I Married a Witch
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 I Married a Witch

Of all the opportunities I receive to review movies and television show among the distributor I look forward to the most are titles inducted into the Criterion Collection. Since the time that LaserDiscs attempted to take over the home entertainment market. The added potential for content om digital media as well as simple and direct means to access it, Laser Discs and their direct descendants, DVDs resolved that issue handily. Whenever I open a package to find the latest coming release, I usually know the film, but even if I don’t, I am certain I’m in for a memorable experience. That last time I had that feeling was recently with one of the newest inductees to the Criterion Collection, ‘I Married A Witch.’ Naturally, I have been aware of the movie for many years and understood the cultural and cinematic implications of the movie but never had an opportunity to watch it. That is an important aspect not just of having the opportunity to review new DVDs and Blu-rays but is a major reason fort he importance of relatively affordable sources of obtaining the very best in those respect formats. The basic story concerns a mortal man that falls in love with some beautiful young which, quickly bring him into a strange, supernatural world were magic flourishes. This film, along with ‘Bell, Book and Candle’, was used as the inspiration for the popular, iconic sixties sitcom, ‘Bewitched.’ Employing themes from classics including as ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and ‘The Odd Couple,’ the series posited the results of such a bizarre coupling and how such a juxtaposition would react with both societies. Those who have been around sufficiently to remember that television series will recall that much of the conflict was derived from the culture shock experienced on both sides. Like the ‘circumstances in’ the love between mortal and the magical is forbidden, and the numerous aspects of their respective cultures are as incompatible as any presentation of Felix and Oscar and their mutually opposite ways of dealing with life, those with magic just must just think of something, and they have it. Rather than two opposing houses, there is the inherent fear of the supernatural on the part of mortals and the undrainable distrust the magical have of humans.

There is a brief prologue included relating the backstory necessary to drive the story. A pair of witches in colonial Salem, Jennifer (Veronica Lake) and her father Daniel (Cecil Kellaway), are burned at stake after being denounced by Puritan Jonathan Wooley (Fredric March). Their final revenge was to curse the male heirs of their executioner always to marry the wrong woman ensuring generations devoid of happiness. The spirits of Jennifer and Daniel are trapped in their ashes and imprisoned beneath a tree. In the present time, 1942, lightning splits the tree releasing the supernatural spirits. The current descendant of Wooley, Wallace (March) is running for Governor and is engaged to Estelle Masterson (Susan Hayward), her Father, J.B. Masterson (Robert Warwick), is extremely wealthy and is the major financial supporter for Wooley’s political ambitions. He has spoiled his daughter turning into the prototypical self-centered brat with ambitions of landing a powerful husband. The tropes and archetypes relied upon in this story are still in constant use seventy-five years after this movie’s release. Of course, this movie was produced several decades before what is considered modern special were imagined. Viewers unaccustomed to vintage classics like this will undoubtedly scoff at the white wisps of smoke that represent the liberated spirits. A scene such as this should serve as a lesson, not only for the viewers but also the burgeoning auteurs on the proper use of effects. They should be a creative tool for the storyteller, not the centerpiece of the tale. This effect and all the cinematic tricks used to convey the use of magic are critical to the plot yet never overwhelm the scene. It is usually a good idea to return to some stellar examples of filmmaking after being immersed in the typical effects dominated blockbuster. Think of this as a palette cleanser after watching a ‘Transformer’ movie or almost and disaster flick. The playful columns have the penchant for resting in bottles. When the bottle happens to contain another form of spirits the consumer is in for an unexpected effect.

Jennifer has her father create a human body for her so that she can seek out the latest generation of the Wooley foe. Such a spell requires substantial energy so the aptly named, Pilgrim Hotel is set ablaze. After inhabiting her new form, Jennifer is ‘rescued’ from the blaze by Wallace who is conveniently passing by. Jennifer, having a corporeal form for the first time in centuries, is determined to use only her feminine charms to seduce the latest Wooley. Although he is understandably attached to the sight of a beautiful young woman, he remains steadfast in his commitment to Estelle, refusing to call off the wedding. Disappointed, Jennifer reluctantly resorts to magic by creating a love potion. Resorting to the popular trope, Jennifer is knocked down by accident and Wallace uses the potion to revive her. I realize that the potential for plot holes and obvious plot contrivances. The modern sensibilities of cinephiles have progressed to the stage were expectations of finesse, and slick techniques are expected, at least from productions by a major film studio. This was a simpler time, one was the audience was in the midst of World War II and desperately needed to turn off the world and bask in a couple of hours of fantasy. While concerns only change and are never fully abated. We are conditioned by the 24-hour news to demand realis even in our fantasies. The enduring quality of this movie lies in its timeless appeal that is intrinsically contained in true escapism. It is a matter of permitting yourself to dismiss your adult cares and responsibilities to full surround yourself with a story of pure entertainment.

Following our expectations closely, her Father assumes human form so the two of them can crash the wedding although a common goal no longer unites them, Father still is intent on destroying Wooley’s hope for true happiness while Jennifer, now completely in love and she is determined to do anything to have him. Daniel’s attempts to torment the scion of the hated family goes wrong landing the warlock in jail. Meanwhile, Jennifer continues her quest to capture the affections of the groom. When she kisses the object of her desire, Estelle walks in on the embrace immediately calling off the nuptials. After a mutual omission of love, the new couple elopes. Wallace lost more than a fiancée, Estelle’s father summarily withdraws backing from Wallace’s campaign.To help her husband, Jennifer conjures columns of smoke that spread out to the voters swaying their votes to Wallace. Confessing her supernatural nature to her husband which precipitated Daniel’s wrath. The film concludes in a fashion that would certainly categorize this film as a romantic comedy. All loose ends are neatly tied up as the bitter antagonist receives his downfall is suitable and quite satisfying for the audience as the happy ending is given a humorous wick to what the future holds for the couple as they navigate becoming parents. The movie might be considered dated by anyone only giving it a cursory viewing. The narrative is based on the most fundamental emotions common to all of humanity, love, vengeance, and family. With these themes in place, the story will continue to endure.

bulletNew 2K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
bulletAudio interview with director René Clair
bulletTrailer
bulletPLUS: An essay by filmmaker Guy Maddin; plus a 1970 interview with Clair (Blu-ray only)

Posted 12/12/2017

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