It was based on a play by Arthur Wing Pinero. The Enchanted Cottage was previously adapted for the silent screen in 1924, with Richard Barthelmess and May McAvoy as the newlyweds.
When socialite Army Air Force pilot Oliver Bradford (Robert Young) is disfigured by war wounds, he hides from his family, including his mother (Spring Byington) and his fiancée (Hillary Brooke) and decides to live in seclusion in the seaside New England cottage he had rented from its current owner, Mrs. Minnett (Mildred Natwick), for his originally planned honeymoon.
Laura Pennington (Dorothy McGuire) is a shy, homely maid who has hired on as the cottage's caretaker. Oliver and Laura gradually fall in love and discover that their feelings for each other have mysteriously transformed them. He appears handsome to her and she seems beautiful to him. This "transformation" is perceived only by the two lovers (and the audience). Laura believes that the cottage is "enchanted" because it was once rented to honeymoon couples, and in time the widowed Mrs. Minnett reveals the true story behind the cottage's enchantment legend.Dorothy McGuire as Laura Pennington
Robert Young as Oliver Bradford
Herbert Marshall as Major John Hillgrove
Mildred Natwick as Mrs. Abigail Minnett
Spring Byington as Violet Price
Hillary Brooke as Beatrice Alexander
Richard Gaines as Frederick 'Freddy' Price
Alec Englander as Danny 'Taxi' Stanton
Robert Clarke as Marine Corporal
Eden Nicholas as Soldier
Arthur Wing Pinero's 1923 play was filmed in 1924 as a timely story involving physical and emotional disabilities following the First World War. RKO Producer Harriet Parsons acquired the rights for her studio for an updated World War II version set in New England. When RKO management took the film away from her and gave it to producer-writer Dudley Nichols, Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper wrote a strongly-worded newspaper editorial criticizing RKO for gender bias. The outcry from the column led RKO to change its plan and give the property back to Harriet Parsons.
Parsons wrote an outline of the updated story about a disfigured (rather than disabled) World War II veteran. She engaged DeWitt Bodeen for the screenplay, and the two became lifelong friends. Parsons also selected John Cromwell as director. David O. Selznick lent RKO Dorothy McGuire for the film, and MGM lent Robert Young, who reteamed with McGuire after her debut in Claudia.
Parsons also contributed to the screenplay along with Herman J. Mankiewicz, who was hired by Cromwell to touch up Bodeen's screenplay. Mankiewicz was best known for his contributions to Orson Welles' Citizen Kane .
Composer Roy Webb wrote a piano concerto for the film that a blinded World War I veteran (Herbert Marshall) uses as a tone poem to describe the story of the two protagonists to a gathering of people. Webb was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Music Score in 1945 and performed the concerto at the Hollywood Bowl later that year. Marshall, who had lost a leg in World War I, played his blind role with the help of special contact lenses.
Dorothy McGuire insisted her character show her plainness with no makeup, ill-fitting clothes and a drab hairstyle. When McGuire was filmed looking appealing to Robert Young, her character had similar costumes that were well tailored.
The film was released in April 1945. Not all the critics were enthusiastic. Writing for The New York Times, critic Bosley Crowther said
[T]he deep and studied poignance of this elaborately heart-torturing film appears not only unreasonable but very plainly contrived. It is hard to believe that a depressed veteran's entire recuperation would be allowed to devolve upon a fustrated [sic] girl, an intuitive blind man and a honeymoon cottage possessing charm. And it is fair to insist that no young lady with a face and figure such as that of Dorothy McGuire would permit herself to look so dingy and woebegone as she does in this film.
Other critics chose to overlook the sentimentality of the plot and focus on the overall message. Jeremy Arnold wrote that
The Enchanted Cottage is a movie with its heart in the right place. Anyone who has ever been in love can relate to the sensation that one's partner becomes more beautiful as one's love deepens. The Enchanted Cottage illustrates this phenomenon to full and lovely effect, with its allegorical yet delicate story of the power of love to physically transform a couple.
The film made a profit of $881,000.
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:2002: AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions – Nominated
The Enchanted Cottage was adapted as a radio play on the September 3, 1945 broadcast of Lux Radio Theater with Robert Young and Dorothy McGuire reprising their film roles, and on the December 11, 1946 broadcast of Academy Award Theater, starring Peter Lawford and Joan Lorring.
The film also forms the basis of one of the films that Manuel Puig used to compose his novel Kiss of the Spider Woman. The film is the basis of chapter 5 in which Molina tells a film to himself, one in which he imagines the advantages of lovers' bodies being adapted to the "true love" of their souls, a reality that would make possible supposedly impossible romantic possibilities for himself and his married love interest, Gabriel.
On her CBS variety show Carol Burnett performed a spoof of this film entitled "Enchanted Hovel", with herself as Dorothy McGuire's character and Dick Van Dyke as Robert Young's.