I Married a Witch (1942): Rene Clair’s Oscar-Nominated Fantasy Comedy, Starring Fredric March and Veronica Lake

French director Rene Clair’s second film, “I Married a Witch,” starring Fredric March and Veronica Lake, is very much in the tradition of “Topper,” with a touch of “The Ghost Goes West” (1936), starring Robert Donat and also directed by Clair.

Based on Thorne Smith’s unfinished novel, “The Passionate Witch,” this well-acted fantasy-comedy, boasting marvelous special effects for its era, did a lot to promote the careers of Veronica Lake (in the short run) and Susan Hayward (in the long run), here cast as rivals.
The movie begins in the seventeenth century, when Daniel (Cecil Kellaway) and his daughter Jennifer (Veronica Lake) are branded witches and burned at the stake, though not before putting a curse on their persecutors, the Wooley family.
They promise that no male member of the family will find happiness. The curse befalls the Wooley males (all played by Frederic March) through the ages, up to 1942, when Wallace has become a stuffed shirt about to be married to a snobbish fiancée, Estelle Masterson (Susan Hayward). He’s running for governor of the state, and depends on the backing from her decadent rich father, J.B. Masterson (Robert Warwick), an influential publisher.
Turning point occurs when a storm erupts and lightning splits the tree under which Daniel and Jennifer were buried centuries ago. Freed, they become booze-loving companions. Jennifer tries to make Wallace fall in love with her, but she can’t sway him, as he is committed to wed Hayward.
Neophyte Veronica Lake, Paramount’s bright star with the hair-over-one-eye trademark, demonstrates quirky sense of humor and strong erotic appeal as the mischievous seventeenth century New England witch, who is reincarnated as a sexy, full-bosomed blonde,
The film also presents a lighter, more appealing facet March, better known until then (and after) for serious dramatic roles (“Best Years of Our Lives”).
The humorist Robert Benchley plays Dr. Dudley White, Wallace’s confused political advisor.
Oscar Alert
The film boasts wonderful special effects and great score by Roy Webb, which was nominated for an Oscar.
The Oscar winner, however, was Max Steiner for the Bette Davis’ melodrama, “Now, Voyager.”
End Note
Clair was one of the French directors who came to Hollywood during WWII, when France was occupied by the Nazis. His first American film, “The Flame of New Orleans,” has some interesting elements, but was a commercial failure
This Thorne Smith tale inspired the popular sitcom, “Bewitched,” later made into a big-screen movie.
Release date: November 19, 1942
Running time: 82 Minutes

 

 

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