The Good Fairy

      Comments Off on The Good Fairy

Preston Sturges’ screenplay adaptation of Ferenc Moln├ír’s 1930 stage play The Good Fairy follows the exploits of Luisa Ginglebusher (Margaret Sullavan) after she is discharged from an orphanage to work as an usher at a movie theater. It is in this capacity that Luisa first meets Detlaff (Reginald Owen), a waiter at an expensive hotel, and finds herself being pursued by meat packing magnate Konrad (Frank Morgan). When Konrad’s advances go too far Luisa invents for herself a husband (Herbert Marshall), selecting a name at random from the phone book. It isn’t long before Luisa’s attempts to be a “good fairy” to her invented husband get her into trouble and cause all sorts of mischief.

Universal Pictures’ production of The Good Fairy (1935) epitomizes the Depression era fantasy; the hope that through fate, accident or divine intervention some modicum of wealth could be achieved. Sturges’ screenplay, though written relatively early in his film career, features all of the hallmarks one associates with his later works in the forties. The Frank Morgan character is particularly typical of Sturges. Konrad is a manic moron intoxicated with his privilege but none the less possesses a kind and generous heart. Sturges always sees the potential in the characters who populate his scripts to do good, to redeem themselves, or to simply advance themselves beyond their dire straits.

But Sturges did not direct The Good Fairy. The Good Fairy was produced and directed by William Wyler, one of the great auteurs of Hollywood during its Golden Age. Wyler was always a humanist whose camera lens focused intently on character’s lives as if they mattered just as much as real life. Wyler’s style of directing which always put the performer first imbues Sturges’ writing with a fluidity and flexibility of emotion that is often absent when Sturges himself directed. Unlike so many directors of that period Wyler is willing to side with his female protagonist at every turn; never judging and always sympathetic.

The Good Fairy is one of those pictures that, despite all of the tremendous talent behind the camera, belongs completely to its star. Luisa is the perfect role for Sullavan, allowing her to showcase not only her dramatic range but also her gifts for comedic timing, both physically and verbally. Sullavan often played the naive ingenue to perfection though at times these parts were written in such a way that her characters seemed more unintelligent than innocent. However with the part of Luisa Sullavan never falls into that trap. Luisa is naive, yes, but also fiercely independent and determined.

In recent years The Good Fairy has been growing in public esteem. Various home video releases of the film have enabled a critical reassessment that is more focused on female representation than ever before. While certain dramatic beats may be problematic, on the whole The Good Fairy is as good as one is likely to get in a romantic comedy made in the mid-thirties. The Kino-Lorber Blu-Ray of The Good Fairy is gorgeous and essential.