Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, December 18, 2014


Roland Young
THE MAN WHO COULD WORK MIRACLES (aka H. G. Wells' The Man Who Could Work Miracles/1936). Director: Lothar Mendes.

"I must have a whiskey. If I don't have a whiskey my mind will give way." -- Colonel Winstanley, upon discovering that all of his whiskey has turned to water

British clerk George Fotheringay (Roland Young) suddenly finds himself with the ability to make whatever he wants come true, and everyone around him tells him what they would do if they were him. Should he make himself master of the world, or recreate the world for the greater good? The vicar Maydig (Ernest Thesiger) has some definite ideas on that score, but George won't allow himself to be overly influenced, unless it's by Ada (Joan Gardner), upon whom he has a crush. H. G. Wells adapted his own short story, adding many new characters as well as a framing sequence which shows that George's power was a gift from the gods [apparently the filmmakers felt that the audience would want to know exactly how Fotheringay got his powers, even if the answer isn't a terribly satisfying one]. Wells somewhat destroys a modern audience's sympathy for George when he has him trying to use his power to make Joan fall in love with him instead of the man she prefers, which is equivalent to using a date rape drug. Still, even if you've read the story, the film is unpredictable, has some fine effects work, and is very well-acted  by all. Topping even Roland Young [Topper Takes a Trip] is Ralph Richardson [The Heiress] in his excellent portrayal of the rather buffoonish Colonel Winstanley. Thesiger is also fine as the vicar, and there are notable appearances by George Zucco as the colonel's butler, Ivan Brandt as the Power Giver, and an impossibly young George Sanders and Torin Thatcher as his heavenly and cynical associates. Wells gives George a memorable speech at the climax, and the story is in its own way as influential as other works in the brilliant Wells' canon. Lothar Mendes also directed Payment Deferred.

Verdict: Intriguing and amusing. ***.

No comments: