The Good Fairy

The Good Fairy, 1935, Universal Pictures. Starring Margaret Sullavan, Herbert Marshall, Frank Morgan, Reginald Owen. Directed by William Wyler. B&W, 98 minutes.

Luisa Ginglebusher (Margaret Sullivan) has grown up in the Municipal Orphanage, where now, as one of the oldest orphans, she entertains the younger girls with fairy tales, admonishing them to do good deeds. When she’s given a job as an usherette at a local movie theater, she is given the same admonition from the head of the orphanage (Beulah Bondi), with one more directive: beware the male gender.

She soon realizes the wisdom of that advice. As she is leaving the theater on her first day of work, she is accosted by a man who won’t take no for an answer, until she tells him she is married. She grabs the arm of a theater patron passing by, Detlaff (Reginald Owen), and pretends he is her husband. In turn, Detlaff takes her out for tea, where he finds himself charmed by, and protective of, her. He invites her to an exclusive party at the hotel where he is a waiter.

At that party she meets Konrad (Frank Morgan), who also begins to prey on Luisa, and Detlaff does his best to keep the two apart. Luisa is oblivious to Konrad’s intentions until he picks her up and twirls her around a private dining room. Once again, she pretends she is married, but Konrad is not easily dissuaded. He demands to know her husband’s name, pretending he has a wonderful job for the man. Thinking quickly, Luisa pulls a name out of the phone book and runs away from Konrad, believing she has been a good fairy for one Max Sporum (Herbert Marshall).

From there the antics continue, until each is shown for the person he or she truly is.

Reginald Owen, Margaret Sullavan

Reginald Owen, Margaret Sullavan

Preston Sturges began writing the script for The Good Fairy shortly after the inauguration of the Hays Code, which severely restricted movies from showing anything objectionable to audiences of the day. He remained behind in the script writing throughout the production of the film, and the script was not approved by censors. They were allowed to continue making the movie on the condition that any objectionable portions would be dropped, and the Hays Office had some serious objections to several scenes replete with innuendo. The final product passed the close inspection of the Hays Code and is as innocent as the censors wanted it to be.

Director Wyler and Sullavan clashed early on in the making of the film, until Wyler realized he got further with patience and understanding. The two surprised everyone on the set when in the middle of shooting they eloped. Their marriage lasted less than a year and a half. It was the second of four marriages for Sullavan and the first of two for Wyler; Wyler married his second wife in 1938 and the two remained together until his death in 1981.

The Good Fairy is neither Wyler’s nor Sturges’ finest work, but it is an enjoyable tale with a fine cast. It is a must-see for fans of Preston Sturges, who will appreciate his early work and the constraints under which he wrote it. For everyone else, this is a good rainy day film, one to watch and enjoy.

Margaret Sullavan, Herbert Marshall

Margaret Sullavan, Herbert Marshall