The Enchanted Cottage is not a fairytale film for children. There are no princesses needing rescued by a prince, no evil fairies or witches out to spoil all the fun. No cute, talking animals. This 1945 film, made by RKO Studios, is a fairytale for adults, set in the real-time of 1945. Featuring the skills of Robert Young, Dorothy McGuire, and Herbert Marshall, who serves as the film’s narrator.
WWII has ended and John Hillgrove(Herbert Marshall), who was blinded while fighting in the war, is playing the piano for a party that he is hosting for newlyweds Oliver and Laura Bradford. As the film opens with this scene, Hillgrove tells his guests the love story of Oliver and Laura, via a long flashback.
Years ago there had been an estate built by an English nobleman, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean in New England. A fire had occurred, burning most of the great house except for one wing. The nobleman has that wing rebuilt to be a new, cottage-styled home. The nobleman decides to begin renting out that wing as a haven for honeymooners. Years go by and now a widow, Mrs. Abigail Minnett(Mildred Natwick-excellent as always) runs the cottage for honeymooning couples. It is to this cottage that Laura Pennington(Dorothy McGuire) applies to work as a housekeeper. Laura is a very plain, shy young woman. With the recent death of her mother, and having no other relations to fall upon for help, she decides to go out and seek her forturne. Mrs. Minnett likes Laura and does hire her. Mrs. Minnett tells her that there is a legend attached to the cottage, that when honeymooners etch their names onto the glass of one window, their union will be especially blessed.
Oliver Bradford(Robert Young) soon arrives with his fiancee, Beatrice(Hillary Brooke). Oliver is from a wealthy family, and a pilot in the Army Air Corps. He has rented the cottage and as soon as he and Hillary see the Justice of the Peace, the honeymoon will begin. Hillary isn’t impressed with the cottage, thinking it too simple. Laura overhears her and steps in to tell the couple about the cottage’s legend. Oliver takes Hillary’s engagement ring to etch their names on the window’s pane and the diamond falls out of the setting! Then, Oliver is contacted by his air group-he must fly out immediately, so no wedding yet. Soon, Mrs. Minnett receives a telegram from Beatrice cancelling the couple’s lease.
A year goes by and Mrs. Minnett receives a telegram from Oliver Bradford, asking to rent the cottage for himself for an indefinite period of time. When Oliver arrives, Laura and Mrs. Minnett see that his face is disfigured and his arm is disabled, from a horrific plane crash he survived in the war. Oliver is bitter, his egagement to Hillary was broken. He is mad at the world and has decided to live as a recluse. Laura is heart-broken that he has become this way and with her common sense, gentleness, and compassion, Oliver begins to return to his old self.
Oliver befriends the narrator at this point in the film, Hillgrove, who happens by the cottage one day. He encourages Oliver to learn to live again despite the disabilities. He also tells Oliver that the war left him blinded but he has adapted and life has gone on.(An interesting side-note, Herbert Marshall who plays Hillgrove, was a soldier for the British during WWI and lost a leg, and yet resumed his acting career after the war.)
Conflict arrives in Oliver’s life in the form of his mother, Violet(Spring Byington). Byington had a long career, often playing fun and understanding mothers so it was a surprise to see her play such a rotten mother in this film! Violet and Hillary arrive to talk to Oliver but he refuses to see them. 3 weeks later, Violet sends her son an ultimatum: if he doesn’t return to the family home she will be moving to the cottage to live there with him! Oliver doesn’t want that at all, so he quickly proposes marriage to Laura. Laura, who really loves Oliver but hasn’t told him, agrees to marry him. When the couple returns to the cottage for their honeymoon the enchantment happens. Laura sees Oliver without the disfiguring burn on his face and no disabled arm. Oliver sees Laura as a beauty. They etch their names onto the window’s pane. Mrs. Minnett reassures them that their true love for each other lets them see each other as perfect, despite the meddling of Violet and her cruel words when she discovers they have married one another.
Then Enchanted Cottage was a 1922 stage play, written by Arthur Wing Pinero, a play about a returning WWI Vet with a disability. It had been previously filmed as a silent film in 1924 that starred Richard Barthelmess and May McAvoy. Harriet Parsons, a producer at RKO, aquired the rights to the play to remake a newer film, set in WWII and in New England. Parsons hired DeWitt Bodeen to write the screenplay and she chose John Cromwell to direct. For a lovely, romantic movie with a 91 minute running time, seek out The Enchanted Cottage. It airs from time to time on Turner Classic Movies. It is available to buy from Amazon, and a kind soul put the trailer clip on Youtube. The OV Guide has it listed as a a film to watch online for free. Can’t beat that! .