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Film

'Enchantment' Plays the Heartstrings Without Overdoing It

This tale of two love stories intertwining in an English row house is excellent in all aspects.


Enchantment

Director: Irving Reis
Cast: David Niven, Teresa Wright
Distributor: Warner Archive
Year: 1948
US DVD release date: 2014-08-26

Enchantment was a rare achievement in 1948, and today this type of delicate, intelligent, yet utterly pie-eyed romance is as dead as Betamax. So are you if this picture doesn't prime your heartbeat. An excellent print is now available on demand from Warner Archive with no extras except the trailer.

Two love stories, which might in a mystical sense be the same love story, are intertwined within the same English row house as the film slips backwards and forwards in time. One is the Victorian story of a callow yet likeable military officer, Sir Roland Dane (David Niven), and the orphan girl called Lark (Teresa Wright) raised as a semi-adopted sister. We know from the beginning, as we see the retired General Dane living with his sad memories during WWII, that their romance broke apart, and it had something to do with the Roland's proper, insinuating, hostile sister Selina (Jayne Meadows), who, among other motives, is jealous of her brother.

Although the General wishes to remain alone, or with only his ancient butler (Leo G. Carroll), he feels compelled to billet an American ambulance-driver who happens to be his great-niece Grizel (Evelyn Keyes), and her first patient happens to be a Canadian flyer called Pax (Farley Granger), who announces himself as Lark's nephew. Both romances face the test of military intervention (after two years in India, Roland is assigned to Afghanistan!) and the willingness of both parties to commit to love or face eternal regret. It must be significant that Roland is named after a famous warrior while Pax has the opposite connotation.

Every element of this film is excellent. The cast has never been better, although some were equally good on occasion. Niven is as convincing as an old man (as is his makeup) as he is as a dashing officer. Wright's beauty never radiated greater sensitivity and intelligence, after all, these were her specialty. Granger managed to star in several excellent movies but was never more credible or handsome than as a pilot who takes life lightly and love seriously. Keyes reminds us that this reliable actress was one of Hollywood's generally unrealized talents, and Meadows is a revelation.

Hugo Friedhofer's score plays the heartstrings without overdoing it, matching the precision and subtlety of John Patrick's script, based on a Rumer Godden novel. Patrick, who grasped how to adapt a novel into a tasteful sudser, moved on to Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing, Three Coins in the Fountain, Some Came Running, and The World of Suzie Wong.

While much of this film's quality must be attributed to producer Samuel Goldwyn, some credit surely belongs to director Irving Reis, who doesn't have a reputation at the same level. Reis was mainly a radio artist who directed a few good movies, and this is his finest achievement. Aside from his work with his actors, he and photographer Gregg Toland provide compositions and motions graceful in themselves as well as delicate passages between past and present. They are handled sometimes with nearly invisible superimpositions and sometimes through lighting and movement, a perfectly cinematic transitional device that's oddly underused in cinema. This was the great Toland's last movie; according to the American Film Institute, he and grip Ralph Hoge "developed the first automatically counter-balanced camera crank head for use in the film"; it must be why those transitions are so darn smooth.

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