Thursday, January 7, 2021

Brit Month Continues with H. G. Wells!

The Man Who Could Work Miracles

When people think of H. G. Wells, a writer of history, social commentary, and fiction, they usually think of his science fiction. Those are the works that have stood the test of time, and in the 1930s a couple of pretty great science fiction films came out based on his work: The Invisible Man (1933) and The Island of Lost Souls (1932, based on The Island of Doctor Moreau). This film, however, is based on a Wells fantasy story.

In 1898, the short story “The Man Who Could Work Miracles” was published in The Illustrated London News. The 1936 film, directed by Lothar Mendes and produced by Alexander Korda, has a screenplay co-written by Wells for London Films studio. The movie expands on the short story, bringing a political dimension with a warning against the threats of Communism and Fascism.

It tells the story of George McWhirter Fotheringay (Roland Young), a haberdasher’s assistant living in a small English village who is granted seemingly limitless powers by celestial beings (whether they are angels, gods, or something else is never made clear). Soon after he's given this gift, George argues in a pub that there are no such things as miracles. Then he performs one, turning a lamp upside down without touching it. He finds he can make all kinds of things float in the air, including people.

Out on the street, George attracts the attention of Constable Winch (Wallace Lupino), and the two get into an argument. George tells the police officer to “go to blazes” and we see Constable Winch in Hell. George regrets his action and sends the officer to San Francisco instead.

Maggie (Sophie Stewart), a woman who lives at the same boarding house where George lives, encourages him to see her Baptist minister, Pastor Maydig (Ernest Thesiger). Their landlady argues that he should see the local vicar instead, but George agrees to see Maydig.
The housekeeper at Maydig's house invites him into the parlor. When the minister enters, George says, "I'm told that you give good advice." George explains his newly found power to do “miracles,” virtually anything except force people to act contrary to their free will. 

Maydig responds, “There are no such things as miracles in the present dispensation.”

George makes a tiger appear in the room and then vanish. Maydig calls it a joint illusion. But then he sees paw prints.

Finally, Maydig agrees, “That was a miracle.” Soon, the minister considers the possibilities in their reach, “It’s power. Power! Power!” (sounding like the mad doctor this same actor played in Bride of Frankenstein) “What can you not do? Why not banish illness? Sweep it all away, a new age begins. A new hope for our race.”

George suggests they should consult businessmen about their plan of action, since, for instance, if they provide food and clothes to everyone in the world, Business would cease. 

The minister responds, “What do businessmen know?” He thinks ridding the world of poverty will be good for his business, “There will be conversions, I hope, all over the world. As people are healthy, they will be happy. If they are happy, they will be good.” (This seems to indicate a real lack of insight into human nature on the minister’s part.)

George takes some of the minister’s ideas for miracles. Colonel Winstanley (Ralph Richardson) finds all of the swords in his collections have been turned into plowshares. He goes to the police and asks, What is this Bolshevik thing?” 

The constable replies, “There’s been a serious outbreak of miracles.” 

The Colonel also finds someone has tampered with his bar and wine cellar. He asks his butler whether he turned his wine to water. The Butler answers, “I’d as soon poison a baby as doctor whiskey.”

Maydig and George confess to the Colonel they are responsible for changing his possessions. George says Maydig has been advising him; they plan to end all war. The Colonel says, “If you put an end to war, what are people going to do?”

Maydig answers, “People will go about loving one another. We are on the cusp of the biggest change in the history of the world. We must make them want to be artists. Healthier people are happier people.”

Maydig tells George they must make a plan for a miraculous new world. He asks George to bring together all who teach and preach and they will rule.

But then George begins to see that Maydig himself wants to rule. So George makes himself into the king of the world, and his foolish choices bring about disaster, nearly ending the world. Finally, George turns back time to before all his miracles took place and gives up his power. 

I’m not sure Pastor Maydig would have ever given up such power, so that’s why I’d only give the Baptist minister Two of Four Steeples for our Movie Churches rating.

No comments:

Post a Comment