THE GOOD FAIRY is a whimsical Ernst Lubitsch-like confection directed by William Wyler, from a screenplay by Preston Sturges. I don't think Wyler ever made a film that was less than a classic, and this relatively little-known movie is no exception. It deserves to have a much wider audience.
The plot, which originated as a play by Ferenc Molnar, is unusual, to say the least. Luisa (Margaret Sullavan) is a sheltered, dreamy orphan who leaves her Budapest orphanage and goes into the "real world" to work as an usherette at a movie palace. Luisa has pledged to do a good deed every day and takes her commitment to being a "good fairy" very seriously.
Before you know it, Luisa has two vastly different fairy godfathers in her life: a wealthy man, Konrad (Frank Morgan), with devious plans regarding Luisa's virtue, and a hotel waiter (Reginald Owen) who sneaks her into a ball and thereafter is determined to protect her from Konrad.
Enter Max Sporum (Herbert Marshall), a poor but honest lawyer Konrad believes to be Luisa's husband, for reasons far too complicated to explain here. It's better just to see the movie and settle in for the 98-minute ride.
As one might expect, Sturges' script is excellent, with many amusing scenes and memorable phrases, including "Go! Go! Go!" from the movie being shown at Luisa's new place of employment. (You'll understand when you see it...) I especially loved Luisa waving a light-up arrow in the theater lobby (the arrow is also a wonderful bit of visual design), and later defending her "genuine Foxine" wrap to Konrad; perhaps my favorite moment was Max's childlike delight in his new pencil sharpener. The climactic scene, with the four lead characters trying to unravel the complicated story from their various perspectives, is a wonderful blend of comedy, poignance, and romance.
Sullavan, who was married to director Wyler in this time frame, is excellent as the sweetly daffy Luisa. Marshall, who just a couple years previously was the star of the Lubitsch masterpiece TROUBLE IN PARADISE (1932), is an actor I especially like who should be better remembered today. He can always be counted on to raise the quality of any film up a notch. He gives an excellent performance as Max transforms from a dour, bitter man without hope to someone who looks a decade younger and rhapsodizes joyously over "office equipment!"
Morgan, as the man whose playboy exterior covers a nervous wreck who really just wants to get married and settle down, seems to be in training for his role as another man with a split personality, THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939). In fact, a couple times Morgan's Konrad refers to himself in the film as a "wizard," which is an interesting bit of film history foreshadowing.
Owen is quite funny as Luisa's exasperated, dogged protector. (He'll always be "Admiral Boom" to me despite his appearances in scores of other films.) The superb cast also includes Alan Hale as the movie theater owner, Beulah Bondi as the orphanage director, Eric Blore as a friend of Konrad's, and Cesar Romero as a man who tries to "pick up" Luisa at the stage door.
Sullavan and Morgan would later costar in another film set in Budapest, THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER (1940), directed by Ernst Lubitsch.
In 1947 THE GOOD FAIRY was remade as I'LL BE YOURS, starring Deanna Durbin, Tom Drake, Adolphe Menjou and William Bendix.
THE GOOD FAIRY is available on DVD from Kino in their series "The William Wyler Collection." The print was excellent. DVD extras consist of a trailer and photos.
THE GOOD FAIRY would be perfect paired on a double bill with Mitchell Leisen's MIDNIGHT (1939), another "fairy godfather" film of sorts which also has a European setting.
Herbert Marshall films reviewed here previously: TROUBLE IN PARADISE (1932), IF YOU COULD ONLY COOK (1935), GIRLS' DORMITORY (1936), MAD ABOUT MUSIC (1938), THE LITTLE FOXES (1941), and HIGH WALL (1947). Marshall also appeared in one of my all-time favorite Hitchcock films, FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (1940), and he starred in the excellent adaptation of THE SECRET GARDEN (1949) starring Margaret O'Brien.