A few weeks ago a blogging friend, Terri, published a post about hoping to find some long lost playmates and soliciting a little help from her blog visitors. I left a brief response noting that we all probably had playmates back when we were children we would like to find again. Little did I know at the time that I was but only hours from finding a long, lost friend myself – if, of course, one may apply the term ‘friend’ to my particular subject matter.
It all began somewhere around 1953 or so which would have made me around twelve at the time. It was early one afternoon when I walked up to the far end of “Main Street” in my hometown to a location where there were a couple of “picture shows” that I was not suppose to frequent. One of them was called the “Main Theatre” while the other was called the “New Theatre”. Now the far end of Main Street was not a desirable part of Main Street in my hometown at the time. There were several pawn shops and run down cafes – you know, every town had them back in those days. Some might call it the “seedy” side of town I guess. Anyway, these two B-type picture shows seem to have always had double features showing and sometimes up to four different movies but they were always the B-type movies of course. I mean, talk about stretching twenty-five cents – four movies. Nothing off-color with regard to the movies they showed or anything like that – just not your mainstream movies that would be shown at the up-town picture shows back the other direction on Main Street.
So this particular day there appeared to be two really good movies playing at the New Theatre. At least that was my interpretation after viewing the ‘billboard posters’ out front. So against standing orders never to go there, I went anyway. Now one of the movies had to do with this man who for some strange reason all of a sudden had these powers where he could “will” almost anything to happen. He could “will” away freckles from a girl’s face who was totally depressed about her freckles. He could move inanimate objects with his thoughts. He could even stop the earth from rotating. I was totally engrossed by the movie and when it was over I left, went home, and never spoke of having seen the movie of course. Not because of the subject matter, rather the fact I had seen it in a picture show which I was restricted from going to. I had no idea at that moment how much that movie had gotten into my mind.
A number of years later, having forgotten all but the more important details of the movie but not the movie itself, I began trying to remember its name and who the actors were but continued to draw a blank. I never forgot the overall plot of the movie because it so intrigued me. And as the years rolled along and at times when conversation invited my story, I would mention this movie which so impressed me as a youngster. As recent as a few weeks ago while over at my sister’s having our weekly coffee get-together I mentioned this movie and the fact that for some fifty years or more I had been trying to remember the name. I figured by now there was no way I would ever know; much less ever get to see it again.
Well, after reading Terri’s post that same day I decided to make one more effort to identify and find the name of this film and later that day I found out everything I wanted to know about the movie. The movie was titled “The Man Who Could Work Miracles” and starred Roland Young, Joan Gardner, and Ralph Richardson to mention a few. It is an English movie and was released in 1937. That is four years before I was born. And get this! The movie is based on a book written by H.G.Wells. And years of wondering have now been simply washed away. What a great feeling.
Huh? How did I find out? Well, I guess I could share that….
I usually visit the TCM website at least once a week for one reason or another. I knew that they had a Message Board/Forum but never had an interest to join and never gave posting the question on the message board the slightest thought – until today. So I registered and did my best to describe a bit of the plot as I remembered, never really expecting a definitive response because it was so long ago. I mean really, I had never seen or heard of the movie since 1953. Well, I kid you not! Within thirty minutes of posting the question someone from Brooklyn, NY posted my long awaited answer noting that it sounded a whole lot like a movie called “The Man Who Could Work Miracles”. Once I googled it and did a few minutes research, the search was over for indeed, I had found at last my long, lost friend.
Now I know….it was only a movie. It’s not like it’s a human, breathing thing but because the memory of this film had been with me for so long, it had taken on a life of its own and truly played out in my mind like a long, lost friend.
Further checks revealed that the movie is available on VHS and even DVD from one overseas vendor. Will it be as good as I remember? Always a scary thought of course. Just like a long lost friend, will they be the same as we remember them? TCM also has the movie in their vault of available films so I will keep a watchful eye on their upcoming movie schedule.
Below is a portion of the review of the film by Frank S. Nugent which appeared in the New York Times on February 22, 1937….
By FRANK S. NUGENT Published: February 22, 1937
H. G. Wells, who has been baring his round British head to the lightnings of the universe for forty years or so, appears to have reached the stage where he dares admit that the cosmic may also be comic. “The Man Who Could Work Miracles,” which he wrote for Alexander Korda’s London Films, is a delightfully humorous fantasy with an undertone of sober Wellsian philosophy. Like his “Things to Come” of last Spring, it is a reiteration of Mr. Wells’s belief in the godlike quality and sublime destiny of man; unlike it, his new film contains the rueful admission that we earthbound people are not yet ready for Utopia and probably would get ourselves into a dickens of a mess if we tried to speed up evolution.
Mr. Wells, whom we have long suspected of wanting to Stakhanoffize progress, invites us, at the Rivoli, to consider what would happen if some average, everyday chap suddenly was invested with the power of performing miracles and set out to change the world. For his celestial experiment he has invented George McWhirter Fotheringay, a draper’s clerk in the village of Dewhinton, Essex. Roland Young has described the character perfectly, drawing him as a fumbling little man with a rabbity soul, a limited imagination and other characteristic human frailties and virtues.
Discovering his unexpected gift one night in the taproom of the Long Dragon Inn when he makes a hanging lamp turn upside down and continue burning (for which, parenthetically, a not-to-be-put-upon proprietor tosses him out), Fotheringay abandons himself at first to a carnival of music-hall tricks. He materializes cats and rabbits and tigers; he raises tables and snuffs out candles; he removes freckles and cures a sprained arm; he sends a bobby to blazes and then, bethinking himself, banishes the scorched constable to San Francisco instead. He even tries to make a pert shop girl fall in love with him, but there he fails, for he has no influence over the human mind.
And that is the hitch in the great Fotheringay experiment. For, no matter where he turns in his ambitious efforts to reform the world, he runs into the problem of recalcitrant human nature. He finds it won’t do to make every one wealthy because that would take away the profit motive which, a banker insists, is the foundation of our civilization. When he thinks of banishing disease, he must consider what would happen to the unemployed physicians and nurses. When he casually tells a pompous land owner of his intention of launching the Golden Age that afternoon, the old boy takes down his elephant rifle and goes gunning for the dangerous lunatic.
Mr. Wells insists that Fotheringay keep on trying, but it is no use. The bewildered clerk finally wills away his power and returns to his small beer in the Long Dragon Inn. Inertia was too much for him. He agrees with Mr. Wells that, much as we all would like Utopia, we cannot be rushed into it, miracles notwithstanding. Of course, Fotheringay doesn’t say that. He just drains his glass, scratches his head and wonders what on earth happened.
And the answer is that most of what happened was fantastically comic or vice versa. Ned Mann’s trick effects and Harold Rosson’s photography worked some cute miracles, and the players, from Mr. Young on down, have done a generally satisfactory job. Ralph Richardson may have been guilty of burlesquing the feudal Colonel Winstanely, but he probably felt he was playing the rôle to suit the American conception of a titled Englishman. Joan Gardner, Sophie Stewart, Ernest Thesiger and Wallace Lupino were better. Lothar Mendes’s direction has achieved a sound balance between the jocund and the profound. Mr. Wells, in brief, is doing well in his new medium.
So….Terri I guess it goes without saying that I owe you some measure of thanks since it was your post that spurred me into successfully putting to rest on of my life’s unanswered quests. So indeed, thank you very much!
******* NEWS FLASH *******
I am happy to report that as of 8/30/06 I have ordered my long, lost movie friend and should receive it within the next week or so. I can only hope the reunion goes as well as I want.