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TCM and the enchantment of classic films

If it’s up to Turner Classic Movies, today will turn into one of the biggest viewing parties in the world.

In conjunction with its new “Let’s Movie” initiative, the network has designated Sept. 19 as a Watch Party, asking classic movie fans to grab family or friends and tune in to TCM “to share the magic of the movies.” Fans also are taking to social media in various ways to discuss and share a passion for classic films.

The TCM Discoveries Blogathon, hosted by @nitratediva on Twitter, invited people to write about one film they saw for the first time thanks, in some way, to Turner Classic Movies (TV, film festival, etc.). As one of those who jumped at the chance, I quickly realized picking one film wouldn’t be easy. Through TCM, I fell in love with Ronald Colman’s distinctive speaking voice and Norma Shearer’s regal elegance. I watched all the Alfred Hitchcock, Joan Crawford, James Mason and Barbara Stanwyck films I could handle. I discovered what has become my favorite holiday movie, the old-fashioned 1940 Stanwyck-Fred MacMurray romance “Remember the Night.” Most importantly, I watched many films I never had the opportunity to see elsewhere including “The Enchanted Cottage,” the film I chose to write about.

Dorothy McGuire and Robert Young find solace at "The Enchanted Cottage."

Dorothy McGuire and Robert Young find solace at "The Enchanted Cottage."

The highly sentimental 1945 movie stars Dorothy McGuire and Robert Young as two lonely, troubled people who are transformed during a stay at a seaside cottage during World War II. McGuire is Laura, a homely (the word is used multiple times during the film) but gentle young woman looking for a place to belong who becomes a housekeeper at a cottage owned by the widow Mrs. Minnett (Mildred Natwick). For more than a century, the cottage was lived in by honeymooners, a tradition ended when Mrs. Minnett’s husband was killed in World War I. For her, time stopped on that day in 1916, but 25 years later stories still swirl around in the village about the cottage – is it magical or haunted?

“It’s not haunted, it’s enchanted,” Laura says, a statement that the film is built upon.

Oliver (Robert Young) and his fiance Beatrice (Hillary Brooke) plan to rent the cottage for their honeymoon, until he is sent off to war early. Returning disfigured and suicidal, he heads to the isolation of the cottage for solace. There his bitterness slowly leaves him through the kindness of Laura and their new friend, John, a pianist (Herbert Marshall) who lost his sight in World War I.

Laura and Oliver find comfort in each other, but an impending visit from his family causes Oliver to deliver an awkward and painful proposal. Here, we see Laura’s pain and strength as she tells Oliver she is aware of her ugliness but doesn’t want to be his wife just “because you need one and I’m here.” It’s a powerful scene.

They do marry and the enchantment of the cottage and the film come into play. As their love grows stronger, Oliver’s scars fade and Laura’s inner beauty comes to light. Is this transformation real? Is it the magic of the cottage? Or is it looking at someone through the heart and not the eyes?

Herbert Marshall, left, Dorothy McGuire and Robert Young in "The Enchanted Cottage."

Herbert Marshall, left, Dorothy McGuire and Robert Young in "The Enchanted Cottage."

“The Enchanted Cottage” often is described as a fantasy, but I don’t like to limit it to that. Yes, there is a magical, fairy tale-like aspect to the film, but the story also deals with many real themes still relevant today including an obsession with beauty, the cruelty of people and the plight of wounded veterans returning home. A scene of Laura left alone, rebuffed by soldiers at a canteen dance once they see her face, is painful to watch and calls to mind similar scenarios at, say a high school dance. Oliver’s difficulty in facing his wounds is partly because of how his loved ones react to him; his anger at having his life changed by the war is palpable and heartbreaking.

Yet the film also is highly sentimental and optimistic and quite lovely at heart. If that's too much for today's jaded and cynical moviegoer, that's too bad. Our movies are based on a world of magic, after all.

It was directed by John Cromwell (father of actor James Cromwell) whose lengthy career included such other highly regarded romances as “Made for Each Other,” “Night Song” and “In Name Only.” “The Enchanted Cottage” was a favorite of Cromwell and actor Young, who named his home “The Enchanted Cottage.” The beautiful piano concerto by Roy Webb, which forms the tone poem used to frame the story, was Oscar-nominated. The film was based on a 1923 play by Arthur Wing Pinero which was originally filmed in 1924 with Richard Barthelmess.

You can buy "The Enchanted Cottage" on Warner Archive.

In the Buffalo area, we can also see classic films at places and series including Buffalo Film Seminars, the Old Chestnut Film Society and the Screening Room Cinema Cafe.

Please send us your thoughts on your favorite classic films.


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