Well, October is here and you all know what that means? Yes, that’s right. Halloween! I’ve never been super into the whole dressing up thing. I was Hermione up until 7th grade and then I just stopped. My parents didn’t want to buy me a new costume. So, I got very into Halloween movies. I should be clear; I’m not a huge horror movie fan. But, I love the fun Halloween classics – BeetleJuice, Halloweentown, Hocus Pocus, Poltergeist…that kind of stuff.
If you’ve been following my movie musings, then you know that I’m also a huge screwball comedy fan. So, to kick off October, I thought I’d discuss one of my recent discoveries: Rene Clair’s I Married A Witch. I found it a few months ago when I raided my dad’s DVD collection and found a Criterion copy of the film. The cover intrigued me so I gave it a shot and let me tell you, it is a TREAT!
Here’s a quick synopsis: I Married A Witch, made in 1942, follows Jennifer (Veronica Lake), a witch and her father Daniel (Cecil Kellaway), burned at the stake in the 1600’s and buried underneath a tree. Jennifer places a curse on the man who turned them in: all the generations to follow shall have unhappy marriages. Jennifer and Daniel are revived in the early 1940’s, just wisps of smoke before they find bodies to hop into. They decide to wreak more havoc by torturing Wallace Wooley (Fredric March) and making him fall in love with Jennifer. As always drama and LOTS OF COMEDY ensues!
Here are just a few reasons you should add I Married A Witch to your Halloween movie-binge!
After I finished watching the movie, I called my dad and told him how much I loved the chemistry between March and Lake. My dad laughed, telling me, “Yeah, too bad they hated each other.” And indeed, they did hate each other…a LOT. According to Jeff Stafford of TCM, “…prior to meeting his co-star, Fredric March had reportedly said Lake was ‘a brainless little blonde sexpot, void of any acting ability,’ a comment that made its way back to her. In retaliation, Lake called March a ‘pompous poseur’ and their adversarial working relationship proceeded from there (Stafford, TCM Article).”The shoot was apparently very contentious and included Lake regularly pranking March and some very nasty shouting matches.
Lake was just coming off of her starring role in Sullivan’s Travels, another great screwball comedy. She has the very famous peek-a-boo haircut in this film and is charming beyond belief. Fredric March was a few years away from his most famous role in The Best Years of Our Lives. His befuddlement in this film is pure joy. He doesn’t know what’s going on half the time. Whatever their drama was IRL, it didn’t hurt the film. Their chemistry is palpable and IMHO, is what makes the film work.
In addition to its fabulous leads, the film also boasted great character actors such as Cecil Kellaway and Robert Benchley. Many of the supporting characters are Preston Sturges regulars and they add fun and whimsy to the film.
Unofficially, Preston Sturges agreed to produce this film with Clair and you can definitely tell he had a hand in it. Like his greatest films, I Married A Witch is funny, farcical, and romantic. If you like this film, you should binge all the Sturges films – Christmas In July, The Lady Eve, The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, Sullivan’s Travels…the list goes on. He’s wonderful.
French director Rene Clair had only just made his first American film, The Flame of New Orleans, and it apparently hadn’t gone very well box-office wise. His agent sent a copy of a book called The Passionate Witch by Norman Matson and Thorne Smith. It was really because of Veronica Lake’s involvement that the film actually got made.
Clair’s name isn’t one that is remembered often enough. He was one of France’s first great comedy directors and his cache really became films that somehow mixed fantasy elements with humor and romance. AKA everything I LOVE. Some of his other great films to check out: Beauties of the Night, A Nous a Liberte and The Grand Maneuver.
This is my favorite era precisely because screwball comedies were in vogue. Though I know no one talks that fast IRL, I don’t care! It’s fun, witty, and FAST FAST FAST. Funnily though, this film had many cooks (writers) in the mix. Five writers are credited on IMDB for having some hand in the script. Rene Clair and Andre Rigaud apparently just helped in punching up the dialogue, which is ON POINT.
Even with all the cooks, the film turned out to be HILARIOUS.
Some of my favorite lines in this film:
“Ever hear of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire? That was our crowd.”
“Pistol, pistol, let there be/Murder in the first degree.”
Wallace Wooley: “I’m afraid you’ve got a hangover.” Daniel: “Don’t tell me what I’ve got! I invented the hangover. It was in 1892… B.C.”
The Incredible Effects
One of my major problems with film today is that they over-indulge in special effects. I have no issue with trying to make a film’s fantastical elements come to life. But, many times, today, things look so perfect they actually look less real. While some might say these 1940’s effects are a bit hokey, I can’t help but be wowed by them.
Going along with the effects is the beautiful black and white cinematography! Ted Tetzlaff was the cinematographer and with films like Notorious, My Man Godfrey and The Talk of The Town on his resume, I can’t say I’m surprised at the atmosphere and beauty. He was nominated for an Academy Award for his work on The Talk of The Town.
Veronica Lake’s Dresses
Famous costume designer Edith Head was behind Lake’s gorgeous ensembles in this film and I want them ALL…👗
It’s a whimsical, charming, fun, fantastical comedy delight.
This movie is everything you want it to be. It’s funny, romantic, and beautiful. But most importantly, it’s FUN. At just 77 mins long, I Married A Witch takes you on a fast, crazy, ridiculous ride and lets you enjoy its fantastical premise. Veronica Lake didn’t have a great reputation in Hollywood, but as an actress, her appeal cannot be denied! And of course, the film inspired the very popular 60’s sitcom, Bewitched.
Drinking game idea: Drink every time Jennifer pouts. You’ll end up drinking A LOT.
Trailer below. And if you have Hulu, you can watch the full film RIGHT NOW. And if that’s the case, seriously, what are you waiting for? An engraved invitation? Go watch it NOW.
Halloweentown Gif is property of Disney.
I Married A Witch Gifs Property of Paramount Pictures.