“Lost Angel” is both touching and funny, something so many modern movies try to mimic but so often fail. This is because the heart of modern film is in the wrong place, often losing the simplistic beauty of the heartwarming movie in over-the-top dramatics. Though the plot is simple and fairly easily read, it is a classic little gem that wouldn’t hurt to stock on your shelf for those days when you really just need a reason to feel good.
“Lost Angel” opens with a woman running up the steps to a foundling home, where she drops off a basket, which carries a newborn girl. Within a few scenes this same baby is suddenly subjected to being measured and tested for her reactions to alternating stimuli. Sounds more like the beginning to Scifi movie, but in fact this 1943 film starring a very adorable Margaret O’Brien, James Craig and Marsha Hunt, is a cuddle up with a big-fat-smile on your face kind of movie. Turner Classic Movies is responsible for this viewing and I am quite glad I stumbled upon it. Margaret O’Brien was an amazing child-actor. I’ve seen a number of her movies and she never fails to amaze me with her high quality of elocution and how adorably astute she can be.
That said, “Lost Angel” is as un-Scifi as you can get. The story is about how this very child becomes the key in an experiment on how a child’s surroundings affect them, especially when they are separated from the meaner characteristics of mankind. Thus she is christened “Alpha” (O’Brien), so as to have some way of referring to the child and still remain unattached. From year one she is given a schedule, which provides her with an education of the most intellectual sort. At the age of three she is studying Chinese and by six she is reading about Napoleon’s Peninsular Wars. Are they raising a human child or a mini professor?
About this time, when she is six years old, the intelligent and articulate Alpha meets Michael Regan (James Craig), a journalist who has come to interview her for a human-interest piece. It is this meeting which awakens in Alpha a desire to find and believe in magic. She merges the two pieces of advice she is given: “If you believe it in your heart, you can find it,” as Regan tells her and as one of her guardians explains, “If it is true, it can be proven.” So Alpha dresses herself and in the middle of the night and searches out Regan to find what her heart desires, proof of magic in this world.
As she spends time away from her excessively sterile and protected environment, in the real world with Regan and his girlfriend Katie (Hunt), she begins to act much less like a 30 year old English Dame and more like a six year old girl. Yet the world Regan shows to Alpha is less magic and more lies. Though she was what some may all over-protected at the institute where she lived prior to meeting Regan, she was safe from lies, from the flash and dazzle of a life constructed on the falsehoods of others and society.
In the end what little Alpha learns is to love, both Regan and his girl Katie. As opposed to the robotic intelligence with which she was previously provided, her genius is now tempered with human emotion. Alpha learns what she calls “the real magic” – our capacity to care for someone more than ourselves. In fact, Regan learns this as well, for Katie and Alpha.
Oh the good old days!