Monday, June 1, 2009

The Man Who Could Work Miracles (1936)
UK --- fantasy

Dir: Lothar Mendes

What if one day you were endowed with limitless power? What would you do with it? Would you try to make the world a better place for all humanity or selfishly take advantage of it for your own gain and amusement? Would you be hero or villian? Good or evil? This has been a staple of modern comic book stories which the superhero must question and take responsibilty for their actions and power. It also has been the message of a few "Star Trek" and "Twilight Zone" episodes. Author H.G. Wells had the forethought of what the pathos of these characters would experience decades later.

In his story, "The Man Who Could Work Miracles", he allowed an ordinary man to have absolute power for a short period of time, and yet have to truly think about the consequences of his own actions. The movie version, which was actually written for the screen by Wells, stays very true to the story.

Angels (or as it appears in the film more akin to Greek gods of some sort) decide to conduct a little experiment. They endow mildmannered and humble haberdasher salesman, George Fotheringay (portrayed by Roland Young) with absolute power one night. The do leave one ability out, he can not change anyone's free will of opinion or thought, as the angels explain only ONE can do that. George first learns of his abilities in a bar where he accidentally discovers he can upturn a candle. After being kicked out for fooling around, he goes home and tests his new found abilities to perform miracles, realizing he can do pretty much anything he wants.

In the morning, he returns to his day job and reveals to his fellow coworkers his abilities. George learns quickly what he is and is not able to do, such as making his beautiful co-worker, Ada, fall in love with him can not occur. His boss tries to convince him otherwise, and immediately tries to coerce him into a life of show business. George, however, soon comes to the realization he must use his powers for good. Even though he now has these incredible abilities, he makes a conscience effort to make the world a better place. So when he makes a visit to a priest, the priest initially does not believe his abilities are real until he proves it to himself. The priest begins to assists George as a counselor, and helps him with his first task at world peace with changing all of a local opulent solider's weapons into gardening tools. The climax of the film leads George to completely start over, with whomever he chooses to be in charge. He talks to all the heads of the world about how they've messed up. This is of course getting a little preachy at this point.

Alexander Korda produced this humorous and yet thought provoking comic fantasy. It now relates a lot to the Jim Carrey comedy "Bruce Almighty". Though, the special effects in this film are rudimentary to say the least, they actually hold up considering the time period they were made. H.G. Wells was a spoken pacifist who's novels like 'War of the Worlds' and 'Things to Come' showcase the folly of war. This is another addition to those stories, as the loom of yet another World War was within a few years and this tale obviously had fallen of deaf eyes.