George McWhirter Fotheringay, while vigorously asserting the impossibility of miracles, suddenly discovers that he can perform them. After being thrown out of a bar for what is thought to be a trick, he tests his powers and eventually sends a policeman to Hades by accident. Worried, he sends the police officer to San Francisco, and seeks advice from the local clergyman, Mr Maydig. Maydig, after having Fotheringay's powers demonstrated to him, quickly planning for reform of the world by means of miracle, but eventually Fotheringay orders a miracle which, due to clumsy wording, backfires. He relinquishes his power and returns to the time before he had it. Written by
Anthony Pereyra <firstname.lastname@example.org>
"We'll start the Golden Age, somewhere in the afternoon ..."
This is undoubtedly the best film adaptation by H.G. Wells of his own work, a wry fable free of the leaden polemics that so marred "Things To Come".
Roland Young -- who played the title character to mischievous ghosts Cary Grant and Constance Bennett in the 1937 comedy "Topper" -- is outstanding as George Fotheringay, a mousy store clerk who must come to grips with the sudden gift of almost unlimited power. He can literally do anything -- except change the human heart, as he finds when he commands his beautiful coworker Ada to fall madly in love with him, and she merely laughs in his face. (Incidentally, "George" is Wells' middle name, and Roland Young bears more than a little resemblance to a younger H.G.)
Mischa Spoliansky's score is by turns droll and light-hearted, complementing the story perfectly, as George struggles to make sense of his new-found abilities.
He learns the danger of an unguarded word, when he tells an officious constable who wants to run him in for disturbing the peace to "go to blazes", leading to a hilarious bit in which the constable, finding himself instantaneously transported to the nether regions of brimstone and hellfire, tries to keep calm and take notes about the incident while his notepad smolders. Fortunately, George isn't the vindictive type. As soon as he realizes what he's done, he rescues Constable Plod from the Inferno. (Although, just to be on the safe side and give him some time to cool off, George also teleports him to San Francisco.)
Since he makes no secret of his miracle-working, George is bombarded with advice from his coworkers and various worthies on how he should use his powers. His boss wants to sign him to an exclusive contract, establishing a chain of "miracle" stores featuring instantaneous delivery, with free healing clinics offered on Tuesdays and Fridays to allay George's discomfort with exploiting his talent solely for monetary gain.
Mr. Maydig -- a Baptist minister and amateur philosopher played to prim perfection by gaunt character actor Ernest Thesiger -- advises George to bring the Millennium, to end war and disease and poverty. George cooperates with Maydig to the extent of fulfilling a Biblical prophecy, converting the prized antique cutlery collection belonging to a local representative of the gentry (Sir Ralph Richardson) into what his butler describes with a visible shudder as "agricultural implements".
Even worse, at Maydig's insistence George adds injury to insult by turning all of Colonel Winstanley's fine whiskey into non-alcoholic "temperance water". The butler (George Zucco) gets another of the best lines in the movie. Accused of having done something to the Colonel's tipple, he's the picture of wounded innocence as he responds: "Sir! I'd as soon poison a baby as tamper with good whiskey!"
Next morning, after meeting George and seeing further proof of his unlimited power, the Colonel naturally concludes this mild-seeming clerk is a dire threat to the established order. Taking matters into his own hands, Winstanley almost succeeds in assassinating George, triggering the climactic sequence in which George declares himself invulnerable and immortal and decides he will remake the world to his own plan, starting now.
What happens next is too weird and wonderful for me to spoil it for anyone who hasn't seen the film, except to observe that it's not the typical "absolute power corrupts absolutely" denouement that modern viewers have come to expect. "The Man Who Could Work Miracles" is a wise, funny and humane comment on the human psyche, a film which can be enjoyed many times and still seem fresh with each viewing.
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