When I started this challenge, I had a few things in mind that I hoped for – I hoped people would give me stuff I needed to see but hadn’t gotten around to, stuff that I wouldn’t have sought out on my own, stuff I thought I would dislike and end up loving, and stuff I’d never heard of, with a particular hope that I’d get some classic-era stuff I hadn’t heard of, which can be a difficult feat. Well, this week did it, and I’m very glad it did.
Despite having a stellar pedigree – directed by William Wyler, written by Preston Sturges, starring a luminous Margaret Sullavan and a great supporting cast – this film seems to have gone under the radar quite a bit. Sullavan is Luisa Ginglebusher (a Sturges last name if ever I heard one), a girl who’s grown up in an orphanage her whole life, but leaves to take a job as an usherette at a theatre…but all that’s by the by. Once she’s out in the world, it doesn’t take long for her to be surrounded by men. She keeps the advice of orphanage director Beulah Bondi to be careful in her “dealings with the male gender,” but is also led by her admonition to do a good deed every day.
Well, after she tells would-be paramour Konrad (Frank Morgan) that she’s married to try to stop his advances, he makes a fairly bizarre series of mental logic and decides that if he can’t spend his fortune on her directly, he’ll make her husband rich so HE can shower her with gifts. Bestowing a fortune on a random poor guy she finds in the phone book seems like a good deed, but as I wrote in my notes at this point, “this is all going to go terribly wrong…and then probably turn out terribly right.” True on both counts, but crazy plot developments are one of my favorite things about this era of film.
The film also fares well on many of other favorite things about 1930s film – glamour (check out the gorgeous repeating mirror as Luisa is trying on a “genuine foxine” stole), witty dialogue, great short bits from wonderful character actors (drunk Eric Blore vs. stairs is a real standout), expressive closeups, people who fall in love at the drop of a hat, etc. I also loved the glimpse, however brief and exaggerated, of moviegoing in the 1930s – the film within a film is a delightful joke of a melodrama.
Morgan’s character was perhaps a bit too much of a creep to be treated as humorously as he is, and the opening at the orphanage is basically just a setup for Luisa’s innocence, but that aside perhaps the only major thing that would’ve given me a better time with this is if had been a Pre-Code – it has hints of the kind of dialogue it might’ve had. But as it is, it tows a relatively fine line with Luisa’s innocence and the men surrounding her, which may have been harder to manage if the content restrictions had been looser.
Stats and stuff…
directed by William Wyler, written by Preston Sturges
starring Margaret Sullavan, Herbert Marshall, Frank Morgan, Reginald Owen, Eric Blore, Beulah Bondi, Alan Hale, Cesar Romero
I’m ranking all my Challenge films on Flickchart (as I do all the films I see), a movie-ranking website that asks you to choose your favorite between two movies until it builds a ranked list of your favorites. Just for fun, I will average out the rankings and keep a running tally of whose recommendations rank the highest. When you add a film to Flickchart, it pits it against films already on your chart to see where it should fall. Here’s how The Good Fairy entered my chart:
The Good Fairy beats Outrage
The Good Fairy beats Umberto D
The Good Fairy loses to Rooty Toot Toot
The Good Fairy beats Robin Hood (1922)
The Good Fairy loses to Born to Kill
The Good Fairy beats Little Children
The Good Fairy beats Rashomon
The Good Fairy beats Mr. Deeds Goes to Town
The Good Fairy beats The Elephant Man
The Good Fairy beats The Secret in Their Eyes
The Good Fairy loses to Shall We Dance (1937)
Final ranking #565 out of 3591 films on my chart (84th percentile)
It is now my #4 William Wyler film, my #1 Margaret Sullavan film, my #3 Herbert Marshall film, and my #6 film of 1935.
The Good Fairy was recommended by Matthew Price, a friend from Row Three and cohost of the fabulous Mamo! podcast.
A few quotes…
Dr. Schultz: If I let you go into the outside world, would you still do your good deed every day?
Dr. Schultz: You cannot be too careful in dealings with the male gender.
Boy at the movies: [Dad starts taking his family from theatre] This isnâ€™t where we came in!
Dad at the movies: Itâ€™s where we go out just the same.
Joe: [trying to pick up girls outside theatre] Looking for a gentlemen?
Passing woman: Yeah, you know where I can find one?
The Waiter: I didnâ€™t recognize you without your pants.
Dr. Metz: [drunk and about to attempt stairs] Unhand me, varlet, lest I cleave thee with a brisket. Alone, I will negotiate yon precipice.
Dr. Metz: Perfectly preposterous. They put steps just where you canâ€™t see them in a spot where everybodyâ€™s bound to fall over them. What are they for, anyway? I just finished coming down a whole lot over there with the greatest difficult, and here we are faced with a whole lot more to go up. You know, I believe these blasted architects only do it just to complicate existence.
Konrad: Far from being a waiter, I am NOT a waiter.
Konrad: The air is full of revolution…and romance.
Konrad: I can use one honest lawyer, but don’t overdo it.
Luisa: You canâ€™t take a beard like that in a black car, youâ€™ll frighten the children.
Dr. Max Sporum: Never let it be said that a Sporum ever refused the request of a Ginglebusher.
Luisa: Heâ€™s got to keep his pencil sharpener!
The Waiter: The trouble with you is youâ€™ve been thinking again!
Luisa: Donâ€™t be silly. If you start off to be a good fairy, you canâ€™t stop in the middle.
Luisa: Think of me kindly…almost as if…I loved you.
Max: You are the good fairy. You flew into my life and changed everything.
Luisa: No, youâ€™re the good fairy who changed my life.
The Waiter: No, no, no, as a matter of fact Iâ€™m entirely responsible…
Konrad: If you say it was you, Iâ€™ll punch you right in the eye! If thereâ€™s any good fairy around here, itâ€™s me!
A few more screenshots…