Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Enchantment is a bittersweet romance similar to the ones David O. Selznick made in the
late forties with Jennifer Jones and Joseph Cotten. The multigenerational story spans fifty years
and has not one but two sets of lovers threatened by fate. There's nothing particularly
wrong with the capable cast, but the story never reaches the depth of feeling it seems to be going
for. Even with an able assist from cameraman Gregg Toland, director Irving Reis doesn't give the
movie the lift it needs.
When her parents die in an accident, young Lark Ingoldsby (Gigi Perreau, later Teresa
Wright) is brought into the Dane household and told she will be raised as one of the children. But
the jealous eldest daughter Selina (Jayne Meadows) forever conspires against Lark, seeking to keep her
disadvantaged and unhappy. When Lark grows up she's attracted to her 'brother' Roland (David Niven),
but Selina and army duties ruin with their romance. A generation later, the Dane house is about to be destroyed
when Roland returns, wistfully melancholic over his long lost Lark; then two youthful relations show up,
the wounded flyer Pax Masterson (Farley Granger) and Grizel Dane (Evelyn Keyes), both from America.
Will they make the same mistake Roland and Lark did?
Adapted from a book called Take Three Tenses and filmed under the title A Fugue in Time,
Enchantment interweaves two parallel stories happening perhaps 50 years apart. A once-fashionable
London house opens the show by speaking in a familiar "what tales these walls could tell" mode. David
Niven's retired General wants to sit and reflect over
his bad romantic luck sometime back before WW1; in the middle of WW2 he's joined by Evelyn Keyes,
the niece of some Canadian relative and now a wartime military chauffeur. The film splits its time
between Keyes' promising relationship with Farley Granger's flyer, and Niven's memories of growing
up with Teresa Wright, falling in love with her, and then losing her.
What may have seemed a visual novelty in 1948 is the film's way of switching back and forth between past and
present, sometimes within one shot. Old Niven (Rollo) sits in a sofa and closes his eyes in 1940, and the
camera pans to the right to present Teresa Wright (Lark) coming down the stairs in 1908, almost like a
But to state the plain facts, Enchantment isn't all that enchanting. Rollo and Lark's
romance is doomed from the start thanks to the intervention of the unpleasant Selina, played by
Jayne Meadows as a one-note Medusa. If this were a Bette Davis film, hers would be the starring role
and the movie would be a tragedy about a horrible woman who ruined the lives of everyone around
her, The Little English Foxes, or something. But we instead watch as Selina commits terrible
social crimes of presumption and persecution. People frown and fret and sometimes object but nobody
thinks to do anything sane like put a muzzle on her. As we're hip to Selina's cheap tricks all
along (belittling Lark, interfering with Rollo's career) this lack of action just makes Rollo and
Lark appear to be weak. The crucial moment of the picture has Selina volunteering Rollo for a
five-year mission to Afghanistan, without even consulting with him first! Her obvious purpose is
to scuttle their relationship. Rollo and Lark never stand up to Selina's outrageous affrontery.
All she need do is say some sharp words to Lark when Rollo's back is turned, and the lovers
are separated forever.
Again, a more sensitive script and direction might have done something with this; Merchant-Ivory
made a cottage industry out of stories in which lives are blighted by social forces that impede
honest feelings between people. But their films never seem lazy or contrived, as Enchantment
does. Niven is better than okay and Wright is luminous, but they live under a cloud of doom that's not
enjoyable to watch. Enchantment lacks hope for its characters.
In the present tense, Evelyn Keyes and Farley Granger are far too obvious as potential lovers.
We easily guess that the older and wiser Rollo will inspire Keyes' romantic commitment before time, fate
and the war can separate them. Enchantment needs a happy ending after the misery of the past,
and it doesn't care that what might was right for Rollo in 1909 might be a disastrous decision
for two mixed-up kids in the London blitz. Keyes and Granger are less inspiring than their earlier
counterparts, mainly because Granger has little depth; a pencil moustache does not a dashing pilot make.
The bittersweet ending brings in a frantic bit of action and a couple of ironies involving a
bridge and some German bombs. But we haven't been transported to that "movie romance" place we want to go.
Fans of this kind of movie come into the theater already seeking romantic fantasies. They'll settle for
awkward or forced love stories if they have to, and all they need is some encouragement. Pictures like
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir and
Portrait of Jennie both
play similar tricks with time and use 'convenient' fantasy contrivances. But they are eager to engage the
viewer in the idea that romance is magical, even when mysterious or tragic. The
lovers in both films end up alone, but do not become bitter. Both pictures also manage a sense of
humor. In Enchantment all we have is the Curse of Selina.
Screenwriter John Patrick did some excellent work (The Hasty Heart, Some Came Running) but
I'm assuming that Enchantment was more compelling in book form. The book original
(Take Three Tenses) is by Rumer Godden, author of
Black Narcissus and
The River. I don't know when it was written or who influenced who, but the story has strong
similarities with that of
The Life and Death of Colonel
Blimp. Both are about retired Army officers in WW2 remembering a frustrated love in the past,
while keeping company with a young Women's Auxilliary driver. In both films, the woman in the past
romance is married to a romantic foreigner before the hero can act. At the end of each we're asked
to contemplate a bomb ruin in London. The Powell/Pressburger film is only partly a romance and follows
no set genre guideline, but it elicits a world of emotions beyond the frustrating story told here.
MGM's DVD of Enchantment is in almost perfect shape; it's probably safe to say that the
original elements haven't been touched in 57 years except to make a few 16mm negatives
for television. Picture and sound are fine. The trailer pushes the romance angle along with the names
of Goldwyn's stars. MGM's cover illustration completely misrepresents the movie by showing smiling
lovers embracing in front of a sunny building.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: March 29, 2005
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson