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  • THEY CAME TO A CITY is based on a play by J.B. Preistley and stars Googie Withers and John Clements. It's sort of an "Outward Bound" story of disparate people who find themselves on a road that leads to a monolithic waiting room before a giant door. While waiting, each person explains his/her life, hopes, gripes, etc. When the door finally opens they descend in "the city." We never see it. As they emerge from the city, some are struck by the new social order, happiness of the people, the freedom, etc. while others are repelled by what they see. This utopia seems based on socialist views.

    Coming toward the end of WWII, the story is framed by a couple sitting by a roadside overlooking a manufacturing city. They are arguing about what kind of world will emerge after the war. Will things be different. A man wanders by (J.B. Priestley himself) and he joins in, telling the story of his utopia.

    Those who hate "the city" include a selfish dowager who browbeats her mousy daughter, a man of the landed gentry who lives on inherited money, a ruthless industrialist who makes money in order to make more money, and a jealous wife who hates anyone to has the things she wants. Those who like the city include the mousy daughter, an old charwoman, the henpecked husband, the world-weary barmaid (Withers), and the stoker (Clements) who has searched the world for a paradise.

    While not very cinematic, the overall idea is quite interesting, and the actors (mostly from the stage play) are quite good. Besides Withers and Clements, the film co-stars Raymond Huntley and Renee Gadd as the Strittons, Ada Reeve as the charwoman, Mabel Terry-Lewis and Frances Rowe as the dowager and daughter, A.E. Matthews as the industrialist, Norman Shelley as the landed gentry.
  • I usually enjoy malcolmgsw's reviews but this time we have to agree to differ: I consider this, far from being the worst British film, rather amongst the best. Of course, it depends upon what one considers important, how one views our history and the changes in politics. Not long ago, millions of Brits had a vision of a better and more just way of managing things and hopes for a better life for all. This film may have helped the Attlee government gain power the next year, but now all is lost and gone since Clause 4 was thrown out in 1995. The present generation is unhappy but doesn't seem interested in the hopes which this film is concerned with. The acting and the lighting effects are powerful, so it really wouldn't do to sit with one's eyes shut. Of course, if you're hoping for light entertainment and giggles, this film is not for you. It ought to be mentioned that the verse of poetry is taken slightly out of context: 'I dreamed that was the new city of Friends' with a capital 'F', meaning Quakers. It was about the hopes for the founding of Philadelphia in 1681. When a child, Walt Whitman was deeply influenced by a powerful Quaker preacher, and it shows in verses such as this. I can't imagine Whitman would mind his words being applied to this story.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    This interesting fantasy drama based upon a play by J.B. Priestley (who acts as the film's narrator) is a view of a hopeful new world for some and a nightmare for others. An eclectic group of strangers head on a train to a location of which they are most likely unsure. Their final destination looks like a mountaintop castle with a door that is barred to them. Unexpectedly, one of them noticed a city seemingly miles below their location, and it soon becomes obvious that some of them fear entering the city and refuse to make their way through the door when it finally opens. Arguments arise as to why they should go or stay, and it soon becomes transparent that this is not just an ordinary city, but a final destination.

    The message behind the Priestley play will be different to everybody as this is a thinking man's fantasy, a mixture of ethical, spiritual, political and personal beliefs, based upon class, ambition, greed and humanity. John Clements and Googie Withers headline the cast as a rebellious young man (unsure of what he's rebelling against and why) and a very tired barmaid, more than ready for a rest. Uppity Mabel Terry-Lewis and her daughter Fanny Rowe don't see eye to eye on entering the city, while two stuffy businessmen and a plain talking charwoman offer other theories of why to stay or go.

    Yes, this does come off a bit like a filmed staged play, what is lucious to look at, with the type of art direction that would be later seen in "Stairway To Heaven". It is literary and profound, an excercise in philosophy that some viewers may be put off by. However, the acting is top notch, each characterization an interesting view of the different levels of humanity, and an opening to all sorts of conversation. This may be ripe for an art house revival, because at least there it might find the type of audience to truly appreciate it.
  • malcolmgsw26 February 2011
    Ealing has a reputation for some fine comedies and dramas but alas this is not one of them.It is difficult to know what possessed Michael Balcon to produce this film adaptation of J B Priestleys play.It is really a polemic a social tract not an entertainment and it is little surprise that this film was a disaster at the box office.You could shut your eyes throughout the film,and assuming that you did not fall asleep,you would not miss any of the action.I believe that this must be one of the most boring films ever made by the British film industry.It seems to be calling for an ideal and idealistic world which was probably fine in 1944 but which was not borne out by what happened in the post war world.Whatever you do avoid this film unless you want to suffer terminal boredom.