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William 'Stage' Boyd
Young, naive Luisa Ginglebusher, who loves fairy tales, leaves the Budapest orphanage to become a movie usherette. Soon she befriends paternal waiter Detlaff and not so paternal Konrad, a meat-packing millionaire. Uninterested in Konrad's rich gifts, Luisa schemes to be a "good fairy" and divert some of this wealth to poor stranger Dr. Sporum. But it's not that simple...Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
The 1930s were perhaps the golden age of the romantic comedy, and one way this is proved is by how many sub-genres the 30s romcom can be divided into. There were the "pre-code" bedroom farces, the screwball comedies which began with It Happened One Night, and the musical romcoms, which virtually all musicals were before they gained a layer of dramatic maturity in the 40s and 50s. The Good Fairy, as its title suggests, is a prime example of yet another sub-genre – the contemporary, urban fairy tale. The beautiful princess is a cinema usherette, the magical kingdom is a modern city, but this is still a simple yet sincere story of love conquering all.
These stories can seem a tad daft or childish, especially when compared to the sophistication and raciness of the classic screwballs. The Good Fairy however makes its innocent sweetness palatable by never getting too close to reality in its setting or situations. The Eastern-European location is reminiscent of the divine "Ruritanian" style of the early Paramount musicals. Preston Sturges's dialogue is witty enough to keep a continuous background level of silliness without threatening to distract from the plot. The original story, by the way, is by Ferenc Molnar, whose most famous work is Liliom (upon which Carousel was based) and while the Good Fairy is not supernatural there are many similarities in tone.
Director William Wyler could have treated the Good Fairy as a straightforward comic ramble, but he leaves the superb cast to bring out the funny business. He instead adds depth to the love angle, shooting as if this were a serious romantic drama. One significant trick he pulls is the in the pace he gives to different parts of the film. Margaret Sullavan's dinner with Reginald Owen and the scenes at the party are very busy, with the crowds in the background constantly moving, sometimes passing in front of the principle actors. This gives a daunting atmosphere and prevents the scenes from getting in any way romantic. In contrast, Sullavan's scenes with Herbert Marshall are at a more relaxed pace, in long unbroken takes, and this brings out the warmth of their moments together.
And now onto that sublime cast, which is surely the best thing about the Good Fairy. The picture opens with Alan Hale, who gets things off to a suitably silly start. Frank Morgan and Reginald Owen have a hammy bluster about them which adds to the aforementioned bustle of those early scenes. It may seem odd to see Eric Blore out of his familiar butler territory, but it's not a problem. Blore is so naturally entertaining I would quite happily watch him playing Lady MacBeth. Pushed and pulled between these oddballs, Margaret Sullavan gives the one naturalistic performance of the whole show, and a remarkable one at that. And then there is Herbert Marshall, one of the most intrinsically likable players of the era. It's odd, because Marshall looks and sounds a lot like George Sanders, but while Sanders looks like the kind of bounder who writes relatives out of his will on an annual basis, Marshall is the sort of man you'd trust with the pin code to your life savings. And that's why he works so well here. In fact, the only bad thing about Marshall's casting is that the barber is right – he really does look better with the beard.
There are really no flaws in the Good Fairy, at least none worth dwelling on. The only reason I wouldn't call it a masterpiece is that there is nothing supremely good about it. It is emotional without being poignant, funny without being hilarious. But the Good Fairy entertains, just as a square meal fills us up, and who would ask for a gourmet dinner every night of the week?
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