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  I Married a Witch Spellbound
Year: 1942
Director: René Clair
Stars: Fredric March, Veronica Lake, Cecil Kellaway, Robert Benchley, Susan Hayward, Elizabeth Patterson, Robert Warwick
Genre: Comedy, Romance, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 4 votes)
Review: In seventeenth century New England, witch burning was all the rage, and puritan Jonathan Wooley (Fredric March) helps convict Jennifer (Veronica Lake) and her father Daniel (Cecil Kellaway) of sorcery. They are put to death, but not before Jennifer places a curse on Wooley's family line - they will forever be unlucky in love. The witch and her father's ashes are buried beneath an oak tree, to keep their spirits entombed, and as time goes on, the curse proves most effective until one stormy night 270 years later, and candidate for governor Wallace Wooley (also March) is getting married the next day to Estelle (Susan Hayward), the daughter of a newspaper baron who is backing Wooley's campaign. Suddenly, lightning strikes the oak tree and the two spirits are freed to wreak havoc on Wooley's plans...

Written by Marc Connelly and Robert Pirosh, from the story by Norman Matson and "Topper" novelist Thorne Smith, I Married a Witch is generally acknowledged as being the inspiration for the long-running sitcom Bewitched, but this is no cosy, nose-wiggling domestic situation that we see here, but a delightfully wacky romantic comedy that helped turn Lake into a shortlived, but long-remembered, star. It was also one of the celebrated director René Clair's best Hollywood movies, combining a lightness of touch with charming performances and a breathless pace that makes the film's already brief length fly by.

Once Jennifer and her father escape the tree, they don't hang around in hatching a new scheme to make Wooley's life a misery. Jennifer observes that Wooley's romantic feelings would be better directed towards a woman he can never have, rather than the shrewish Estelle, so Jennifer decides to make him fall for herself instead. The only way to create bodies for the spirits is a fire, so they pick on the Pilgrim Hotel to burn down (of course), and Wooley saves Jennifer from the flames - or so he thinks. She then makes herself a big part of Wooley's life by continually showing up at the most awkward occasions, and won't take no for an answer.

Lake is at her most kittenish here, and you wouldn't think that she would need a potion to make Wooley fall for her, but she drinks the stuff by mistake, and starts chasing him for real. Lake and March reputedly hated each other on the set, but you'd never know it from the results, with the stuffy March winningly portraying a flustered man who nevertheless grows to love the witch. The actual ins and outs of being a witch, or a sorceror, are pretty vague, with the trappings you'd expect, such as flying brooms and spells, coupled with such Hollywood plot conveniences as apparent immortality and the ability to transform into plumes of smoke when it suits them.

The special effects add to the fun: Lake doesn't only slide down a bannister, she slides up one too, a wind machine is employed at the wedding, and there's a flying taxi cab for the finale. Most of the laughs are derived from the bright acting; I like Susan Hayward's snarl when she's trying to smile on her wedding day, and smart lines like "He didn't even vote for himself" are not overplayed, although the film is not above a little slapstick when it's needed. Kellaway's wicked performance lends an edge to the proceedings (staging his own murder at one point), but there's not much dark in the presentation, this is mainly amusing fluff that leaves you with a cheerful spring in your step. It also makes you wish the luminous Lake had tried more comedy: she was a natural on this evidence. Music by Roy Webb.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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René Clair  (1898 - 1981)

Imaginative French writer and director, a former actor, whose whimsy could be tempered with sharp wit. He gained attention in the 1920s with the classic science fiction short Paris Qui Dort, but come the sound era his musicals Le Million and A Nous La Liberté won him more and more fans. He moved to Britain for comic fantasy The Ghost Goes West, and to Hollywood for I Married A Witch, It Happened Tomorrow and classic Agatha Christie adaptation And Then There Were None. When the Second World War ended, he returned to France to make films including Les Belles de Nuit.

 
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