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I Married a Witch

Posted by martinteller on February 9, 2014

In 1672, Jennifer (Veronica Lake) and her father Daniel (Cecil Kellaway) are burned for witchcraft.  Their souls are trapped in a tree planted on the spot.  But Jennifer has put a curse on the family of Jonathan Wooley (Fredric March), the man responsible.  He and all his male descendants are doomed to be trapped in loveless marriages.  270 years later, a lightning storm frees Jennifer and Daniel.  Jennifer sets her sights on gubernatorial candidate Wallace Wooley (March again), determined to mess with his sanity… as well as his upcoming marriage to Estelle Masterson (Susan Hayward), the daughter of a publishing magnate (Robert Warwick) who can make or break Wooley’s campaign.  But Jennifer’s plan backfires.

Well, you know what they say… comedy is subjective.  Your sense of humor may be different from mine (and judging by the number of glowing reviews out there about this film, it likely is) but I really did not care for the comedy going on here.  From the first gag (in the 17th century, vendors sold “popped maize” at witch trials, yuk yuk) to the last, not a single laugh escaped my lips… but a lot of groans did.  It’s hard to explain why something is funny and perhaps it’s just as hard to explain why something isn’t.  I just thought the jokes were dumb, obvious, annoying.  A lot of irritating stuff about bad marriages, Kellaway’s hammy drunk acting, and my lord, if I never hear “I Love You Truly” again it’ll be too goddamn soon.  The terrific Susan Hayward is wasted in the role of the shrewish fiancée.  This is not the charming comedy of Rene Clair’s early sound features Under the Roofs of Paris or A nous la liberté… it’s more along the lines of the tedious comedy of The Italian Straw Hat.

Still, it would be disingenuous of me to write the movie off completely.  Whatever other complaints I can lodge against it, predictability isn’t one of them.  Some of the jokes are telegraphed, but the whimsical story is not, and it’s hard to pin down just where it’s going.  The special effects are delightful for the era, and Clair’s inventiveness is evident.  Furthermore, I’ve never liked Veronica Lake more.  Having been more focused on noir in recent years (where she isn’t at her best), I’d forgotten the talent on display in Sullivan’s Travels.  She’s easily the shining star of this cast, and behind her striking features is a gifted comedienne.  The unpredictability of the script is matched by her deft adapting to the twists and turns.  Throughout it all, Lake feels utterly in control of events… even when her character isn’t.

It’s just too bad I didn’t find the film very funny.  Nonetheless, I can see why it has a following, and it might be worth your time to see if the humor clicks with you.  Rating: Fair (60)


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