Mrs. Abigail Minnett: Do you know what loneliness is, real loneliness?The Enchanted Cottage debuted towards the end of World War II, when men often came home to their families with severe injuries. It is one of the best films I have seen about the mystery of the sacrament of matrimony, and how authentic love overwhelms the transience of surface things. The wind that blows around the cottage, the crashing of the waves on the beach blend with the score to create a sense of the timelessness. According to Turner Classic Movies:
Laura Pennington: [Heavy with sadness] Yes.
Mrs. Abigail Minnett: I thought you would.
~from The Enchanted Cottage (1945)
Robert Young plays a disfigured WWII veteran who is unable to cope with an ugliness that repels everyone. Seeking to retreat from the world, he travels to a New England cottage which he once visited with his fiancee at the time - before he was sent to war and disfigured. The cottage is all that remains of a vast estate on the Atlantic coast. The rest burned down long ago, and the owner of the cottage (Mildred Natwick), recognizing the magic spell the cottage seems to cast on young lovers, rents it out to couples on their honeymoons. She lets Young stay there, and he isolates himself from his family and friends. The only person he can talk to is Dorothy McGuire, a homely girl who helps Natwick run the place.Herbert Marshall plays the blind composer who, as he narrates the story, conveys to the viewer aspects of his own life, in which he has been able to draw immense benefits out of crushing losses. As it says on Classic Movie Review:
Young and McGuire marry, more out of convenience than love, but on their honeymoon night, a "miracle" occurs. They now look beautiful to each other. His disfigurement vanishes, and her dowdiness dissolves. Overjoyed at their newfound happiness, they explain what has happened to their blind neighbor Herbert Marshall, who encourages them to believe the miracle and to treasure it. But when Young's superficial parents come to visit and still see the two as they really are, the spell is broken - until the couple come to realize that it was their love, not the cottage, that made them see each other as beautiful in the first place.
The two unfortunates are joined by Herbert Marshall as blind composer and piano player Major John Hillgrove. It’s through his metaphorical eyes that we’re given clues on how to view the film, and maybe even life itself. When his character explains how he only truly learned to see after he lost his actual sight, you begin to understand the depth of the story.
Hillgrove’s blindness isn’t the only reference to sight in the movie. In fact, the idea that sight is relative is at the heart of the story. Although they retain their physical sight, Oliver and Laura begin to see each other through new eyes, which is a revelation for both of them. This new vision — created by love — is then challenged by the outside world. Oliver and Laura almost succumb to other people’s vision of them, but in the end, they decide that the only view of life that matters to them is their own.
Anyone who enjoys romantic movies will relish The Enchanted Cottage. If I could design a dream house it would be just like the cottage in the film, complete with diamond-paned windows and an orchard garden, not far from the sea. Unlike many modern films, it is able to explore the essence of human passion through the music, screenplay and fine acting, without indulging in any gratuitous sensuality. The following commentary from Another Old Movie Blog sums it up:
We live in a world, several decades after this film was made, where being different is not so damning as it once was, but still comes at a cost. Perhaps this is what today’s old movie buffs see in this film, when it is taken as an allegory for all the outcasts among us. The possibility of being loved for who you are remains as irresistible as ever.