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Friday, January 22, 2016

THE ENCHANTED COTTAGE (1945)

Sir Arthur Wing Pinero’s 1922 play on the redemptive power of love is sentimental whimsy, but effective sentimental whimsy . . . and less sticky than a brief description has it sound. Designed as a sort of post-WWI balm, this second film version was made just as WWII was ending, and it’s best to keep the period in mind. Two wounded souls: HE - disfigured & depressed from a war injury/SHE - a homely spinster hiding a gentle artistic spirit, find that the power of love can be physically transfigurative, helped by a neighboring blind musician and the older cottage caretaker still mourning a lost love from the last war. (Told you it’d sound sticky.) And it largely works here thanks to a cast that refuses to push too hard (Dorothy McGuire, Robert Young, Herbert Marshall, Mildred Natwick) and the plainspoken ways of a director (John Cromwell) unadept at visual poetry. It’s also a bit underpowered which helps to keep the ‘goo’ out. The print sourced for the current/official VOD has an unfortunate compressed grey scale (prepared for ‘50s broadcast tv?) and Roy Webb’s score is unmemorable (you keep hoping Bernard Herrmann will turn up with his GHOST AND MRS. MUIR cue sheet), but sheer niceness winds up carrying a lot of emotional weight, much helped by a trio of disturbingly unsympathetic perfs from Spring Byington, Hillary Brooke & Richard Gaines from Robert Young’s dashing, now lost, past life.

DOUBLE-BILL: The 1924 silent version (with Richard Barthelmess & May McAvoy) sounds interesting but is only available from Grapevine Video, home of the duped 16mm reduction print & hit-or-miss canned music score.

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