Judge P.S. Colbert feels bothered and bewildered.
"Long, long ago, when people still believed in witches…"
This breezy romantic comedy kicks off pretty much in the usual way, with a mob of dour-faced seventeenth century Salem, Massachusetts Puritans gathered around a ceremonial bonfire, patiently waiting for the flames to warm up enough for stoking with a father and daughter who've been accused and condemned of witchery. Following the roast, an oak tree will be planted over their ashes, to imprison their evil spirits in its roots.
Accuser Jonathan Wooley (Fredric March, Hombre) remains convinced of the pair's sorcery, but he's haunted by his memory of the beautiful young Jennifer (Veronica Lake, Sullivan's Travels), particularly the oath she swore when last they met:
"Jonathan Wooley, thou hast denounced me as a witch. For that, thou shall be accursed. Thou, and thy children and thy children's children—All will be under the same curse. Thy and all thine descendants will be unhappy in love. The marriages thee make will be disastrous."
Flash forward two hundred and seventy years to the present day—bearing in mind that the film was originally released in 1942. Gubernatorial candidate Wallace Wooley (March, again) attends a lavish party thrown in his honor to celebrate two momentous events scheduled on the morrow: election day, and his wedding to the spoiled and shrewish—albeit beautifully brunette—socialite Estelle Masterson (Susan Hayward, The Marriage-Go-Round), whose media-mogul father squarely backs Wooley, and has scheduled the nuptials to coincide with the ballot-casting for maximum publicity purposes.
Outside, a nasty storm is brewing, and the same mammoth lightning bolt that temporarily kills the power in Masterson mansion also lazes a branch off the giant oak tree nearby, thus allowing Jennifer and her father, Daniel (Cecil Kellaway, Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte) to escape, in puffs of smoky vapor.
"It will be fun to plague the human race again!" Jennifer enthuses.
And what a gorgeous plague she turns out to be! Setting her sights on Jonathan Wooley's latest descendant, Jennifer plans to lure Wallace into love by exploiting her supernatural wiles (including—but not limited to—a refreshing elixir for his parched throat), only to induce non-stop misery once he succumbs. Well, one thing leads to another. There's confusion, crossed-wires, mixed signals, the old switcheroo comes into play and…voila! You've got yourself a can't-miss cinematic souvenir of Hollywood's Golden Age, in the form of a perfectly seasoned comedic Crème Brulee, from French master René Clair (Under The Roofs Of Paris.).
A mere slip of a movie at seventy-seven minutes, I Married a Witch qualifies as one of Criterion's slighter releases, which isn't to say that you'll feel slighted as a consumer—especially considering the extremely reasonable sticker price slapped on to the premiere classic film distributor's catalog item number 676. More importantly, the 1080p, full-screen transfer is a delightfully black and white pip, betraying only the slightest signs of wear. Likewise, the LPCM mono sound faithfully delivers the still-snappy patter, (not to mention the Oscar-nominated score by Roy Webb) also available in English SDH subtitles, should you desire.
Extras remain on the slim side as well, limited to a late '50s vintage audio interview with Clair (Warning: extremely heavy accent alert!), and the original theatrical trailer (Warning: extremely terrible condition alert!), which, looking on the bright side, proves by comparison how beautifully the feature's restoration turned out…For those seeking gravitas, there's a neat little booklet inside, containing two authoritative essays.
There's been plenty of nattering out there on the internets about whether or not such a blatantly commercial entry deserved the Criterion treatment, what, with its leading to the creation of TV's Bewitched, and all, but considering how successfully the film manages to charm and tickle nearly seventy-five years on, you've got to wonder if those arguments really boil down to the fact that some people believe medicine has to taste bad in order to work, and some people don't!
Not guilty in the slightest.
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