Director: René Clair
Writer: Robert Pirosh and Marc Connelly; Dalton Trumbo (uncredited)
Producer: René Clair and Preston Sturges
by Jon Cvack
Aside from Rene Claire’s amazing adaptation of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None (1945), this is the only other American film I can find of his. I don’t remember much from his other films, other than Under the Roofs of Paris (1930) had a cool opening shot, and that I allegedly saw A Nous la Liberta (1931) about four years ago, but can’t remember anything about it.
I Married a Witch was Claire’s entrance into the rom-com, opening up during the Salem Witch trials where both Jennifer (Veronica Lake) and her father Daniel (Cecil Kellaway) are hanged from a tree. Centuries pass, taking us throughout the next 250 years of American History where - in a fusillade of narratives - we discover successful men marrying terrible women near the tree where Jennifer and Daniel died. Lightning then strikes the tree, releasing both of their spirits, where they discover Wallace Wooley (Fredric March) who’s running for governor just a day away from marrying his benefactor’s daughter Estelle Masterson (Susan Hayward).
Daniel and Jennifer initially take the form of white smoke before Jennifer convinces her dad to give her a body; taking the form of Ms Veronica Lake. For those who can’t picture the woman, in this film she’s an exceptionally petite 21-year old, who looks like she could still be in high school, pursuing Wallace Wooley who was 45 years old at the time of making this. Given my recent thoughts on The Major and the Minor (1942), I’m genuinely curious if this was a more culturally acceptable position to have seventy years ago. Daniel is fully aware of the power she has over him, often wearing oversized clothes that further diminish her figure and make her look all the younger.
She decides she wants to try to sabotage Wallace’s relationship to Estelle Masterson; who’s an insufferable spoiled rich kid who often scolds Wallace into doing what she wants. Her method involves both attempting to seduce Wallace and subsequently sabotaging his political career. First meeting Jennifer, Wallace is overwhelmed by her beauty; desiring her and trying his best to contain it.
Jennifer’s first attempt involves sorcery where she sets a hotel on fire. The building was evacuated, but Jennifer stays inside, calling out to Wallace for help. He heads in and saves her, hailed by the city as a hero. Jennifer ends up back at Wallace’s and in his bedroom, and with the wedding only days away, Jennifer attempts every trick in the book to try and win him over. Soon Estelle catches them in an innocuous embrace and she calls the wedding off.
Word gets back to the father, who pulls his money from Wallace’s candidacy and starts running attack ads about his infidelities, turning the public against him. Nevertheless, Jennifer returns to her magical ways, and on the day of the election, brainwashes everyone into voting for him. All the while, Daniel has found a body of his own - after using a whiskey bottle to mask his smoke spirit - returning as a blotto Cecil Kellaway, who’s so appalled by Jennifer’s feelings, takes away her power, causing her to get killed in a car accident, returning her to a spirit who manipulates her father to return to Veronica’s body and reunite with Wallace once and for all.
It’s not a bad movie, and at only 77 minutes it’s worth checking out. The main issue is that I ultimately never understand Jennifer’s intentions until the final scene. Veronica Lake seems hellbent on seducing Wallace despite the consequences, and while it’s arguably noble in regards to Wallace having a terrible fiance and dishonorable career ambitions, the complete lack of any type of meaningful connection beyond Wallace’s lascivious attraction to Jennifer diminishes the possibility of seeing her intent as anything beyond nefarious.
Added is the limpid logic of the witches. I initially thought that they were the ones who cursed the successful men throughout history with a series of cruel wives, but then Jennifer escapes the tree and wants to prevent the tradition from continuing. I assume the relationships were Daniel’s doing, and that Jennifer wanted to fix things. Even so, I don’t understand why Jennifer has to seduce Wallace by wearing oversized pajamas, rather than just attempting to establish a normal connection. Imagine if the part was played by someone less youthful, such as Joan Crawford, who’s so gleeful that she’s free and able to love that she begins courting a politician, showing him the potential mistakes he’s about to make in both love and career, and establishing love from there. Like most films from this era, I understand that love is all too often immediate, but this felt much more superficial and cheap; taking Claire’s fascinating style in a cheap direction.
BELOW: Joe Dante (Gremlins, The Burbs, etc.) on the flick
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