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Film / The Man Who Could Work Miracles

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The Man Who Could Work Miracles is a black-and-white 1936 British fantasy-comedy film directed by the German-born American director Lothar Mendes. It is a greatly expanded version of H.G. Wells’s short story of the same name and stars Roland Young with a cast of supporting players including Ralph Richardson.

As a result of a discussion between a trio of gods over the true worthiness of Earth, a retiring British shop assistant is granted miraculous powers. George McWhirter Fotheringay's new powers are virtually limitless. Choosing to use them for good, Fotheringay sets out to create a utopian society.

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Contains examples of:

  • Adaptation Expansion: Expands on the adventures of the eponymous George McWhirter Fotheringay (and gives an explicit source to his sudden powers).
  • Artistic License – Gun Safety: Colonel Winstanley, an ex-military man, looks down the barrel of his rifle after Fotheringay turns the barrel solid. A dangerous thing to do, even if he did believe Fotheringay had the power to do what he said.
  • Contrived Coincidence: What are the odds that that Fotheringay would walk into a discussion in the pub about the nature of miracles mere moments after being granted his Reality Warper powers?
  • Drunk with Power: Even after gaining the ability to work miracles, Fotherigay remains rather restrained in the use of his powers as he tries to figure out the best way to use them. However, after working out that everyone is trying to use him, he snaps and starts using his powers without restraint. He demolishes Colonel Winstanley's home; constructs an elaborate palce for himself in its place; summons Maggie to serve as his queen, and Ada to serve as eye candy (and perhaps mistress); brings the world's leaders to him to bow down; etc.
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  • The End of the World as We Know It: At the climax of the film, Fotheringay buys some time by making the Earth stop rotating. Alas, he fails to consider the basic physics of the rotation of the planet and so sends his palace, all living creatures and objects whirling off the world's surface. Civilization and all life (save Fotheringay) is obliterated as everything in the world flies through the air and is dashed to pieces.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The film encompasses about 48 hours. At the end Fotheringay presses the Reset Button, and everything rewinds to the start, meaning that—in one sense—only a few minutes pass.
  • Fire and Brimstone Hell: Constable Winch finds himself in Hades after Fotheringay tells him to "go to blazes!". There are flames everywhere and it is hot enough to scorch his notebook and melt his boots.
  • Go-Go Enslavement: When Fotheringay summons Ada to appear before him in his newly created palace, he dresses her in the sexy Cleopatra outfit he had created for her earlier.
  • Grapes of Luxury: On the first night of his powers, Fotheringay is testing his abilities to work miracles. The scene cuts to him reclining on his bed eating a massive bunch of grapes. The camera then pulls back to show the entire bed is covered in exotic fruit.
  • Hat Damage: Colonel Winstanley attempts to shoot Fotheringay and succeeds in shooting the hat off his head. The bullet also creases his scalp, as his next miracle (after making himself invulnerable) is to heal his scalp wound.
  • High-Class Glass: The pompous magistrate Colonel Winstanley sports a monocle.
  • In Case You Forgot Who Wrote It: The full title is H.G. Wells' The Man Who Could Work Miracles.
  • Literal Genie: Fotheringay has no understanding of his powers work, and learns that he must be careful when issuing commands or they may come true in a very literal fashion. For example, his telling Constable Winch to "go to blazes!" results in the unfortunate policeman beings sent to a Fire and Brimstone Hell.
  • Monochrome Casting: Understandable for a film set among middle class England in the 1930s. However, towards the end of the film, Fotheringay uses his powers to summon all of the world's leaders—temporal and spiritual—to his palace. Logically this should have included a diverse range of races, but only white faces are visible, even in the group shots.
  • Power Corrupts: Realizing that others, even The Vicar, wish to exploit him for their own ends, Fotheringay decides not to trigger a Golden Age after all, but instead to create an old-fashioned kingdom in which he is the centre of the universe. In a fit of reckless pompousness, he changes the Colonel's house into a spectacular palace of real gold and marble. He then summons up all the pretty girls, not to mention the Colonel's entire regiment, dressed as Beefeaters, after which he summons the butlers in Essex, the leaders of the world, the teachers, musicians, priests, etc. He dresses up like a king and appoints the girl he loves as queen, then commands the leaders of the world to create a utopia, free of greed, war, plague, famine, jealousy, and toil.
  • Reality Warper: George McWhirter Fotheringay, the title character, discovers that he possesses virtually unlimited magic power, but has no understanding of how it works.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Realizing that others, even The Vicar, wish to exploit him for their own ends, Fotheringay decides not to trigger a Golden Age after all, but instead to create an old-fashioned kingdom in which he is the centre of the universe. He summons all of the world's political, religious, business, military, etc. leaders and gives them a speech about everything that is wrong with the world and how he, an average man, is going to fix it all.
  • Reset Button: At the end of the film, the desperate and contrite Fotheringay calls on his powers one last time to put things back as they were before he ever entered the pub the day before, willing away his power to work miracles. Fotheringay appears again in the pub as in the early scenes of the film, again tries the trick with the lamp, and fails.
  • Story-Breaker Power: George McWhirter Forthingay suddenly discovers that he can do anything simply by declaring it to be so. Some of his miracles have unintended consequences and he ends up breaking, not the story, but the planet. Only hitting the Reset Button saves everyone.
  • Super Empowering: A trio of angels (or gods) bestow Reality Warper powers on George McWhirter Forthingay—an ordinary middleclass Englishman—to see if humanity can handle the kind of power over reality that might allow such beings to deserve to reach the stars.
  • To Hell and Back: Happens entirely unintentionally to Constable Winch. Fotheringay tells him to "go to blazes!" and his Reality Warper powers cause Winch to vanish and reappear in a Fire and Brimstone Hell. When Fotheringay realises what has happened, he panics. Not wanting to bring Winch back to Essex and face his wrath, he instead sends to Winch San Francisco: figuring that will be far enough away to spare him any immediate consequences.
  • The Vicar: Because Fotheringay cannot decide on how to use his newfound powers, he contacts Mr. Maydig, the local vicar. The vicar thinks up a plan to bring about a Golden Age and have Fotheringay abolish famine, plague, war and poverty—and, while they're at it, the British ruling class.
  • Walking Shirtless Scene: The three angels/gods do not wear shirts.
  • When Trees Attack: A poorly worded command from Fotheringay causes a rose bush to attack Constable Winch.
  • With Great Power Comes Great Insanity: Realizing that others, even The Vicar, wish to exploit him for their own ends, Fotheringay decides not to trigger a Golden Age after all, but instead to create an old-fashioned kingdom in which he is the centre of the universe. In a fit of reckless pompousness, he changes the Colonel's house into a spectacular palace of real gold and marble. He then summons up all the pretty girls, not to mention the Colonel's entire regiment, dressed as Beefeaters, after which he summons the butlers in Essex, the leaders of the world, the teachers, musicians, priests, etc. He dresses up like a king and appoints the girl he loves as queen, then commands the leaders of the world to create a utopia, free of greed, war, plague, famine, jealousy, and toil.


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