Just in time for Halloween, The Criterion Collection has released Rene Clair’s 1942 supernatural screwball comedy “I Married a Witch,” a love story whose satire and wit still ring true more than 70 years after its initial release.
The films opens at a witch burning in late-1600s Massachusetts, where a young witch named Jennifer (Veronica Lake) and her sorcerer father, Daniel (Cecil Kellaway), have been found guilty. Of course, these two are indeed guilty of witchcraft, and have the magical powers to prove it. Bitter over her burning, Jennifer casts a spell upon her accuser, a Puritan named Johnathan Wooley (Fredric March), cursing him to have a miserable marriage. And so will his children, and his children’s children, and so on.
While the Wooley family line fails to find true love over the centuries, the spirits of Jennifer and Daniel are kept trapped underneath an oak tree to hold their evil spirits prisoner, until the 1940s, when a lightning strike frees the duo.
It’s here we meet the latest Wooley, Wallace, a politician running for governor of Massachusetts, who is set to marry the wealthy, bratty daughter of his primary political backer. With revenge on her mind, resurrected Jennifer conjures up a potion to make Wallace fall in love with her, so that she can deny him and crush his heart. But the plan backfires, and Jennifer drinks the concoction, falling head over heels for Wallace Wooley.
“I Married a Witch” is a lighthearted alternative to the scares, jumps and carnage that generally come with most Halloween film fare. Here, the dialogue is sharp and amusing, impeccably delivered by Lake and March. Veronica Lake is perfect as the mischievous Jennifer, playing well off March’s buttoned-up Wooley. Clair has fun with the visual queues, winks and nods to black magic cliches (think black cats and pointy hats), creating a charming picture ideal for this time of year.