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Man Who Could Work Miracles, The (1937)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Man Who Could Work Miracles, The (1937)
Directed byLothar Mendes
Production Co.London Film Productions
Produced byAlexander Korda
Based on a short story byH.G. Wells
Scenario and Dialogue byH.G. Wells
Photography byHarold Rosson

Cast: Roland Young (George McWhirter Fotheringay); Joan Gardner (Ada Price); Ralph Richardson (Colonel Winstanley); Ernest Thesiger (Reverend Silas Maydig); Lawrence Hanray (Mr Bamfylde)

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At the whim of the gods, a draper's assistant suddenly develops miraculous powers.

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While The Man Who Could Work Miracles adheres relatively closely in its main structure to H.G. Wells' short story, many of the characters in the screen adaptation were created especially for the film by the writer himself (other than George Fotheringay, the Reverend Maydig and a relatively minor character, PC Winch). The demigods, for example, were introduced to account for Fotheringay's acquisition of miraculous powers (no explanation was offered in the story).

Although Wells' attempts at screenwriting apparently required extensive rewrites by those more versed in writing for the screen, the film is still nevertheless overburdened by the author's penchant for sermonising. Both the old and newly introduced characters rarely rise above being mere ciphers. As with that other contemporary Wells adaptation, Things to Come (1936), the result is an overly didactic film.

Fotheringay represents the 'common man' (the character proclaims as much more than once just to make sure the viewer gets the message), and the story largely focuses on the possibilities granted to this representative of the people to usurp the Establishment, dismantle the status quo and create a more just world.

As opposition to the 'common man', Wells introduced to the film the blustering ex-army officer Colonel Winstanley, shopkeeper/businessman Major Grigsby, and the banker Bamfylde to act as representatives of the Establishment. As such, in a microcosm of the larger class war, they attempt either to eradicate Fotheringay's 'common man' outright or to corral him into upholding the prevailing capitalist system by persuading him to collaborate in their business enterprises.

However, owing to Wells' didacticism, the full dramatic or comic potential of many situations generated by the story remain underexplored; the political or sociological debates through which the characters largely converse tend to swamp the fantastic and romantic qualities of the story.

Ada Price and Maggie Hooper, for example, may initially appear as potential romance figures for Fotheringay, but it transpires that they are present largely to symbolise the character's confusion as to how to utilise his new powers (Ada encourages avarice, Maggie advocates philanthropy) rather than to provide any romantic complications. Romance may briefly intrude when he tries to influence Ada's will, but it is quickly discarded.

Alexander Korda, realising what he had on his hands, demanded retakes. However, when released, a full year after its initial completion, the film still proved too pedagogic for most audiences. It was not a popular success.

John Oliver

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