In 1970, Everytown has become a small, independent realm ruled by Rudolf (Ralph Richardson), who is intent on finally destroying his enemies and ending the war. He has stopped the wandering sickness by simply shooting anyone who shows the symptoms. Rudolf’s plan for victory is to rebuild airplanes, so that he can use them to bomb his enemies into submission. Unfortunately, he has few airplanes, most of which don’t work, and no oil or fuel for them. One day, a completely new form of airplane lands outside Everytown. From it emerges John Cabal, who tells the assembled crowd that he represents a group known as “Wings Over the World”, composed of the world’s last remaining pilots and engineers. The goal of the organization is to eliminate independent nations, so that the war can be ended, and humans can live in peace. Rudolf immediately takes Cabal prisoner, then forces him to work with Gordon, a soldier who has been tasked with repairing Everytown’s airplanes. Together, Cabal and Gordon manage to cobble together one airplane, which Gordon flies to the headquarters of Wings Over the World. Once there, he alerts them of Cabal’s prisoner status. The other men of Wings take to their own planes, and spread a sleeping gas over Everytown. Though almost everyone is simply put to sleep, Rudolf dies as the result of a bad reaction to the gas. When the others wake up, they find that the men of Wings have assumed control. Immediately, they begin to modernize the city and promote technological progress. By the year 2036, the world is completely different: humans live in underground cities with extraordinary technology; war is a long-ago memory, and they are preparing to send people into space using a giant gun. However, not everyone is happy with all of this progress, and a rebellion starts to form. The government, which is led by John Cabal’s grandson Oswald Cabal (also Raymond Massey) insists that progress is the only way to live, and decides to launch the space gun, manned by his own daughter Catherine (Pearl Argyle) and her boyfriend Maurice Passworthy ahead of schedule. He is able to do this minutes before the mob attacks the station housing the space gun. Afterward, Cabal and his friend Raymond Passworthy, Maurice’s father, watch the sky and muse on the necessity of constant progress.
MY TAKE: When I started watching this movie, I was really confused, because it has what I supposed to be World War II starting on Christmas of 1940. I knew that for England, the war started in September of 1939, so I couldn’t figure out what was going on. That’s when I checked the release date of the movie. It came out in 1936, so while its prediction of war is fairly accurate, the exact date is not. After that, it obviously differs significantly from history. Unlike in World War I, poison gas was not used in World War II, and it only lasted six years, rather than over 30. It did wreak widespread destruction, particularly in Europe, but technology made huge leaps during that time. The film comes across as a warning, both against war and against the constant drive for progress, but I found it to be pretty uninteresting. The characters are not developed at all – I don’t think I knew the main character’s name until maybe the very end, and even then I wasn’t sure of it. The special effects are pretty cheesy, though they were probably really good at the time (there’s a scene of men parachuting from an airplane that is obviously fake). It’s pretty funny to see the imagined future devices: they resemble cars and designs of the 1950s, rather than what we actually have today. For some reason, in 2036 everybody is basically wearing a toga, instead of pants, which I sincerely hope will not happen. While only about an hour and a half long, the movie seemed to drag on and on for me, since there’s not a coherent plot or relatable characters.