12 September 2010 | AlsExGal
This film is almost religious in its overtones
Claude Rains stars as Maximus, a vaudevillian who pretends to have psychic powers as part of his act. He really is not a fraud per se, anymore than a magician that pulls rabbits out of a hat is a fraud. Maximus is happily married to Rene (Fay Wray), who assists him in his act. One night during a performance she accidentally gets locked out of the theatre and then has to argue with the cashier that she is an actor in the show, not someone trying to sneak in to see the show for free. While all of this is going on, the act stalls of course. The crowd becomes rowdy and a blindfolded Maximus - the blindfold is part of the act - stumbles around on stage and finally takes off the blindfold. His eye catches the piercing stare of a pretty girl in the balcony (Jane Baxter as Christine). Maximus for the first time in his life issues two real and correct prophecies - one about a man's sick wife and another about a train wreck. When the train wreck prediction comes true Maximus is bombarded with offers for higher paying jobs as a bonified psychic. He takes one of these jobs only to find that he has no more visions at all. He's about to be fired when he meets up with Christine again and correctly predicts the winner of the derby.
The situation is now complicated - Maximus only has visions in the presence of a beautiful girl who loves him, and that girl is not his wife. But things get worse. The next vision Maximus has involves a potential construction disaster in a tunnel. Since this is the first prediction that Maximus has had that will cost rich people money, none of the powers that be - not the press nor the owners of the construction project - want to stop work on Maximus' word. Maximus goes to the construction site before the shift starts and warns the workers himself. The workers are of course nervous about the prediction, but they are threatened with being fired if they don't report for their shift.
The accident happens as predicted, and Maximus is blamed and put on trial for what he has done. The theory being that the disaster happened because the workers were so nervous about the prediction that they made mistakes that caused the explosion. What we see in the tunnel doesn't contradict that statement. Will Maximus' wife leave him? Will Christine get him? Will neither of them get him because he goes to prison? Watch and find out.
This film approaches the question of predestination versus free will - did Maximus' vision of the disaster take into account his own actions before he even made a decision of what to do, or would the disaster have occurred anyways? In other words, was Maximus' action predestined or was the disaster itself predestined, or both? Do people have connections to one another that they don't really understand that bring out their own supernatural powers? Is there something more to the phrase "you bring out the best/worst in me" than meets the eye? All interesting questions, and in the tradition of the subtlety of British film they are not explicitly asked, but they are left out there hanging.
Finally there is the issue of Claude Rains' performance here. In the hands of a less capable actor you might dislike his character or find his trances hammy. Instead you feel his internal struggles and believe the guy really wants to do the right thing, he's just truly confused as to what that right thing is. Fay Wray is good here as Maximus' wife, but she's just a little too good to be true when she's faced with another woman - Christine - who admits to her that she wants to take her husband away from her. I'd recommend this one quite highly.