1948’s Enchantment is a pretty good movie which has a unique way of telling its story through flashbacks. There’s a modern story sort of running parallel with an old one, all centered around a house in a “if the walls could talk” sort of way. This aspect is very well done.
David Niven plays young Roland Dane (flashback mode) and the older General Dane (present-day mode). He’s barely recognizable in his old-man makeup which is very well done for the time…as is Niven’s portrayal.
This is one of Niven’s better performances. Instead of playing the stylish playboy always with a drink in one hand and a clever quip ready in the other, he plays more of a real person rather than a stereotype. He lives with his brother, Pelham, and his sister, Selina. Due to an accident in which both her parents are killed, the young girl, Lark, is taken into their home to live as their sister.
Selina (Jayne Meadows) is basically the evil stepsister. But she dotes on Niven. It’s one of those frustrating cases where no one either sees how Selina manipulates them or doesn’t have the backbone to try to stand up to her. She has most of the people in the house wrapped around in finger in one way or another.
This is a good performance by Meadows. On the other hand, I found Teresa Wright as the grown-up Lark to be flat and unsympathetic. At some point it was in my mind that she deserved some of the mistreatment by Selina if she was going to be so obtuse about it. Others will disagree on this point. But I found this to be a bad bit of miscasting.
Farley Granger (playing a Canadian pilot) seems a bit miscast as the modern-day soldier who is Lark’s nephew. His aunt had told him that if he was ever in England he must visit the old house. From her stories about the house, he know it by heart…even better than the visiting relative, Grizel Dane, who I think is played with wonderful realism by Evelyn Keyes. She’s come over from Canada as well to take her part in the war. She’s been hurt before romantically but who can resist Farley Granger and his penciled-on pencil mustache?
Still, although you see the stereotypical movie romance wherein people can fall deeply in love with each other after only one or two meetings, the chemistry between Grizel and Pilot Officer Pax Masterson is pretty good.
We eventually reach the deep flaw in this movie which involves miscommunication between Niven and Lark. They have just announced their love for each other and plan to be married. Selina, of course, does all she can to prevent this including getting her brother a top post on the general staff oversees which will keep him apart for five years (wives not allowed).
And this is where you can’t help feeling a little schadenfreude. Lark had been seeing some rich Austrian dude. (And he appears to be a real nice guy.). But she’s conflicted because deep-down she’s in love with Niven. Selina counsels both Niven and Lark that five years is not too long to wait if two people are really in love.
This is cynical manipulation, of course. Niven is torn between his career and his love for Lark. He offers to marry Lark before he takes his posting. For some damn reason (the miscommunication) she thinks he has run off to his posting so she then decides to marry the Austrian. The best line in the movie is when Selina tells Niven something like, “She couldn’t last five minutes let along five years.”
This movie doesn’t set out to make Lark look like a dumb-ass. Clearly Selina is supposed to be the bad guy and Lark the innocent victim. But there are at least some undertones that Lark is flighty and her own worst enemy.
Needless to say, the Niven we meet in the present-day is full of regret and counsels Pax and Grizel not to make the same mistake. The movie ends with some terrific scenes of London under the Blitz. Will this be a happy ending? Who knows. You’ll have to watch it to find out. I’d be curious if you also experience a little schadenfreude regarding Selina’s abuse of her stepsister, Lark.
The arithmetic of this movie is that the first 2/7 is compelling. The middle 3/7 drags and repeats itself, and the ending 2/7 is compelling once again. The present-day scenes are better than the flashback ones. But it’s a unique way that they tell this story and it makes this a movie that is definitely worth watching…and a must-see for Niven fans.