It’s been a few years since I last saw this old science fiction film. The screenplay was written by H. G. Wells based on his story of the same name. And it has some distinguished British Shakespearean actors in the persons of Ralph Richardson and Cedric Hardwicke. But it also has Raymond Massey who can chew up scenery with the best of them.
The plot is remarkably realistic at the start. A Second World War begins in 1940 (this was made in 1935) and goes on for decades killing off most of humanity. Then a plague finishes off the majority of the survivors and throws humanity into a virtual dark age where isolated communities battle for the meager resources that remain in what is practically a pre-industrial age. In a section of England Ralph Richardson portrays a “Chief” who controls his villages as a rough and ready princeling battling the surrounding mini-states for control of the food and other resources. Suddenly an advanced airplane lands and Raymond Massey reveals that a scientific community has survived the war and is re-establishing civilization and putting an end to nation-states. He is taken prisoner by the chief but the writing is on the wall and eventually Massey’s friends show up with aircraft that looks like something out of a Buck Rogers serial. They use the “gas of peace” to knock out the population and shepherd them into the Global Socialist Future complete with “science.” We are then regaled with the wonderful futuristic science and engineering marvels that allow the world to be converted into a paradise on earth.
Flash forward fifty years and everyone lives underground and the world is a garden of delights where no one seems to work very hard or gets sick and everyone is happy, sort of like San Francisco but without the human feces everywhere. The descendant of Raymond Massey, who looks remarkably like Raymond Massey, is working on the Space Gun that will shoot a space capsule around the Moon. But Cedric Hardwicke won’t have it. He rallies the non-scientists (actors and hair stylists) to attack the Space Gun and destroy it with their own soft and well-manicured hands. Raymond Massey takes his helicopter and races the mob to the Space Gun and loads his daughter and her boyfriend into the bullet just in time to fire them into space and coincidentally allow the shockwave from the firing of the gun to murder all the raging doofuses attempting to stop him.
Then Massey gives a monologue that goes on and on. It’s a panegyric to progress. We’ll go to the Moon and colonize it and out to the planets and then onto the stars. We’ll never stop. It’s all or nothing. There’s even a choir at the end. I think they were repeating “all or nothing.” For someone who is a big fan of the space program he managed to make it sound unhinged even to me.
Here’s my take. The beginning of the movie is frighteningly prescient. He saw the rest of the twentieth century coming. That was right on the nose. But Wells was a socialist. Basically he might as well have been doing forward work for Stalin. All that was missing was the hammer and sickle. His belief that the socialists would build some kind of scientific utopia was laughably misguided. And the smugness of the Massey character made me immediately think of Barack Obama. All he needed to do to make the effect perfect would have been to say a couple of times “it’s not who we are.” Honestly, I was solidly behind the “Chief” character and would gladly have put up with the lice and dysentery to avoid having to hear the speeches about “science.”
This really is a period piece and worth seeing just to get a flavor for what the British socialists thought the future should be. It’s very enlightening. And the histrionics by Massey are so over the top that they’re really quite funny to see and hear.