They Came to a City (1944)

77m, 6992 feet
35mm film, black and white, 1.37:1
mono (RCA), English

A British fantasy film directed by Basil Dearden.

Plot Summary

A young couple, both in uniform, are spending a lazy afternoon in the countryside debating what life will be like after the war comes to an end. He's cynical, unsure that anything of lasting good will come the conflict, she's more optimistic. An older man arrives to tell them the bulk of the story in flashback. Nine people, most of them strangers to each other and all from different walks of life, are taken out of their daily lives by a never revealed force and deposited in a mist-shrouded interzone. Joe Dinmore is a sailor and lapsed revolutionary; Alice an embittered and cynical barmaid; Mr and Mrs Stritton are an unhappily married upper middle-class couple; Mrs Barley an old working class woman; Sir George Gedney an aristocrat happier shooting things than dealing with other people; Lady Loxfield an upper class older woman who henpecks her compliant daughter Philippa; and Mr Cudworth, the I'm-all-right-Jack businessman looking for the next avenue to easy money. The group find themselves on a set of steps that lead up to an ornately decorated door embedded in an unidentifiable structure in the middle of nowhere on a high ledge overlooking a fabulous city far below them. The door eventually opens and those who pass through to visit the city return either captivated and inspired or utterly repelled by what appears to be the socialist utopia they find there. Some of the group decide to return to the city for good, some to return to the “real” world to spread news of what they saw, others just to just walk away and try to pretend that it all never happened.


* = uncredited

Directed by: Basil Dearden
Copyright MCMXLIV [1944] by Ealing Studio Limited
Ealing Studios present
Produced by: Michael Balcon
Associate Producer: Sidney Cole
Production Supervisor: Hal Mason
Screen Play: Basil Dearden, Sidney Cole, J.B. Priestley
Based on the Play by: J.B. Priestley [credited in possessory above title]
2nd Assistant Director: Rowland Douglas *
3rd Assistant Director: Claude Hudson *
Continuity: Elaine Schreyeck *
Photography: Stan Pavey
Camera Operator: A. Dempster [real name: Austin Dempster]
Focus Puller: Alan Hume *
Clapper Loader: Michael Shepherd *
Editor: Michael Truman
1st Assistant Editor: Irene Langer *
Music Selected from “The Divine Poem” of [Alexander] Scriabin
Played by: The London Philharmonic Orchestra
Conducted by: Ernest Irving
Sound Supervisor: A.D. Valentine
Recordist: Len Page
Studio Sound Camera: Peter T. Davies *
Sound: Eric Williams *
Wardrobe: Marion Horn
Make Up: Tom Shenton
Special Effects: Roy Kellino
Art Director: Michael Relph
Assistant Art Director: Jim Morahanv
Draughtsmen: Heather Armitage *, Len Wills *, Bernard Sarron *
Unit Manager: Ronald Brantford
Made and Recorded by: Ealing Studios, Ealing, London

John Clements (Joe Dinmore)
Googie Withers (Alice Foster)
Raymond Huntley (Malcolm Stritton)
Renee Gadd (Dorothy Stritton)
A.E. Matthews (Sir George Gedney)
Mabel Terry Lewis (Lady Loxfield)
Frances Rowe (Philippa Loxfield)
Ada Reeve (Mrs Batley)
Norman Shelley (Cudworth)
J.B. Priestley [himself]
Ralph Michael [Sergeant Jimmy]
Brenda Bruce [WAAF]



  • Cinéaste vol.23 no.4 (July 1998) pp.45-47 – article (Paradise Postponed: Ealing, Rank and They Came to a City by Philip Kemp)
  • Kine Weekly no.24 (August 1944) – credits, review
  • Monthly Film Bulletin vol.11 no.129 (September 1944) p.100 – credits, synopsis, review
  • Motion Picture Herald vol.156 no.11 (9 September 1944) – credits, review
  • New York Motion Picture Critics Reviews vol.2 no.5 (19 February 1945) p.459460 – reprinted reviews
  • Today's Cinema vol.63 no.5073 (18 August 1944) – credits, review
  • Today's Cinema vol.70 no.5608 (11 February 1948) – credits, review


  • British Sound Films: The Studio Years 1928-1959 by David Quinlan pp.250-251 – credits, synopsis
  • The Cinema of Basil Dearden and Michael Relph by Alan Burton and Tim O'Sullivan pp.8, 28, 33, 35-36, 46, 49, 51, 60, 63, 67, 70-71, 76, 83, 86, 329
  • Directed by Basil Dearden by James Howard pp.7, 12, 13, 50-55, 68, 88, 264
  • Liberal Directions: Basil Dearden and Postwar British Film Culture by Alan Burton, Tim O'Sullivan and Paul Wells (eds.) pp. pp.8, 16, 24, 25, 33, 241, 252, 257n1, 263
  • Reference Guide to Fantastic Films by Walt Lee p.487 – credits