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Robert Young told Leonard Maltin in a 1986 interview that he considered The Enchanted Cottage (1945) to be "the best love story that's ever been written. [It] was one of those films I hated to see end. I wanted it to go on and on and on. It was such a joy to do."
The Enchanted Cottage is a movie with its heart in the right place. Anyone who has ever been in love can relate to the sensation that one's partner becomes more beautiful as one's love deepens. The Enchanted Cottage illustrates this phenomenon to full and lovely effect, with its allegorical yet delicate story of the power of love to physically transform a couple.
Robert Young plays a disfigured WWII veteran who is unable to cope with an ugliness that repels everyone. Seeking to retreat from the world, he travels to a New England cottage which he once visited with his fiancee at the time - before he was sent to war and disfigured. The cottage is all that remains of a vast estate on the Atlantic coast. The rest burned down long ago, and the owner of the cottage (Mildred Natwick), recognizing the magic spell the cottage seems to cast on young lovers, rents it out to couples on their honeymoons. She lets Young stay there, and he isolates himself from his family and friends. The only person he can talk to is Dorothy McGuire, a homely girl who helps Natwick run the place.
Young and McGuire marry, more out of convenience than love, but on their honeymoon night, a "miracle" occurs. They now look beautiful to each other. His disfigurement vanishes, and her dowdiness dissolves. Overjoyed at their newfound happiness, they explain what has happened to their blind neighbor Herbert Marshall, who encourages them to believe the miracle and to treasure it. But when Young's superficial parents come to visit and still see the two as they really are, the spell is broken - until the couple come to realize that it was their love, not the cottage, that made them see each other as beautiful in the first place.
This sensitive and touching story had its genesis in a 1922 play by Sir Arthur Wing Pinero. Greatly loved in its time, it was written as a morale booster for men who returned from WWI scarred and maimed. After West End and Broadway runs, it was made as a silent picture by First National, with Richard Barthelmess and May McAvoy in the lead roles. Remake plans were in the works for years after talkies came around, but it wasn't until the WWII era that RKO contract producer Harriet Parsons (daughter of Louella), was able to get it going. She hired writer DeWitt Bodeen to update the story and John Cromwell to direct it. Cromwell brought in Herman Mankiewicz (Citizen Kane, 1941) to do a rewrite. He also hired cinematographer Ted Tetzlaff, who shot it quite imaginatively. Roy Webb composed the Oscar-nominated score.
McGuire had been bouncing around the east coast as a stage actress for years when she scored a tremendous Broadway hit in the 1941 production of Claudia. David Selznick signed her to a screen contract and lent her to Fox for the 1943 film version of Claudia, in which McGuire made her screen debut. It, too, was a huge success. Robert Young co-starred in Claudia and then joined McGuire again for her second feature, The Enchanted Cottage. (Three years later, they teamed up a third time for the sequel Claudia and David, 1946.)
Rather than play her character with physical disabilities as in the stage and silent versions of the story (e.g., with a crooked nose, buck teeth or a limp), McGuire insisted that her plainness be created through plain, loose-fitting clothing, drab hairstyles, and no makeup. Costume designer Eddie Stevenson created two of everything she wore: one that fit perfectly, for shots in which Young sees her, and one that fit badly, for shots in which others see her.
Young loved this picture so much that years later he named the home he built in California "The Enchanted Cottage."
Producer: Jack J. Gross, Harriet Parsons
Director: John Cromwell
Screenplay: DeWitt Bodeen, Herman J. Mankiewicz (based on the play by Arthur Wing Pinero)
Cinematography: Ted Tetzlaff
Film Editing: Joseph Noriega
Art Direction: Carroll Clark, Albert S. D'Agostino
Cast: Dorothy McGuire (Laura Pennington), Robert Young (Oliver Bradford), Herbert Marshall (The blind composer), Mildred Natwick (Mrs. Abigail Minnett), Spring Byington (Violet Price), Hillary Brooke (Beatrice Alexander), Richard Gaines (Frederick 'Freddy' Price).
BW-93m. Closed captioning.
by Jeremy Arnold