Comedy Oddities: The Good Fairy

the good fairy indexEarly on in this 1935 effort from William Wyler and Preston Sturges the head of an orphanage advises our heroine Luisa Ginglebusher (Margaret Sullavan) that she “Cannot be too careful in her dealings with the male gender”, and boy is that ever the case in this comedy hasn’t aged well simply because of the way it makes light of a number of men’s sleazy behaviour as they try and force themselves on to Luisa. Wyler and writer Sturges don’t approve of such behaviour, but some of the farce revolves around Luisa only just escaping being raped, and so yeah, it’s unpleasant at times and then some.

It’s partially a fish out of water comedy as well as Luisa spent her entire life in an “Orphan asylum”, the latter word leading to the odd bit of panic until she adds “Orphan” to it, but is given a job by Maurice Schlapkohl (Alan Hale) as he needs an usherette for his cinema, and if Luisa does well than he might hire other women from the orphanage as well. It’s here at the cinema she meets grumpy waiter Detlaff (Reginald Owen) as she’s captivated by a ridiculously melodramatic film and keeps on annoying him by accident, and then when she leaves the cinema a shitty bloke called Joe (Cesar Romero) is all but insisting she go for a drink with him, until she pretends that Detlaff is her husband and they go off together.

Luckily for Luisa, Detlaff is one of a very few male characters in the film who doesn’t have romantic designs and instead adopts a fatherly attitude towards her. Having learnt all about her orphanage past he invites her to attend a posh do at the hotel he works at, and gives her a selection of rules as to how to act at such an occurrence. Unfortunately the horribly creepy Konrad (Frank Morgan) all but drags her off in to a private room for dinner, manhandles her during a game where he pretends to be a mountain lion, and christ knows how unpleasant the film would have been if not for Detlaff interrupting things, and Luisa uses that time to claim she’s married once again, this time picking a name out of a phone book as her husband.

Konrad’s a persistent bastard though and decides another way to seduce Luisa is to make her “husband” lawyer Doctor Sporum (Herbert Marshall) extremely rich, and he does so by employing him as a company lawyer on a hundred grand a year. Sporum’s had a hard time of it over the years but believes this is all his hard work paying off, and when Luisa tracks him down with the intention of explaining everything she fails to get the opportunity, and romance / farce ensues. Of course everything’s revealed at the end, and Luisa’s corpse is soon found in a local river, it’s that or the film has a happy ending, I can’t remember for sure.

Konrad and Joe’s forceful attempts at dating Luisa really did leave a nasty taste in my mouth, especially as these scenes are played for laughs, most bleakly when Konrad pretends to be a lion and Luisa a goat, who he intends to drag off to his cave. Konrad’s shown to be a preposterously ridiculous man and we’re supposed to laugh at him for sure, but that a fair amount of the comedy comes from Luisa being saved from a disturbing event means its a film which many might not enjoy.

If you can get past such scenes then there is a fair amount to like about this movie, Doctor Sporum’s an amusing character who is incredibly excited that now that he’s rich he can buy a pencil sharpener, which he proudly displays to Luisa. The scenes with Sporum and Luisa in general drip with charm, when not in panic mode Margaret Sullivan’s Luisa is a feisty creation who amusingly bosses Doctor Sporum around, while Sporum is a pleasingly honourable sort, and Detlaff and his protective side makes him very amiable indeed.

Perhaps I’m being too harsh, and there’s no doubt that we’re meant to think Konrad’s behaviour is abjectly fucked up, but there are some moment we’re meant to find funny because Luisa was saved in the nick of time and so I can’t rate it as highly as I’d wish too. Discounting such moments it is mid-level Sturges fair, so definitely worth watching if you’re a fan of the man, but be prepared to shake your head and wonder why they thought certain scenes were funny too.

★★★

Alex Finch.
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