The Enchanted Cottage…a harborage to a legend of eternal romance. A beautiful cottage left to live in contented independence from the centuries-old structure it once belonged to; standing solid amidst the passages of time to cast its romantic spell on the strangers who pass through its portals. Ah! but not anyone can sense its enchantment…only chosen ones.
Our story begins on a cold wintry morning in a small New England town by the sea. Walking among the rustling leaves outside of this cottage is John Hillgrove (Herbert Marshall)…a blind man. And yet, a man who can truly see, for he possesses the gift of inner sight; the ability to sense the true nature of a being, and to sense the magical aura an “enchanted” cottage, like the one before him, can cast. Being a composer, he seeks inspiration for his musical skill, and on this beautiful December morning Fate brings him to meet Miss Laura Pennington (Dorothy McGuire), a young woman who will one day kindle his imagination with the musical strains of an emotion waiting to be set to music.
Miss Pennington is our rather plain-looking heroine. A lost soul seeking a Home; a place of rest; a place where she can feel she belongs. She hopes to find it in her hometown. Returning after an absence of a few years, she comes to the cottage to obtain the position of a maid.
Known locally as “The Witch,” Mrs. Abigail Minnett (Mildred Natwick) runs the place, and having recently rented it to a soon-to-be-married couple, she’s looking for a level-headed woman to help with the housework. Miss Pennington says she does not believe the rumor of the cottage being haunted and is readily given the job. It is not so much her superstitious disbelief that makes Mrs. Minnett hire her, but rather her confession to being lonely….a feeling Mrs. Minnett can sadly relate to.
That afternoon Mr.Oliver Bradford (Robert Young) and his fiancée Beatrice (Hillary Brooke) arrive to look over the cottage. They are a young society couple and Oliver is obviously taken by the charm of the place and convinces Beatrice that it is the ideal location in which to spend their honeymoon. Within a week they plan on getting married, but that blissful day will never come, for War is declared soon after and being an Army pilot, Bradford is swiftly given his overseas departure orders.
Over a year later, he returns to the cottage a changed man – a disfigured man. This time it is not a honeymoon oasis he is seeking but rather a place of retreat from his family, his fiancée and the society that brands him an outcast and tries to comfort him with pity. A broken man, he is searching for a new foothold on life. It is not only peace that he shall find at the enchanted cottage, but something even more wonderful…..lasting love.
Originally a stage play written by Sir Arthur Wing Pinero in 1923, The Enchanted Cottage was first brought to the screen in 1924 in a silent film production by First National starring Richard Barthelmess and May McAvoy. RKO released this film adaption in 1945, and Lux Radio Theatre used the same cast in a radio play that year as well. Robert Young and Dorothy McGuire were a perfect team (they had starred together two years earlier in another stage adaption, Claudia, for 20th Century-Fox) for this “enchanting” tale and each brings a unique quality to their roles: Dorothy, with her look of inner sadness and breathless timidness, and Robert with his kind and honest appearance that not even a facial scar can alter. Mildred Natwick is marvelous as usual, as the lonely widow for whom time has stood still. And best of all is the magnificent Herbert Marshall. This man is always a pleasure to behold.
“Through the eyes of Love, one can see everlasting Beauty ” is the theme of The Enchanted Cottage, and yet, lying just beneath the surface, the film tells other tales. It’s a story of kindness: a lonely woman welcoming a stranger into her home, befriending her, and sharing in her happiness and sorrow; a young woman reaching out to a man in need of compassion and sympathetic understanding. It’s a story of acceptance: accepting your situation in life and wanting to see it in a brighter perspective; accepting others for who they are and loving them for it. It’s a story of Time: the Past frozen on a calendar for a widow to remember, the Present being days of war and personal hardship, the Future being the only bright star of hope and happiness. And most importantly, it’s a story of truth: eyes that see the true, the real, in a blind world. John Hillgrove tells Oliver that his blindness has opened up new worlds for him allowing him to use senses that show things as they really are, making nature and human beings all the more beautiful to him…..
The Enchanted Cottage is an atmospheric romantic fantasy with lovely music by Roy Webb (nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Score) and beautiful cinematography. It leaves a memorable impression on the viewer, and you will want to see it many times over.
Constance Metzinger is a blogger who runs the website Silver Scenes, “a blog for classic film lovers.” This article originally ran in 2015 and is being reprinted as part of our ongoing 10th anniversary celebrations.