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|Margaret O'Brien did not have the enduring career of Judy Garland or Mickey Rooney or the blazing
success of Shirley Temple (what kid star did?) but while she reigned (for about five years), MGM, her
home studio, expertly utilized her talents (she was especially renowned for her ability to cry - and
copiously - on cue). Little Margaret won a child Oscar for her tour de force performance in Vincente
Minnelli's 1944 classic music Meet Me In St. Louis and anyone who could take camera focus away from
Garland, who starred in the picture, really had something. O'Brien shines in that film - and these
three (some made on loan out to other studios) which are now available in DVD on Demand or
instant download editions thanks to the Warner Bros. Archive Collection.
Journey for Margaret, O'Brien's break through picture from 1942 features O'Brien as a
traumatized war orphan living in a London orphanage under the loving care of no nonsense Fay
Fainter. Young plays a war correspondent whose wife Laraine Day has returned to stateside after
learning that she can't have children. Young takes a particular interest in little Margaret and another
little orphan boy and hatches the idea of adopting the two foundlings. But how to get the okay to
bring the kiddies to America? The film, directed with typical finesse by W.S. "One Take" Van Dyke,
has all the cloying hallmarks of MGM High Drama and O'Brien cries about 19 times. But audiences
loved the thick, horsey tears, over the top emotionalism, all the patriotic propaganda and were
especially enchanted by little Margaret.
Our Vines Have Tender Grapes finds O'Brien cast along with other scene stealers Agnes
Moorehead and Edward G. Robinson as part of a Norwegian farming family going about their daily
lives in Wisconsin farm country. A charming, endearing film (from 1945) finds O'Brien in top form as
the little girl whose daily challenges and wonderments - from a bossy cow to a magical Christmas -
are beautifully captured in this gem of Americana.
The Canterville Ghost from 1944 is a perennial in our house whenever it's broadcast on TCM.
Now, with this release, we can watch it as often as we like. Once again O'Brien co-stars with Robert
Young in this ghostly story set in England during WWII. A prologue gives us Charles Laughton
(hamming it up delightfully) as Sir Simon de Canterville, a coward who so shames his father he's
walled up alive for his timidness (there's more than a hint of homophobia implicit here). Laughton is
then condemned to haunt the castle. Centuries later, an American battalion moves into the castle
during the war, now presided over by O'Brien as tiny Lady Jessica. Then Young as Lt. Coffy learns
that he's a long lost relative to the Canterville's. Will Lady Jessica help him become the one to break
the curse and release Laughton?
The Enchanted Cottage from 1945 contains one of Young's best performances. As a maimed
combat pilot, ditched by his onetime bride to be, Young comes to stay at the titled seaside abode
only to find himself falling for the sympathetic but hopelessly plain Dorothy McGuire as the
housekeeper. Little by little the growing love of the young couple works its magic spell on them and
soon their love seems to transform their appearance - both appear beautiful to one another. This
tender, charming fable (told in a little over 70 minutes) features wonderful supporting work from
Mildred Natwick, keeper of the magic cottage and Herbert Marshall as the blind pianist who intuits
what has happened to the couple. Little Margaret's not in the cast but the movie's certainly a
welcome addition to the collection and will suffice until 1949's Secret Garden - with its marvelous
Technicolor sequence - and a final starring performance from O'Brien is released in home editions.