Friday, April 12, 2002


If I hadn't seen the credits with my own eyes, I would have sworn this was an MGM production from Ernst Lubitsch. After all, it has Margaret Sullavan (at her most radiant) & Frank Morgan, a glossy backlot Budapest, whimsical romantic entanglements, and a strong supporting cast. It's practically a prequel to THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER, one of my very favorite movies. But it actually came from Universal, was directed by William Wyler, and written by Preston Sturges (based on a Molnar play). Despite some lulls in the middle, this is a lovely, light confection with lots of laughs and fine performances.

Sullavan is an orphan named Louise Ginglebusher (her last name becomes a running joke) who is chosen by theater owner Alan Hale to be an usherette. She goes into the world determined to do a good deed for someone every day (like a good fairy). Her first night on the job, she is befriended by a somewhat gruff but good-natured waiter (Reginald Owen, Scrooge in MGM's A CHRISTMAS CAROL, acting very un-Scroogelike) who invites her to a glittering party where he's working, then keeps an eye on her as she gets the attention of rich philanderer Frank Morgan (at full befuddled bluster). Through a string of somewhat far-fetched plot twists, Sullavan winds up pretending she's married to a man whose name she picks at random out of the phone book (Herbert Marshall). Morgan gives the man a job and money as a favor to her and Sullavan is happy to have been a "good fairy" to someone. But the plot is just picking up steam as she winds up getting directly involved in Marshall's humdrum life.

Marshall is miscast in a romantic part, as he often was in the 30's, but everyone else is practically perfect. Beulah Bondi and Cesar Romero have small but memorable parts, and Eric Blore gets to shine playing something other than a butler or hotel manager--he's a rich doctor who, briefly and drunkenly, also tries to befriend Sullavan. Morgan perhaps overdoes the bluster, but it fits the rather artificial character and plot. At one point, he even has a line that seems to foreshadow his most famous part when he compares himself to a "wizard." I like the fact that everyone winds up being a "good fairy" to someone or other in the film, even if I'm not so happy that Sullavan and Marshall wind up together. If Gary Cooper or Jimmy Stewart had played the part, this would almost be a perfect 10.

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