(Movies we are watching for History of Graphic Design.)
Things to Come (1936 / British)
Things to Come sets out a future history from 1940 to 2036. In the screenplay, or “treatment” that Wells published in 1935, before the film was released, the story ends in the year “A.D. 2054”.) 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, while his other friend, the over-optimistic 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 mobilisation 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 into the 1960s, long enough for the people of the world 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 biological weapon called the “wandering sickness” is used by the unnamed enemy in a final desperate bid for victory. Dr. Harding and his daughter Mary struggle to find a cure, but with little equipment, it is hopeless. The plague kills half of humanity and extinguishes the last vestiges of central government.
By 1970, a local warlord called the “Chief” or the “Boss” (Ralph Richardson) has risen to power in southern England and eradicated the sickness by shooting the infected. He dreams of conquering the “hill people” to obtain coal and shale to render into oil so his biplanes can fly again.
On May Day 1970, a futuristic aeroplane lands outside the town. The sole pilot, John Cabal, emerges and proclaims that the last surviving band of “engineers and mechanics” have formed a civilisation called “Wings Over the World”. They are based in Basra, Iraq, and have renounced war and outlawed independent nations. The Boss takes the pilot prisoner and forces him to work for Gordon, a mechanic working on repairing the few remaining aeroplanes. Together, they manage to fix a plane. When Gordon takes it up for a test flight, he flees to alert Cabal’s friends.
Wings Over the World attacks Everytown with gigantic aeroplanes and drops sleeping gas bombs on the town. The Boss orders his biplanes to attack but they are shot down. The people of Everytown awaken shortly thereafter, to find it occupied by the Airmen and the Boss dead.
A montage follows, showing decades of technological progress, beginning with Cabal explaining plans for global consolidation by Wings Over the World. By 2036 (or 2054 in the book), mankind lives in modern underground cities, including the new ‘Everytown.’
However, all is not well. The sculptor Theotocopulos (Cedric Hardwicke) incites the populace to demand a “rest” from the rush of progress, symbolised by the first manned flight around theMoon. The modern-day Luddites are opposed by Oswald Cabal (Massey again), the head of the governing council and grandson of John Cabal. Oswald Cabal’s daughter Catherine (Pearl Argyle) and her boyfriend Horrie Passworthy insist on flying the spaceship. When a mob rushes to destroy the space gun used to propel the spacecraft, Cabal launches the ship ahead of schedule.
At the conclusion of the film, Oswald Cabal delivers a speech about Progress and humanity’s quest for knowledge. “CABAL: ‘. . . for MAN no rest and no ending. He must go on—conquest beyond conquest. This little planet and its winds and ways, and all the laws of mind and matter that restrain him. Then the planets about him, and at last out across immensity to the stars. And when he has conquered all the deeps of space and all the mysteries of time—still he will be beginning. . . . If we’re no more than animals—we must snatch at our little scraps of happiness and live and suffer and pass, mattering no more—than all the other animals do—or have done. (He points out at the stars.) It is that—or this? All the universe—or nothingness. . . . Which shall it be?”
Foreign Correspondent (1940 / American)
The editor of the New York Globe (Harry Davenport) is concerned about the “crisis” in Europe, the growing power of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany, and the inability of celebrated foreign correspondents to get answers about whether or not war will ensue. After searching for a good, tough crime reporter for a fresh viewpoint, he appoints Johnny Jones (Joel McCrea) as a foreign correspondent, under the pen name Huntley Haverstock.
The reporter’s first assignment is Stephen Fisher (Herbert Marshall), leader of the Universal Peace Party, at an event held by Fisher in honour of a Dutch diplomat named Van Meer (Albert Bassermann). On the way to the party, Haverstock sees Van Meer entering the car that is to take him to the party, and runs to interview him; Van Meer invites him to ride along. At the party, Haverstock meets Fisher’s daughter, Carol (Laraine Day). Van Meer disappears mysteriously. Later, Fisher informs the guests that Van Meer, who was supposed to be the guest of honor, will not be attending the party; instead he will be at a political conference in Amsterdam.
At the conference, Van Meer is shot in front of a large crowd by a man disguised as a photographer. Haverstock commandeers a car to follow the assassin‘s getaway car. The car he jumps into happens to have in it Carol and Scott ffolliott (George Sanders), another reporter, who explains that the capital letter in his surname was dropped in memory of an executed ancestor. The group follows the assassin to a windmill in the countryside.
While Carol and ffolliott go for help, Haverstock searches the windmill and finds a live Van Meer; the man who was killed was an impostor. The old man has been drugged and is unable to tell Haverstock anything. Haverstock is forced to flee when the kidnappers become aware of him. By the time the police arrive, the villains have escaped with Van Meer in an airplane.
Later, back at Haverstock’s hotel room, two spies dressed as policemen arrive to kidnap him. When he suspects who they really are, he escapes out the window and into Carol Fisher’s room.
Haverstock and Carol board a British boat to England, and while a furious storm thunders overhead, he proposes to her. In England, the two go to Carol’s father’s house, where Haverstock sees a man whom he recognizes as one of the men at the windmill. He informs Fisher, but Fisher ignores him, saying that he will send a bodyguard to protect him. However, the bodyguard Rowley (Edmund Gwenn) repeatedly tries to kill Haverstock instead. When the assassin tries to push him off the top of the Westminster Cathedral tower, Haverstock steps aside just in time and Rowley plunges to his death instead.
Haverstock and ffolliott are convinced that Fisher is a traitor, so the two come up with a plan, with Haverstock taking Carol to the countryside, while ffolliott pretends she has been kidnapped to force Fisher to divulge Van Meer’s location. However, Haverstock and Carol argue, and she returns to London. Just as Fisher is about to fall for ffolliott’s bluff, he hears her car pull up.
Ffolliott follows Fisher to a hotel where Van Meer is being held. Just as Van Meer is being forced to divulge the information the organization wants, ffolliott distracts the interrogators. When Haverstock arrives, Fisher and his bodyguards escape, leaving Van Meer behind. Van Meer is rushed to the hospital in a coma.
In the meantime, England and France have declared war on Germany. Then, while the group are on a Short Empire plane to America, Fisher confesses his deeds to his daughter. Despite this, Carol blames Haverstock for not really loving her and only wanting to pursue her father. He protests that he was just doing his job as a reporter. Seconds later, the plane is shelled by a German destroyer and crashes into the ocean. The survivors perch on the floating wing of the downed plane. Realizing that it cannot support everyone, including his daughter, Fisher sacrifices himself by allowing himself to drown. Jones and ffolliott attempt to save him, but are unsuccessful. Shortly after, they are picked up by an American ship, the Mohican, from which, over the phone and over the objections of the captain who is concerned to maintain American neutrality, they relate their whole story. Later, back in London, Haverstock and Carol do a radio broadcast to the US, while London is being bombed, warning them about what Germany is doing.
Wooden Crosses (1932 / French)
The young and patriotic student Demachy joins the French army in 1914 to defend his country. But he and his comrades soon experience the terrifying, endless trench war in Champagne, where more and more wooden crosses have to be erected for this cannon fodder.
The Great Dictator (1941 /American)
The action starts in 1918, with the collapse of the Tomainian (German) army, and a Jewish barber saving the life of a wounded pilot, Schultz, but losing his own memory through concussion.
Fast-forward twenty years, and the barber escapes from his care-home to return to the ghetto, now governed by stormtroopers reporting to Schultz, who has been promoted in the Tomainian regime under the ruthless dictator Hynkel, who looks like an identical twin of the barber (both played by Chaplin).
As Hynkel orders a purge of the Jews, Schultz protests about this new policy, and is jailed, before escaping to hide in the ghetto with the barber and his girlfriend Hannah. The stormtroopers then search the ghetto, arresting Schultz and the barber, while Hannah and her family escape to freedom in Osterlich (Austria). But after a failed attempt at making an ally of Napaloni (Mussolini), Hynkel invades Osterlich, and the Jewish family find themselves living under his regime after all.
Escaping from the camp in stolen uniforms, Schultz and the barber arrive at the Osterlich frontier, where a huge parade is waiting to be addressed by Hynkel, who has just been mistaken for the barber while out duck-shooting in civilian clothes, and promptly arrested. Schultz tells the barber to go up to the platform and pretend to be Hynkel, as the only way to save their lives.
The terrified barber mounts the steps, but is suddenly inspired to seize the initiative. Announcing that he (apparently Hynkel) has had a change of heart, he makes an impassioned plea for brotherhood and goodwill. Finally he addresses a message of hope to Hannah, in case she can hear him, wherever she is. To her astonishment, working as a slave-labourer, she hears the broadcast: “Look up, Hannah. The soul of man has been given wings, and at last he is beginning to fly. He is flying into the rainbow — into the light of hope, into the future, the glorious future that belongs to you, to me, and to all of us.” 
There Was a Father (1942 / Japan)
Shuhei Horikawa (Chishu Ryu) works as a mathematics schoolteacher in a middle school. A widower, he has a ten-year-old son named Ryohei (Haruhiko Tsuda), who studies in the same school. While taking his class out for excursion one day, one of his pupils drowns after running off with a classmate on a secret boat trip. Shuhei blames himself for the accident, and quits his teaching job out of remorse.
Years pass. The 25-year-old Ryohei (Shuji Sano) has finished college and himself becomes a schoolteacher in Akita. Shuhei now works as a clerk in a Tokyo textile factory and the two meet occasionally. Ryohei has thoughts of quitting his teaching job to join his father at Tokyo, but Shuhei rebukes him for not doing what his duty decrees. Ryohei takes a ten-day vacation to join his father in Tokyo. Together with retired headmaster Makoto Hirata (Takeshi Sakamoto), Shuhei attends a get-together with his former pupils and the group reminisce about their school days. When Shuhei returns home, he suffers a stroke and is admitted to the hospital. Asking Hirata’s daughter Fumiko (Mitsuko Mito) to take care of his son, he dies soon after. The final scene shows Ryohei and his new wife Fumiko returning to Akita, with the urn containing his father’s ashes resting on the luggage rack; the two has agreed to live together with Hirata and Fumiko’s younger brother.
The Children are Watching Us (1944 / Italy)
As the movie begins the viewer is introduced to Pricò, a young Italian boy who lives with his parents in a middle-class household. His mother, Nina, takes him to a local park where he enjoys his time out while watching a puppet show, but is also concerned with a handsome lover named Roberto (with whom Nina has shared a past romance) courting his mother while he is assumed to not be paying attention. As the boy returns home, the family has dinner while Pricò reflects on his day in the park. Later that night, after his mother puts him to bed, she runs off with the stranger, leaving Pricò’s father distressed at the idea of having to raise his son himself. While their neighbors share a number of rumors concerning the disappearance of Nina, it is quickly agreed that she ran off with another man. While concerned with her disappearance, Nina quickly returns to the home after a few days for the sake of their son. While the father, Andrea, is not entirely pleased with this arrangement, he relents so that his son may grow up in the same house as his mother.
To distance herself from Roberto, Nina and Andrea agree to go on vacation with their son to a nearby beach hotel. The vacation occupies their time, seemingly happy with the prospect of a reunion. After Andrea says that he must go back home to his job, he suggests that Nina stay with Pricò a few extra days that they may enjoy their time. After leaving, Nina is again pursued by Roberto who shows up unexpectedly at a hotel dance, at first successfully keeping him away. But after yielding to him once again, Pricò is dismayed by her lack of faith. After Pricò runs away, he is eventually brought back by the police officers while the hotel residents quickly start their own rumors as to the cause of his departing.
After Pricò and his mother return to their home town, Nina tells him outside their home to go on up and that she’ll be up after going on an errand. When Pricò goes to see his father upstairs, he and his father realize the truth of why Nina is not there. Again distressed at the elopement of his wife, Andrea enrolls Pricò in a boarding school. While his son is away, Andrea kills himself in despair. When Pricò is told of the death at the school, both his mother and faithful maid are there to comfort him. Though very young, Pricò understands the nature of his mother, refusing to go to her for comfort in favor of his maid. The film ends with Pricò walking off, refusing to acknowledge his mother.