I Married a Witch Criterion Blu-ray Review: Veronica Lake Bewitches, Bothers, and Bewilders

Love can be a witch if you're Veronica Lake.
  |   Comments

Halloween may be over, but any time is a good time for a new Halloween classic to mix in with your films next year.  I’ve waited over a decade for Criterion to put out Veronica Lake’s bewitching classic, I Married a Witch.  Thankfully, Criterion has taken my advice (yes, I’m claiming it), and the movie itself makes up for any deficiencies in bonus content.

Jennifer (Veronica Lake) is a Salem witch burned at the stake by the founding member of the Wooley clan (Frederic March).  Before her death she places a curse on the Wooley men, dooming them to a life of unhappiness with the wrong wife.  After being imprisoned for years in a tree with her father (Cecil Kellaway), a miraculous bolt of lightening sets Jennifer free to wreak havoc.  Jennifer stumbles upon the latest Wooley, Wallace (March as well), and prepares to play her greatest trick: cursing him to fall in love with her!

I am so happy to cast aside my bootleg DVD copy and replace it with a glittering, official Blu-ray.  I Married a Witch is a delightful, charming romance blending the fantasy of director Rene Clair with the effervescent humor and charm of Preston Sturges (who worked on the script and was originally slated to direct).  Jennifer’s character is the definition of the word “mischievous” and it’s a role perfectly suited for blonde bombshell Veronica Lake; it’s a shame she never blossomed into a full-on comedienne.  The way she brings Jennifer to life is by a glint in her eye and a coy smile upon her lips.  Lake blends a child-like innocence with commanding femme fatale sexuality, and it’s displayed here as she hides her small frame in chairs or gleefully jumps up banisters.  To her, magic is a game, a means of achieving her own ends and she’s completely aware of the torment she’s giving to the Wooley clan; the Wooleys are the ants and she the magnifying glass.  The comedy works because Lake sells it whole-heartedly.  Just watch the scene of her stuffing waffles into her mouth to see her devotion.

It’s shocking to hear the troubled history within this production, and if you’re looking for a crash-course read Guy Maddin’s essay, “It’s Such an Ancient Pitch” which lovingly explores the production issues with the movie and the actors.  Lake and co-star Frederic March despised each other.  Differing stories claim Lake was difficult, causing March to dub the movie “I Married a Bitch,” while Lake claimed she was sexually harassed by March.  Lake played pranks on March throughout the movie, like stuffing her coat with rocks while he carried her or kicking him in the groin during scenes.  Thankfully, some of the best screen chemistry is borne out of hatred and Lake and March hide theirs well.  The romance isn’t sweeping or grandiose; in fact, March treats Lake like a child which irks me but works within the confines of the characters.  Their relationship is sweet and chaste, a far cry from the sexualized Jennifer of the source material.  March always played the straight man well, and he’s forced to keep out of Lake’s way.  Cecil Kellaway as Lake’s bumbling drunk of a father is also hilarious in that “mad uncle” sort of way.  A young Susan Hayward plays March’s shrewish fiancée, and her entire purpose in the movie is to fling March into Lake’s alluring arms.  

I hate to say anything’s lacking with Criterion films, but there’s a distinct absence of worthwhile bonus footage with this disc.  Criterion usually packs their movies to the gills, but it’s pretty empty on this disc.  There’s an interesting visual essay/interview with Clair where he discusses his filmmaking style, and working within the Hollywood system.  However, he never mentions anything involving this film specifically.  An additional written essay also discusses his moviemaking.  Specificity isn’t necessarily required, but this movie has Lake as a headliner, and she had her own cache in Hollywood at the time.  The aforementioned Guy Maddin essay is the only person who pays homage to Lake, and his poignant, loving essay is a worthy read.  I’m unsure of what else Criterion could have added - maybe a biography on Lake or something related to Sturges’ time with this film - but the disc is lean.  You really have to be a devout fan of the director/stars/movie, or the Criterion name to pick this up because the movie is the selling point.

Regardless of the lack of additional content, I’m tickled pink this is getting the release it deserves.  Hopefully, this will inspire a new legion of Lake fans and fans of the movie itself.  I Married a Witch is a luminous star in the romantic comedy genre, and it’s finally getting its due.

Follow Us