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The Enchanted Cottage (1945 film)
|The Enchanted Cottage|
|Directed by||John Cromwell
Fred Fleck (assistant)
|Produced by||Harriet Parsons|
|Screenplay by||Herman J. Mankiewicz
|Based on||The Enchanted Cottage
by Arthur Wing Pinero
|Narrated by||Herbert Marshall|
|Music by||Roy Webb|
|Edited by||Joseph Noriega|
|Distributed by||RKO Radio Pictures|
It was based on a play by Arthur Wing Pinero. The Enchanted Cottage was first adapted for the silent screen in 1924, with Richard Barthelmess and May McAvoy as the newlyweds. A third adaptation appeared in 2016.
At a large evening party, John Hillgrove (Herbert Marshall) is playing the piano. He is blind, his eyes scarred. The hostess, his sister-in-law Harriett Stanton (Mary Worth) , tells him that Oliver and Laura will be late, because Oliver must finish his latest aircraft design. They say he should not wait. The room echoes with expressions of disappointment—whoever Laura and Oliver may be, these are their friends as well as Hillgrove’s. He begins to play his new tone poem, The Enchanted Cottage, which, he says, is Laura and Oliver’s story.
The cottage is all that remains of a great estate. For more than a century, it was a place where newlyweds spent their honeymoons, but that tradition ended decades ago. Hillgrove is visiting his brother in law and frequently walks by the cottage, guided by his young “taxi,” his nephew Danny Stanton ( Alec Englander ), and he feels a strange aura emanating from the place. One winter Sunday, he meets Laura Pennington (Dorothy McGuire) who is on her way to the cottage. As they walk away, he remarks to Danny that Miss Pennington has a very pleasant voice. Danny says yes, but “she is terrible homely.”
Mrs. Minnett (Mildred Natwick), whom Danny suspects of being a witch, has invited Laura to come work for her as a maid while a honeymoon couple rents the cottage for several months. Laura is pleased at the revival of the old tradition and Mrs. Minnett reveals that it was she and her husband who broke it, by making the cottage their home. But he was killed in the Great War, and she has lived there alone, and lonely, for 25 years. Mrs. Minnett is pleased to learn that Laura does not believe the story that the place is haunted. Laura grew up in the village but went away after her mother’s death to live with distant relatives in Vermont. She has just returned after almost 8 years because she realized she had become a burden on the family, and is looking for a place to belong, a balm for her devastating loneliness, a reason to get up in the morning.
The prospective renters arrive. Oliver Bradford (Robert Young) happened on the cottage and was fascinated by it, and with some difficulty persuaded Mrs. Minnett to rent it to them. While Mrs. Minnett shows the upstairs to his socialite fiancée Beatrice Alexander (Hillary Brooke) , he and Laura talk about the cottage and its history. She explains the difference between being haunted and enchanted, and shows him the window where couples inscribed their names and the year on the glass, sharing her belief that their love still fills the house.
Oliver offers Mrs. Minnett a check for two months rent in advance. He has applied for a commission in the Army Air Corps and expects the paperwork alone to take at least three months. Mrs. Minnett refuses, saying his commission may come sooner than he thinks. He laughs at the idea and promises, they will be back on Tuesday. Before they go, he asks Beatrice for her engagement ring and tries to write their names on the window. Mrs. Minnett is distressed, and the stone pops out of its setting and leaves no mark. Laura says they should have used a stylus, but Mrs. Minnett says that only honeymoon couples may write their names there. They leave, walking out into a windless day. Laura picks up an ornate perpetual calendar that is set to April 6, 1917. She muses that today is December 7, 1941. Mrs. Minnett stares out the open door where a sudden whirlwind is whipping the dead leaves into a frenzy and the sound of falling bombs and explosions fills the air, presumably an evocation of the attack on Pearl Harbor. “It may be sooner than you think,” she murmurs.
It is Tuesday, and instead of being married, Oliver, in uniform, is packing to go to war, with the help of Beatrice, his mother Violet Price (Spring Byington) and his stepfather, Freddy Price ( Richard Gaines). His mother frets incessantly, worried about the people who will be her enemies because she did not invite them to the wedding, which has been cancelled. She gives Oliver a St. Christopher Medal that belonged to his father, who “made it all the way through the fighting in the First World War only to die of Spanish Influenza in New York City.” As Oliver says to his fiancée on the way to the airfield, she means well but there is no communication, no real understanding. Freddy is equally self-centred and obtuse, in his own way. Mrs. Minnett receives a note from Beatrice explaining that Oliver has received his commission and enclosing a check as compensation. Mrs. Minnett asks Laura to stay. She is going to rent the cottage again, “When the time comes.”
It is Spring. Planes fly over and Laura wonders about the flyer and his girl. She hopes that they got married. She is about to volunteer at the local canteen for servicemen...It is Halloween and the canteen is packed. Laura usually spends her time in the kitchen, but the canteen manager (Josephine Whittell) forces her out to join a Paul Jones, a mixer dance. Laura sits alone, watching, although there are at least a dozen men standing by. One notices Laura from across the room and starts toward her, but stops and pretends to tie his shoe when he gets close enough to see her clearly. Shattered, she runs home to Mrs. Minnett, who is waiting for her. Mrs. Minnett tells her that people like Laura and herself have to find other ways to happiness. She has to find a way to be safe, where no one can hurt her. She wanted Laura at the cottage because there is something here for her, something she won’t find anywhere else.
A cable comes from Oliver. He is arriving that afternoon and wants the cottage indefinitely. Laura thinks that this is the Bradfords, on their honeymoon at last after almost a year. But Oliver arrives alone, in pouring rain, and goes straight to his room. The audience can see that he cannot use his right arm, but his face is concealed. Oliver’s family and Beatrice are hot on his heels. He locks the door of his room. After more than an hour, his mother browbeats Beatrice—who refuses to say what happened between them—into going up and talking to him. She speaks through the door of his room, and he says nothing to her. It is clear that when she first saw him, her reaction was one of horror, and even though she says she will marry him, there is no going back.
Oliver stays in his room until the car drives away. The rain becomes a violent thunderstorm. Oliver lights a match, with his left hand, and we see his scarred and distorted face in the mirror. He opens a drawer to reveal a gun. Laura comes in with a lamp and opens the door on the darkened room. A flash of lightning silhouettes Oliver against the window, the gun in his left hand. Laura quietly takes it away. Later, the room is brightly lit and Laura arrives with supper on a tray and a letter from his mother. He snaps at her but she remains calm. He angrily tells her that she can’t understand what it is like to be ugly and then catches himself, ashamed. The next morning he comes out to the garden and finds Laura working on block prints. She was inspired by an exhibition of Holbein’s works. She tells Oliver that he, too, will find a hobby, something to do. Oliver compliments her on her kindness and her commonsense.
Hillgrove and Danny come to the door to pay a call on Oliver. At first Mrs. Minnett refuses, but when she realizes that Hillgrove is blind, she asks him in. Danny goes down to the shore to play with his dog. Hillgrove meets Laura inside and talks to her about his feelings for the house; she tells him about Mrs. Minnett, who has retreated into the past. “Maybe that is one way to see the future,” he says. She takes him to Oliver, in the garden. He is abrupt and rude until Hillgrove tells him he can’t see. Hillgrove talks of how things have changed for him since he was shot down over the Argonne, in some ways for the better. He talks of finding a new life, through new talents or new friends. For him, it was music. They walk down to the beach where they meet Laura and Danny. Oliver carries a load of driftwood back to the house, joking that that could be his hobby.
Three weeks later, Oliver and Laura return from what is clearly a daily walk; he is cheerful and joking. Mrs. Minnette smiles at her canary. When Laura says that Oliver has changed, Mrs. Minnette gives her a strange look and almost says something. When she goes into the next room, Laura finds Oliver reading a letter. He is transformed with anger and goes up to his room, telling her to send Hillgrove away when he comes, also on a regular visit. Late that night, Oliver walks out to the cliff overlooking the sea and weeps in despair. Laura hears him leave the house and follows, hoping she can help. The letter was from his mother. His family have given him a choice. Come home for their loving attention round-the-clock, or they will sell the house and move here, bringing a trained nurse. Laura recognizes that nothing could do him more harm. They just can’t understand. On thr spur of the moment, he asks her to marry him, but not just to save him. They talk about their friendship and feelings and she admits that she cares. They are married in the village church; we are not shown the ceremony. That night, Mrs. Minnett changes the date on her perpetual calendar to the true date, June 6, 1943.
Weeks later, it is 9 pm in the Stanton home. Hillgrove has just returned from a long concert tour. An urgent message arrives from the Bradfords, via Danny, and he goes to the cottage. They are out for a walk. He tells Mrs. Minnett that he feels something different in the room. Smiling, she describes the Bradfords’ behavior. They are in hiding, wrapping up and avoiding everyone, even Mrs. Minnett. They return and, their backs to the camera, tell Hillgrove that they have changed. He can hear the happiness in their voices, yes. But they reply that the change is physical. This gives him pause, and he asks them to tell him about it. In turn, they describe at legth their wedding night, and the transformation that took place in each of them. Laura reveals that she fell in love with Oliver at first sight. When they finish their story, Laura removes her veil. She is radiantly beautiful, and Oliver is as handsome, his right arm healed. Mrs. Minnett comes in but avoids making eye contact, and Laura says, “She knows.” Laura is worried that this may be some trick: The cottage may be punishing them because in the beginning theirs was a marriage of convenience. Hillgrove tells them to accept this gift as a miracle and embrace it. After he leaves, they sit in the window and speak sweet words of love to each other. In the morning, in the bedroom, Oliver wakes her with a kiss, and she describes her dream of a wedding. They embrace and the camera fades out.
A telegram arrives. Hillgrove is with them in the garden when they reveal that they are waiting for Oliver’s mother and stepfather, who have given them very little notice. They see the car coming, early, and Hillgrove eagerly offers to greet their guests while Laura and Oliver change clothes. Laura asks Mrs. Minnett for an especially fine tea because of the visit; she drops a ladle and bends over the kitchen counter as if in pain, although she calmly tells Laura that all is well.
Hillgrove tries desperately to explain to the Prices that Oliver and Laura have changed, but that the change is inward. They can’t begin to understand; they blow everything out of proportion and make things even more confused. Oliver’s mother is distraught. When Oliver and Laura come downstairs arm in arm, they are beautiful at the top, but their real selves at the bottom. Whenever the camera includes Laura’s or Oliver’s point of view, the other is shown transformed. Oliver’s mother, in tears, babbles and reveals the truth, telling Laura that she has qualities much more important than a pretty girl, adding that because of Oliver’s income they won’t ever have to go out or see anyone else. The Prices leave, declining any tea, because Violet has a headache. Oliver asks Hillgrove if he has always known the truth. Yes, he has. They then confront Mrs. Minnett, who admits that they never changed physically. She tells them she thought her heart would break when she knew that they would have to learn the truth. But what is there to be sorry about, she asks. She will tell them the secret of the only enchantment the cottage holds: The secret is that they love each other. “A man and woman in love have a gift of sight.” She has watched them from the beginning, and on the day of their wedding their love “blazed up like dry kindling.” “Keep it burning and you will never be anything but fair and handsome.” If her husband could rise from his grave and see her now, just as she is, she would be pretty to him. Oliver reassures Hillgrove. If it had happened earlier...But now... After Hillgrove leaves, they write their names on the window.
We return to the party. Hillgrove plays a passionate passage as Laura and Oliver pull up, get out of their car and walk to the door. They turn to kiss before going in, and they are beautiful.
- Dorothy McGuire as Laura Pennington
- Robert Young as Oliver Bradford
- Herbert Marshall as Major John Hillgrove
- Mildred Natwick as Mrs. Abigail Minnett
- Spring Byington as Violet Price
- Hillary Brooke as Beatrice Alexander
- Richard Gaines as Frederick 'Freddy' Price
- Alec Englander as Danny 'Taxi' Stanton
- Robert Clarke as Marine Corporal
- Eden Nicholas as Soldier
According to Jeremy Arnold of TCM, Robert Young told Leonard Maltin in a 1986 interview that he considered The Enchanted Cottage 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." Young later named a home he built in California “The Enchanted Cottage.”
Arthur Wing Pinero's play, written in 1921 and first performed in 1922,  was filmed in 1924 as a timely story involving physical and emotional disabilities following the First World War. In the stage directions, Oliver is described as an emaciated wreck of a man, broken by the war. The dialogue reveals that he was wounded in the neck and that it is painful to straighten his left leg, but he says his “head,” meaning his mind, is the worst. In the 1924 film, his body is contorted, he walks with a cane, and he cannot put his right foot to the ground. In the 1945 film, most of Oliver’s face is scarred, and he has completely lost the use of his right arm and hand. He can walk without aids and there is no visible impairment of his lower body.
The original play and film were set in England, and the history of the “honeymoon” couples extended back into the Tudor period. The “shadows” of three of the historical couples appeared onstage. Elaborate fantasy sequences, representing Laura’s dreams and fears, played key roles in the story. They were eliminated from the 1945 version.
In the play, Mrs. Minnett’s uncanny gifts are made more explicit: She comes from a long line of witches (witches can be good, Laura hastens to say). She is also more damaged by her grief. The cast of the play is larger, including the local rector and his wife, and the couple’s blind friend, Major Hillgrove, believes in the transformation, unlike the character portrayed by Herbert Marshall. 
RKO Producer Harriet Parsons acquired the rights for her studio for an updated World War II version set in New England. When RKO management took the film away from her and gave it to producer-writer Dudley Nichols, Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper wrote a strongly-worded newspaper editorial criticizing RKO for gender bias. The outcry from the column led RKO to change its plan and give the property back to Harriet Parsons.
Parsons wrote an outline of the updated story about a World War II veteran. She engaged DeWitt Bodeen for the screenplay, and the two became lifelong friends. Parsons also selected John Cromwell as director. David O. Selznick lent RKO Dorothy McGuire for the film, and MGM lent Robert Young, who reteamed with McGuire after her debut in Claudia.
Parsons also contributed to the screenplay along with Herman J. Mankiewicz, who was hired by Cromwell to touch up Bodeen's screenplay. Mankiewicz was best known for his contributions to Orson Welles' Citizen Kane .
Composer Roy Webb wrote a piano concerto for the film that a blinded World War I veteran (Herbert Marshall) uses as a tone poem to describe the story of the two protagonists to a gathering of their friends. Webb was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Score in 1945 and performed the concerto at the Hollywood Bowl later that year. Marshall, who had lost a leg in World War I, played his role as a blind man with the help of special contact lenses.
Dorothy McGuire insisted her character show her plainness with no makeup, ill-fitting clothes and a drab hairstyle. When McGuire was filmed looking appealing to Robert Young, her character had similar costumes that were well tailored.
The film was released in April 1945. Not all the critics were enthusiastic. Writing for The New York Times, critic Bosley Crowther observed
[The play and first film] concerned the illusion of beauty and the moral courage which was mutually found by a homely girl and a maimed war veteran when they viewed each other through the eyes of love. It is a theme which is quite as appealing today as it was back then and one which can bear repeating in modern and practical detail. However, the current flim version of the wistful drama... contemporizes the subject in peculiarly obsolete terms. Despite all the marvelous advances in plastic surgery, it assumes that a shattered Air Force pilot would be returned to society with a face very badly disfigured and frightening to behold. It forgets that a casualty quite as bitter as the American hero in this case would be studiously rehabilitated through modern treatment before being dismissed. And it violates an obvious tenet of feminine beauty culture today—which is that a girl of moderate features (and fair intelligence) can make herself look very sweet.
[T]he deep and studied poignance of this elaborately heart-torturing film appears not only unreasonable but very plainly contrived. It is hard to believe that a depressed veteran's entire recuperation would be allowed to devolve upon a fustrated [sic] girl, an intuitive blind man and a honeymoon cottage possessing charm. And it is fair to insist that no young lady with a face and figure such as that of Dorothy McGuire would permit herself to look so dingy and woebegone as she does in this film.
Variety’s December 31, 1944, review read: “Sensitive love story of a returned war veteran with ugly facial disfigurements, and the homely slavey—both self-conscious of their handicaps—is sincerely told both in the script [based on the play by Arthur Wing Pinero] and outstanding direction of John Cromwell.”
In 2018, Jeremy Arnold wrote for TCM that
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.
The film made a profit of $881,000.
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:
Adaptations to other media
The Enchanted Cottage was adapted as a radio play on the September 3, 1945 broadcast of Lux Radio Theater with Robert Young and Dorothy McGuire reprising their film roles, and on the December 11, 1946 broadcast of Academy Award Theater, starring Peter Lawford and Joan Lorring.
The film also forms the basis of one of the films that Manuel Puig used to compose his novel Kiss of the Spider Woman. The film is the basis of chapter 5 in which Molina tells a film to himself, one in which he imagines the advantages of lovers' bodies being adapted to the "true love" of their souls, a reality that would make possible supposedly impossible romantic possibilities for himself and his married love interest, Gabriel.
- "The Enchanted Cottage (1945) - Articles - TCM.com". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 2019-11-04.
- Pinero, Sir Arthur Wing (1922). The enchanted cottage: a fable in three acts. Heinemann.
- Pinero, Sir Arthur Wing (1922). The enchanted cottage: a fable in three acts. Heinemann.
- Barbas, Samathana The First Lady of Hollywood (University of California Press, 2006), p. 276
- Arnold, Jeremy (2013). "The Enchanted Cottage". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 2 January 2014.
- Crowther, Bosley (1945-04-28). "THE SCREEN; 'Enchanted Cottage,' Remake of Play by Sir Arthur Pinero, With Dorothy McGuire, Robert Young, New Film at the Astor". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-11-04.
- Staff, Variety; Staff, Variety (1945-01-01). "The Enchanted Cottage". Variety. Retrieved 2019-11-04.
- The Enchanted Cottage (1945), retrieved 2019-11-04
- Richard B. Jewell, Slow Fade to Black: The Decline of RKO Radio Pictures, Uni of California, 2016
- "AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-19.
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