Saturday, 22 February 2014

I Married a Witch (1942)

Veronica Lake is a strange one in Hollywood stardom. She had an iconic hairstyle which propelled her to stardom. She was in a few movies ("Sullivan's Travels", the Alan Ladd noirs) which have endured well, and partly because of this, she has a reasonable cult following. What she didn't have was a wide range in her acting skills, and in René Clair's "I Married a Witch" she is absolutely dreadful - and I am aware I am in a minority here.

Actually the whole film is somewhat odd, on and off screen. Produced by Paramount, it was sold by the studio to United Artists when Paramount had a surplus of films and UA not enough. Assuming the film was sold after Lake's peekaboo hair made its first screen appearance (I have no evidence for making this assumption), Paramount only would have sold it either they thought the film was a sure hit and a lot of money passed hands or if the studio had little faith in the film and disposed of it as quickly as it could. I have to say that with the film as the only evidence, I am inclined for the second option.

The film tells the story of a witch falling in love and marrying a man (Fredric March) whose family condemned her to burn centuries before. It is perhaps better known as one of the inspirations of the TV series "Bewitched". Originally set to be produced by Preston Sturges and starring Joel McCrea, that might have resulted in a better film, as March and Lake famously didn't get along. This occasionally shows - Lake lacks the catlike playfulness she should have had while seducing him (I keep thinking what Barbara Stanwyck, Carole Lombard or Irene Dunne could have done with it). Only at the very end of the film (when she sorts things out), was I happy with her performance.

Of course, the film fails elsewhere and I am not blaming Lake for it all. March is best described as competent here (and he could so much better) and the film takes a while to gather pace, with the first half dragging a bit. It does improve in the second half, particularly in the wedding scenes and the build-up to the climax. I also loved the epilogue (possibly the most Paramount-like moment of the whole film). The supporting cast, particularly a young Susan Hayward as the always nagging fiancée, is very good. She also would also have been a good choice for the lead. Oh, and the posters are great (and Lake does look very good indeed).


Emma said...

I quite liked this film, but I will always remember Miss Lake as the troublesome woman in Sullivan's Travels.

Miguel said...

She's much better in "Sullivan's Travels". She also has good chemistry with Alan Ladd in the three films they made together.