Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Good Fairy (1935)

The Good Fairy (William Wyler, 1935)

William Wyler's The Good Fairy, adapted from Ferenc Molnár's play by legendary screenwriter and director Preston Sturges, is basically about Luisa Ginglebusher (Margaret Sullavan), an orphan girl who is picked by a theater owner (Alan Hale) to be his theater's usherette. Luisa, fresh from the orphanage and thus naive in the ways of men, skirts from the insistent prodding of the men (the most humorously insistent of which is played by Cesar Romero) waiting outside for the usherettes to get out by pretending to be the wife of theater patron and hotel waiter Detlaff (Reginald Owen), who then invites Luisa to a posh party hosted in the hotel he works for.

In the party, Luisa gets acquainted with Konrad (Frank Morgan), a wealthy meat trader. When Konrad loses control of himself and starts promising Luisa luxurious things, Luisa, in order to again skirt men's advances, tells Konrad that she is married. Konrad thinks of a way to resolve the deadlock and proposes that he makes Luisa's husband rich so the husband can shower her with expensive things. Luisa randomly chooses a name from the phonebook: Dr. Max Sporum (Herbert Marshall), an impoverished lawyer whose only dream is to purchase a state-of-the-art pencil sharpener. Luisa, in turn, becomes the good fairy (of the story she often tells the other orphans in the asylum) to Sporum, who, because of her fabricated representations to Konrad, becomes appointed the very well-salaried general counsel for Konrad's meat company.

The Good Fairy is a film that shines because of sheer charm. Margaret Sullavan, from the first time we see her relating the story of the good fairy to the other orphans to her weepy apologies when her innocent ruse has been discovered, possesses undeniable charisma that carries the picture from beginning to end. She literally transforms from tomboyish waif to lovelorn maiden in a matter of an hour and a half, and loses none of the appeal she started with. Later in the film, Luisa tries on one of the "genuine foxines" that are on sale in the department store while waiting for Sporum to finish his shave. She looks at herself in the mirror, beautiful and sophisticated and aware of it (the shot is framed in such a way that we see Luisa reflected in endless layers of mirror reflections, dancing as if she had an entire troupe behind her). It's a gorgeously shot scene, one that aptly visualizes Luisa' transition from innocent orphan to a damsel in love for the first time, with Sporum absent his unsightly beard.

The film's innate charm carries over to the supporting cast. Morgan's Konrad, who is initially seen as lecherous predator, sheds that particular image and becomes one of the picture's more lovable characters: bumbling, generous, loony, lonely, and at times aloof. Marshall's Sporum also transforms, from pathetic loser, a victim and recipient of life's circumstances and dumb luck, to a dashing leading man, infusing the picture with delirious romance although belatedly.

Wyler's direction is competent, with a few moments wherein he complements Sturges' screenplay with clever touches, like in the flashy scene with the mirrors in the department store or Luisa experiencing her first movie (a melodrama of some sort where it seems like a woman is begging her man to forgive her, with the latter unaffectionately throwing the line "Go!" over and over again), drowning in the emotions of the unintelligible sequence that happens in the silver screen. Sturges' screenplay makes most of the material. The film is essentially light, a breeze to watch from start to finish, enjoyably sprinkled with gregarious conversations that are sure to enchant.

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