Written by Robert Pirosh and Marc Connelly
Directed by Rene Clair
Starring Fredric March, Veronica Lake, Robert Benchley, Susan Hayward, Cecil Kellaway
US Release Oct. 30, 1942
RT 77 min.
Home Video Criterion Collection
Classic Horrors rating = 7 (out of 10)
Warning: review contains plot spoilers.
“Long, long ago, when people still believed in witches,” I Married a Witch would have us believe that witch burnings were events with intermissions and at which concessions were sold. I found that a very funny idea, at the front of a very smart, funny movie. When a sorcerer and his daughter are victims of the latest “event,” they curse the accuser and his descendants to be unhappy in love. An oak tree is planted over their ashes to hold in their evil spirits and a montage through the years 1770, 1861 and 1904 demonstrates the effects of the curse. “And so on, until…”
Lightning strikes the oak tree to release two clouds of mist that are the spirits of the witch and her father. Jennifer, the witch, begs her father to allow her to take physical form, which it seems is a spell performed by setting a building on fire. Riding a broom through the sky, her father, Daniel, creates an explosion on the roof of the Pilgrim Hotel. As it erupts in flames, gubernatorial candidate Wallace Wooley (Fredric March) runs inside to rescue Jennifer, who is now Veronica Lake. She had recognized him earlier as a descendant at a fund-raiser and plans to participate in direct revenge.
He’s engaged to be married the next morning. When Jennifer first spotted his fiancée, Estelle Masterson (Susan Hayward), she commented, “The curse is working; she has the look of a shrew.” She is certainly that. The marriage seems to be arranged by Estelle’s father, J.B. (Robert Warwick). She’s obviously not happy about it and Wallace seems confused about it (as well as about running for office). That’s nothing compared to the confusion he feels when Jennifer continues to appear at the most inopportune times in the most inopportune locations to wreak havoc on his life.
She fails, though, to naturally make him fall in love with her, so she concocts a potion. About this time, Daniel also wants to take physical form. Jennifer tells him not to set fire to this house; instead, Wallace’s office, “to force him back to me.” That part of her plan works, but… when a painting falls on her head and she’s knocked unconscious, Wallace gives her the potion. Daniel, who has materialized as Cecil Kellaway, tells her he can make Wallace love her in return. “We’re going to a wedding!” What follows is the most hilarious part of this screwball comedy.
Jumping forward so you can enjoy every laugh yourself, Wallace and Jennifer are married and we’re in familiar territory for anyone who’s a fan of Bewitched. She says she must start learning how to be a good housewife, but she can’t even light a match without casting a spell. When she tries to tell her new husband she’s a witch, he’s incredulous. He jokingly suggests that if she were really a witch, she could make him win the election tomorrow. (He was publically ridiculed following the shenanigans at the wedding and has virtually no chance of winning.)
Again, I hesitate to spoil any laughs. Following the election, there’s a temporary obstacle to the happiness of the newlyweds before the obligatory happy ending, all proving that “love is stronger than witchcraft.” Their troubles are over, at least for the present. “And the future…” There’s a cute little coda that brings to mind a later development on Bewitched when Tabitha joins the cast. (Speaking of TV shows, I Married a Witch is also reminiscent of I Dream of Jeannie when the witches’ mist floats in an out of bottles. Here, though, Daniel likes spending time in a whiskey bottle that’s half full.)
Light as air, I Married a Witch is simply a fun movie. Rene Clair directs with some clever flourishes, such as when Wallace asks how Jennifer got there and the camera pans down to a broom and back as she states, “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.” Robert Pirosh and Marc Connelly are credited for the screenplay. Twice as many writers are uncredited, including Dalton Trumbo, the subject of the movie, Trumbo, last year starring Bryan Cranston. Whatever combination of talent it took to create, including that onscreen, this movie works some real magic.