Monday, August 17, 2009

"The Good Fairy" (1935, Wyler)

There’s something disarmingly straightforward (and straight, period) in the way that William Wyler saves all the extreme close-ups in The Good Fairy (1935) for Margaret Sullavan. It makes her the sweetheart of the movie itself, so to speak; and no wonder. She’s playing Luisa Ginglebusher – another Sturgesian masterstroke of a last name – an orphan-turned-usherette, who is too decent to make one Konrad (Frank Morgan) her sugar daddy, so she asks him to shower his money at her husband instead. The trouble is: she has no husband, so she chooses a name from the phonebook at random: and so a failed but honest (or rather: honest, and thus failed) lawyer, Dr. Max Sporum (Herbert Marshall), finds himself being offered a lucrative position by Konrad the next morning – for no apparent reason.

Both Luise and Konrad are fairly familiar characters for anyone versed in Sturges, but Dr. Sporum is a true comical masterpiece. He’s an intensification of many Sturgesian traits, crowned with a goatee that is so magnificently out of place on Herbert Marshall’s face, a good fifteen minutes worth of coaxing is needed to get him to the barbershop to shave it off. Sporum may be the most deranged of all Sturges originals: he’s definitely the first one I remember actually asking himself whether he’s deranged. The moment just after hearing the good news about a big salary coming his way is the comical highpoint of the film: Sporum plans his purchases, and what’s on the top of his list…? “A pencil-sharpener with a handle and a set of holes, different sizes! At last!”

Sporum is hilariously conceited. When he describes to Luise what happened to him the morning he got the position, he points to his new pencil-sharpener and ends with a line that cracked me up: “Hence the magnificence”.

Ultimately – even though adapted from Ferenc Molnar’s play, which was heavily edited by the way – The Good Fairy is yet another story of wealth suddenly happening to people: just like Easy Living (1937), Christmas in July (1940) and The Palm Beach Story (1942). It’s a great Sturgesian theme: how simplemindedness survives a sudden strike with a money bag.

Oh, and by the way: Frank Morgan’s turn is a bit one-note (he shouts too much), but it’s still hilarious, especially if one still sees him as Professor Marvel he was about to play in The Wizard of Oz (1939) – here, he calls himself the master of “the enchanted bankroll”. Great stuff.

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