I Married a Witch (1942) *****
Dir. René Clair
Starring: Veronica Lake, Cecil Kellaway,
Fredric March, Robert Benchley, Susan Hayward, Robert Warwick
Review By Greg Klymkiw
There is no stronger aphrodisiac than the tresses of Veronica Lake spilling from her shapely cranium, cascading naturally like a waterfall of the sweetest dew over one eye, her other ocular orb working overtime to so intensely draw every man, woman and yes, even child, into her inescapable aura of libidinous magnetism, to be entrapped like a fly upon the golden honey caressing her supple flesh, to weave and bobble like a grape surrounded by gelatine and devoured by her insatiable need to ingest all who are tantalized by her almost supernatural charm.
Like a witch, Veronica Lake had powers that exceeded every movie star before, during or after her reign and there are none - NONE, I TELL YOU!!! - who can even approach from several country miles the magnificence of her womanhood, the utter perfection of her screen persona. Miss Lake truly defined the MGM notion of stars in Heaven, though she was no Louis B. Mayer gal, but a concubine of Zukor's domain at Paramount where she dazzled the likes of Joel McCrea in the great Preston Sturges comedy Sullivan's Travels and was so perfectly paired over four pictures with Alan Ladd.
There might, however, have only been two directors in Hollywood who knew precisely how to make the most of her ample gift of allure.
Sturges played up her gamine, waif-like powers - so tremblingly vulnerable on her milky skin, whilst resting just beneath the protective cover of inspiring manly protection was the rip-roaring, madly funny and unquestionably brilliant modern woman who understood the ways of the world with far more insight that the rigid pretend-dominance of the men around her. Ah, and while we will always have a special place for Lake alongside Sullivan in Sturges' Travels, it was the magical René Clair, the Frenchman who excelled in blending comedy and fantasy before conquering the world with his groundbreaking use of sound in À nous la liberté, Le Million and Under the Roofs of Paris who understood her real appeal.
Clair knew that Lake was a witch: at once alluring with hints of malevolence that could lead to only naughtiness of the most utter sexual abandon. As the vengeance-seeking witch who sinks her hooks into the society magnate rendered by Fredric March, Lake beguiles every mortal character with the magic that is, well, Veronica Lake. So pouty, so naughty, so sexy, so unrepentantly ribald and gee-whillikers-knee-slappingly hilarious AND demanding of love, attention, worship, kisses and caresses. And as we await the havoc we know she can wreak, we are equally delighted when she is madly smitten, due at first to magic gone wrong, with the man she means to destroy.
There are few rivals to the joy Clair yields from the material and this is a romantic comedy to end all romantic comedies. Though not a musical, it might as well have been. Clair uses his camera and actors as if they were alternately sprightly notes on sheet music and dancers of unparalleled deftness and lightness. With a supporting cast of perfection and generous injections of love, romance, trickery, sex appeal and laughs galore, Clair delivers a movie that's always funny and never lets us down. The picture holds up on one viewing after another, always yielding ever-new moments to send us into fits of laughter and to allow us the pleasure of experiencing lines and gags that never pale, and indeed, keeps us laughing and smiling every time we see them.
It's a great picture and, I daresay, quite perfect in every respect. I can also guarantee that for the rest of your life, you'll never hear "I Love You Truly" again without thinking and laughing to the song's perfect use during one of the funniest wedding sequences in motion picture history.
"I Married a Witch" is stunningly transferred onto beautiful Blu-Ray in this all-new gorgeous Criterion Collection release. It comes with a lovely audio interview with Clair, a deliciously uncompressed monaural soundtrack and the added value of a most delightful essay by the inimitable Guy Maddin. This one's a keeper, folks.