The Good Fairy. Directed by William Wyler. Margaret Sullavan, who plays the title character (the excellently named Luisa Ginglebuscher), had a loveliness unmatched by any other actress in the 30s or 40s. Herbert Marshall, whom my mother and I have always had affection for, plays Dr. Max Sporum – another great character name! – whose life undergoes major changes after Luisa picks him to be the receiver of her good deeds. The rest of the cast is gold: Frank Morgan, Reginald Owen, Eric Blore, Beulah Bondi, Alan Hale, a young Cesar Romero and Luis Alberni all add to the story’s shine. The film’s director, William Wyler, created a number of classics in varying genres, from Wuthering Heights and The Best Years of Our Lives to Ben-Hur and Funny Girl. Wyler wasn’t the only talent behind the camera, however; the screenplay, an adaptation of a play by Ferenc Molnár, was written by Preston Sturges, who soon became the feted writer-director of The Lady Eve, Sullivan’s Travels, The Palm Beach Story, The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek and Unfaithfully Yours.
Hands Across the Table. Directed by Mitchell Leisen. Leisen was quite adept at crafting delightful romantic comedies (Easy Living, Midnight, Remember the Night) so it’s no surprise that this film is as warm and winning as it is. It stars Carole Lombard in my favorite role of hers: Regi Allen, a go-getter who wants to marry for money but ends up falling for Fred MacMurray, who she thinks is just a loafer… until it turns out he’s a millionaire. Another rich man, played by the perennially jilted Ralph Bellamy, tries his best to win over Lombard but to no avail. On the plus side, Lombard and MacMurray have their best-ever onscreen teaming here, including a very funny scene where MacMurray tries to cure Lombard’s hiccups. The film has fine supporting performances from the ever-reliable Ruth Donnelly, former silent film beauty Marie Prevost and an unbilled William Demarest as a would-be suitor.
Man on the Flying Trapeze. Directed by Clyde Bruckman. This is certainly my favorite W.C. Fields film, even better than It’s a Gift. (I haven’t seen The Bank Dick, so I won’t prejudge it.) Flying Trapeze has Fields in one of his most sympathetic roles, as the permanently henpecked – and wonderfully named – Ambrose Wolfinger. Fields’ family is played by a bunch of terrific actors: Mary Brian as his sweet daughter, Kathleen Howard as his hardhearted wife, Grady Sutton as his sniveling stepson and Vera Lewis as his awful mother-in-law. Character actors like Walter Brennan and Lucien Littlefield turn up in supporting roles. Fields’ mistress, Carlotta Monti, has a part as his secretary and you even get Ed Wood’s stalwart Tor Johnson in an uncredited role as the wrestler “Tosoff.” Lots of fun all around!
A Night at the Opera. Directed by Sam Wood. Although Duck Soup is the flat-out funniest Marx Brothers outing, A Night at the Opera is my all-around favorite of theirs because it has the bonuses of opera and a romance between the characters played by Kitty Carlisle and Allan Jones. Their performance of “Miserere” from Il Trovatore is terrific. The film also boasts fine support from the stalwart Margaret Dumont, hilarious Sig Ruman, Walter Woolf King as an egotistical opera tenor and Robert Emmett O’Connor as the harried Henderson. What I really love about the film, though, is the tender moment between Groucho and Kitty Carlisle in her room on the boat, when he consoles her about Jones. It’s not a moment that you would have found in any of the five previous Marx Brothers films, but it’s not maudlin like some scenes in their later films.
Roberta. Directed by William A. Seiter. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers take a back seat to the real star, Irene Dunne, in one of her absolute best roles. She puts her operatic voice to great use by singing “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” which Astaire and Rogers also dance to. The emotion Dunne conveys through her voice and face work beautifully. Her romantic partner in film is Randolph Scott, who I have always had a soft spot for, especially in another Irene Dunne romantic comedy, My Favorite Wife. The film also features the classics “Lovely to Look At” (nominated for the Oscar for Best Original Song) and “I Won’t Dance.” The setting – in Paris – adds a layer of elegance to the film, which is filled with typically great Astaire & Rogers dance sequences. Bonus: Lucille Ball can be seen briefly as a fashion model.