Lately, I’ve been on a Joel McCrea kick. It started when I decided to watch a Criterion that I had purchased a while back–it was a blind buy. The film? Foreign Correspondent.
Joel McCrea stars in Alfred Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent (1940) as Johnny Jones, aka “Huntley Haverstock.” It’s 1939 and Johnny is a crime reporter at the local New York Morning Globe. His employer, Mr. Powers (Harry Davenport) is concerned about the situation in Europe and Adolf Hitler and his Nazi regime’s growing power. He is searching for someone who is tough and could report the situation in Europe with a fresh take.
When Johnny arrives in London, his first assignment is to interview Stephen Fisher (Herbert Marshall), the leader of the Universal Peace Party. He is supposed to interview Fisher at an event honoring the Dutch diplomat, Van Meer (Albert Bassermann). At the event, Johnny meets Fisher’s daughter, Carol (Laraine Day).
At first, Johnny and Carol don’t get along, but as the film progresses, they fall in love. Johnny meets Van Meer through a chance encounter, enroute to the event. While at the event, Van Meer disappears and does not make his planned appearance. Later, Johnny witnesses Van Meer’s assassination and commandeers a car and chases the culprit to a windmill farm outside of Amsterdam. The car he commandeers just happens to have another reporter inside–Scott ffolliott (George Sanders).
The remainder of the film involves Johnny trying to find out the truth about Van Meer and later, trying to figure out Stephen Fisher–as it becomes clear that he isn’t what he seems.
This was a fantastic film. I absolutely loved it. It definitely was worth the blind buy. Joel McCrea is fantastic at playing an everyday guy who just seems to be fed up with everyone. He’s a very attractive man as well, which makes him even more fun to watch.
I’ve changed one of the pages on my blog from “Film Reviews” to “Clearing the DVR.” I currently have 300+ films saved on my DVR. It is 70% full. I really need to clear up some room before I run out. 99% of my recordings are off of TCM. The other recordings are PBS, a Me-TV documentary about Rose-Marie (Sally on The Dick Van Dyke Show), and the colorized I Love Lucy and The Dick Van Dyke Show Christmas Specials that aired back in December. My issue is that for every movie I watch and delete, I end up recording three in its place. My other issue is that I end up watching a movie I’ve seen multiple times, because it’s what I’m in the mood for and nothing else will suffice. For example, even though I’ve seen this movie like five times now, I’m watching Gidget Goes Hawaiian.
I’ve started the “Clearing the DVR” feature here at Whimsically Classic as a means to motivate myself to watch some of the films I’ve recorded and hopefully clear up some space–so that my husband is able to record all his episodes of Archer on FXX before I steal all the space. Typically when I finish watching a film I’ve recorded, I mentally rate it using the following criteria: 1) Did not care for film, would not watch again; 2) Liked the movie, but do not feel that I need to re-watch it; or 3) Loved the movie and must procure my own copy. Often times, if I’ve decided that I loved the film and want my own copy, I will keep the film on the DVR until I’ve located a copy. There are also films that I love, Penelope (1966) for example, that are not on DVD. Storing it on the DVR is the only way to “own” a copy of the film! Honestly, if it weren’t for the DVR, I wouldn’t get to watch anything!
A couple nights ago, I watched The Enchanted Cottage. I recorded this film a few nights ago on TCM. After reading its praises on the TCM Message Board, I decided to give The Enchanted Cottage a whirl. I am also a big fan of Dorothy McGuire and knowing that she starred in this film gave me another reason to record it. I really enjoy watching McGuire’s performances. Unlike peers like Rita Hayworth, Lana Turner and Hedy Lamarr (to name a few examples), McGuire portrayed more ‘normal’ (for lack of a better word) women. I think McGuire was very pretty, but in a more natural type of way. She wasn’t overly made up to look glamorous–she had a more attainable, average type beauty. I also like McGuire’s characterizations. She portrays women with real issues, women who overcome adversity and hardship to get ahead. She is so subtle in her performances. As much as I love Bette Davis, she loves to chew the scenery (as they say). McGuire’s characters convey so much sympathy, tragedy, etc. through small facial expressions or inflections in her voice.
One of McGuire’s most spectacular performances, in my opinion, takes place in The Enchanted Cottage. McGuire co-stars with Robert Young as one-half of a couple who fall in love despite their physical shortcomings. Their love story is framed within a story about an enchanted cottage. The story begins with Herbert Marshall, a blind pianist, who is holding a dinner party for McGuire and Young’s characters who have recently fallen in love and married. Marshall is also their neighbor. Even though he cannot see, Marshall has seen McGuire and Young’s love for one another grow throughout their courtship. Marshall has written a “tone poem” (a poem set to music) about his neighbors’ (and friends’) love. McGuire and Young are late. Out of respect for his other guests, Marshall begins his poem about the enchanted cottage.
The enchanted cottage resides in a small New England town. According to the stories that have been told throughout the years, during World War I, a young newlywed couple built a beautiful estate in the country. The gorgeous home was razed by fire and only one wing could be saved. That wing was converted into a small cottage which the owner then rented out to young newlywed couples. The legend says that honeymooning couples experience magic in the cottage– a testament to their love. A widow, Mildred Natwick, currently owns the estate and works to keep it maintained. She curiously keeps a calendar dated 4-6-1917.
Fast forward some 25 years later (right after Pearl Harbor) and an engaged couple (Young and Hillary Brooke) wire Natwick about renting the cottage. Despite her reservations, they’re not officially married after all, Natwick agrees to rent them the cottage. She advertises for a maid to come to the cottage to help her out. McGuire shows up on her doorstep to apply for the position. McGuire’s character is not beautiful in this film. In fact, it’s mentioned multiple times by other characters and by McGuire, that she is “homely.” Personally, I didn’t think McGuire was unattractive in this film. I thought she was pretty in an unconventional way. However, I could buy that she wasn’t considered beautiful.
I liked that McGuire’s homeliness wasn’t created via prosthetics and makeup. McGuire insisted that she could be plain looking by not wearing makeup, sporting an unflattering hairstyle and wearing ill-fitting clothing. Combine McGuire’s requests with bad lighting schemes and filmmakers were very adept at downplaying McGuire’s attractiveness and conveying the idea that she was “ugly.” In an era of the beauty queen, I think this was very brave on McGuire’s part to appear unattractive. Many of her peers were too vain to allow themselves to appear on-screen looking anything other than beautiful.
Natwick feels a connection with McGuire and agrees to hire her as a housekeeper. When Young and fiance Brooke show up, McGuire is immediately attracted to Young. He is an attractive man. Brooke immediately dismisses McGuire and the cottage. It’s not blatant, but it’s there. McGuire tries to play up the enchanted angle and shows Young and Brooke where previous lovers have etched their names into the window panes of the cottage. Young tries to use Brooke’s engagement ring to make the engraving and the stone falls out of its setting. Natwick tells them that it is because they aren’t actually married yet and only honeymooning couples can make the engraving. One gets the sense that the stone falling out of the engagement ring is foreshadowing.
Before they can marry, Young is called to duty in World War II. He is injured in a plane crash and now the right side of his face is disfigured. He also suffered nerve damage in his right hand. Young returns home to his fiance. Brooke ends up calling off the wedding. Depressed, Young returns to the cottage, hoping to stay. Natwick and McGuire agree to let him stay. As McGuire dotes on Young, he starts to see that she’s a caring and genuine person. They spend a lot of time together and it is apparent that they really care for one another. Neighbor Marshall shows up occasionally and despite being blind, he is able to see their love for one another grow.
Young ends up proposing to McGuire. At first, he has bad intentions when he proposes–his mother (Spring Byington), thinking that his disfigurement has ruined his life has proclaimed that he either must move home and live with her or she’ll move in with him. Not wanting to live with his mother, Young proposes marriage to McGuire. He realizes he’s being a jerk and discovers that he genuinely cares for McGuire. They marry.
After marriage, Young and McGuire discover that a physical transformation has taken place. Young’s scars and physical injuries are gone. McGuire is now beautiful. They are overjoyed and attribute their physical attractiveness to the power of the cottage. Natwick, who has been witnessing their romance since the beginning, seems hesitant to agree with them, but allows them to live in their fantasy. Byington and her husband, Richard Gaines, show up wanting to meet new daughter-in-law, McGuire. Upon seeing her appearance, Byington says something to the effect of how lucky it was for McGuire to marry, despite not being a pretty girl. This comment devastates McGuire. She realizes that no physical transformation has taken place for either her or Young. Natwick explains that the cottage really has no actual magic powers–it’s simply the power of love. Love causes a couple to look past any physical features and only see what they want to see.
While the message of this film is “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” and perhaps even “love conquers all,” it is a film with some very interesting ideas. In the 1940s, perhaps the lack of outward beauty was seen as a type of defect, something that someone should be ashamed of and trying to fix. In the 2010s however, the constant emphasis on Young and McGuire’s appearances almost seem abhorrent–especially when their appearance is nothing that they can help. However, I choose to look at this film from a romantic angle. Despite being practically shunned by society for how they look, McGuire and Young were able to look past it and see the qualities inside one another. Would the “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” message be stronger if either McGuire or Young weren’t physically disadvantaged and fell in love with a conventionally gorgeous person? A la Beauty and the Beast? I am not sure. Is it better that two misfits (so to speak) fell in love? Or does it send the message that a misfit can only fall in love with another misfit?
This is a very interesting film to watch and analyze. I liked the dreamlike quality and how the love story played out. I also really liked Natwick’s support as the stoic widow who isn’t so much cold as she’s hoping that another couple will be in love as much as she and her husband were. I get the sense that she and her husband were the ones who built the estate. He was killed during World War I and the world essentially stopped for her. When McGuire and Young fall in love, she is so overcome by their romance, this gives her hope–so much hope that she finally updates her calendar to the current date. I also really liked Herbert Marshall. One, I really like his voice. Two, I think his blind pianist provided great support to McGuire and Young. He does not know how they look. He only knows that they are two kind people who have fallen in love. He is truly blind, literally and figuratively, when it comes to outward appearances.
This was a fascinating film and I wouldn’t mind seeing it again. I have added this film to my running list of films to purchase.