December 10, 2016

filmsgraded.com:
I Married a Witch (1942)
Grade: 60/100

Director: René Clair
Stars: Fredric March, Veronica Lake, Cecil Kellaway

What it's about. A classic Hollywood romantic comedy set in New England. Blonde femme fatale Veronica Lake and her troublemaking father Cecil Kellaway are immortal witches whose spirits can take bodily form and exit as they please. They decide to mess with Fredric March, because an ancestor of his had them burned at the stake centuries ago.

March is running for state governor. His political advisor is Robert Benchley. He is marrying beautiful but ill-humored Susan Hayward to secure the backing of her powerful father, Robert Warwick. Lake interferes with March's wedding, but falls in love with him due to a spell gone awry. This annoys the dangerous and impetuous Kellaway. Nonetheless, a happy ending is assured.

How others will see it. I Married a Witch is a breezy and lightweight effort that never tries to be more than amusing. But it has always been regarded favorably, even though it was never a box office hit. Supposedly, it inspired the classic television sitcom "Bewitched", and the shows do have much in common: a mortal husband and his witch bride, meddlesome in-laws, and the potentially disastrous sabotage of hubbie's career.

The film does have much in its favor: a splendid cast and a celebrated director, though most of René Clair's critical success came in Europe. Today at imdb.com, the movie has a reasonable 5K user votes and a respectable 7.2 out of 10 user rating. Curiously, the film has no age or gender gap. Men in their 20s regard it about the same as women in their 50s.

The film is sufficiently good that its message board chatter rarely challenges it. The focus instead is on Veronica Lake, and her reported unprofessional behavior on the set. Much like Marilyn Monroe, though, the problems were left on the cutting room floor, and all the viewer is left with is a charismatic and beautiful woman, seemingly without a care in the world.

How I felt about it. The movie is practically impossible to criticize, because it makes no pretense of being anything other than a screwball comedy. Of course it is not as good as the best screwball comedies of the era, such as Bringing Up Baby and the surreal Never Give a Sucker an Even Break. But then, that is too much to ask for a movie in which the male lead is about to face election for governor but seems far more interested in Veronica Lake.

I Married a Witch asks the question, can a beautiful young woman be evil? The answer is no, certainly not in a romantic comedy. For that, cinemaphiles will have to wait 40 years, until Kathleen Turner in The Man with Two Brains. In the meanwhile, the ugly old man is much more to be feared than his lovely kittenish daughter, who can't even work up a spell on either March or his unsympathetic would-be wife Susan Hayward. But aside from creating a Towering Inferno that even Irwin Allen would be proud of, most of his pranks backfire on him. It's that kind of movie.

As for Robert Benchley, he seems more befuddled than ever, but given the company he keeps, at least he has better reason for it than usual.