Friday, February 17, 2012

I Married a Witch

Rene Clair's second Hollywood film, I MARRIED A WITCH, is one of my favorite films of 1942. No doubt about it. It's a real gem.

It stars the beautiful Veronica Lake as Jennifer, a 17th Century witch resurrected in the present day, and the always reliable Fredric March as Wallace Wooley, a candidate for governor and man whose family line has been cursed to never find love by Jennifer,after his descendants burned her at the stake during the Salem Witch Trials. The spirits of Jennifer and her malevolent father emerge in the present, after centuries of imprisonment in an old tree, and seek out Wooley to cause him more suffering and create general mischief. The pair find Wooley, who not only is running for governor but is soon to be unhappily married to the daughter of his biggest political backer. Jennifer starts pestering Wooley relentlessly, and from there the complications ensue. It's a lot fun.

Trust me, it's as silly as it sounds, but it completely works because of how terrific Veronica Lake is, how inventive and genuinely great the special effects are, and how sharp and efficient the script and Clair's direction are. It's a fantasy-comedy that could have easily been turned into schlock, but it somehow comes across as pure brisk and unbridled entertainment.

Clair, who by 1942 had already made some inordinately delightful French musical comedies in the early 30s (LE MILLION, UNDER THE ROOFS OF PARIS, A NOUS LA LIBERTE), gives the film such efficient pop and sizzle, real charm, and his trademark light-hearted joy. He was a man who knew how to put a smile on your face almost infectiously.

Special mention should be given to Lake. An unbelievably gorgeous woman who brings serious nuance to the role of Jennifer and makes her oddly child-like but very funny (Her performance reminded me of Carole Lombard's in MY MAN GODFREY). Sometimes you don't even have to sell two characters falling in love in a film, especially when one of them is Veronica Lake. I was in love the first second I saw her.

Special mention should also be given to the special effects. I love the practical effects of classic films. They are often fun, endearing, and not without their own sense of real magic. The effects here are really great, and of course dated, but that's one of the reasons why they are so great.

At 76 minutes, I MARRIED A WITCH is a breeze and a heck of a lot of fun. It's currently only available on Hulu+, and needs to come to dvd as soon as possible. Get on that somebody.

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