René Clair’s romantic fantasy I Married a Witch is a delectable comedy featuring two leading players who made names for themselves in other types of films but who here give some of their lightest and most effective performances. The film is very bubbly, almost ethereal, and its running time is surprisingly brief, but the movie glides on an air of good will and charm that makes it almost impossible not to embrace.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio: English PCM 1.0 (Mono)
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 17 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-raykeep case
Disc Type: BD25 (single layer)
Release Date: 10/08/2013
Furious when they’re burned for witchcraft in 1690, Jennifer (Veronica Lake) and her father Daniel (Cecil Kellaway) have their ashes buried under an oak tree which keeps their spirits effectively out of the way and not causing mischief even though Jennifer’s curse on the Wooley family to have bad luck in love has endured for a couple of centuries. When lightning striking the oak frees them to rejoin the world in 1941, both are out for vengeance against the latest Wooley heir, Jonathan (Fredric March) who is on the eve of his wedding to harpy Estelle Masterson (Susan Hayward) whose newspaper magnate father (Robert Warwick) is throwing his full backing behind Wooley’s run for governor. Jennifer had planned to make Jonathan fall in love with her by brewing a love potion, but she mistakenly drinks it, falls in love with Jonathan, and will do anything it takes to postpone his impending marriage to shrewish Estelle and take Jonathan for herself. Daniel objects to his daughter’s plans, but consumption of brandy is preventing him from remembering spells that can circumvent Jennifer’s plans.
The Production Rating: 4/5
The screenplay by Robert Pirosh and Marc Connelly based on a story by Thorne Smith (who had written Topper, another ghostly romantic fantasy turned into a most successful film comedy franchise) trips along with the fleetness and fluidity of the best romantic comedies of the period, not dwelling on sappy romance exactly but in the funny situations and revelations that come from the unusual circumstances of its leading players. René Clair uses the trick photography amusingly and not as a crutch to the comedy but rather to enhance it. There’s a running gag with a syrupy-voiced wedding singer warbling “I Love You Truly” that builds in laughter every time she’s cued (one only wishes she had been hit in the face with the wedding cake to silence her once and for all), and the magic that Jennifer and Daniel enact is sparingly used and just right (a couple of gags with a broomstick are especially delightful).
Though Fredric March had certainly made some well known comedies in the 1930s (among them The Royal Family of Broadway and the wildly successful screwball comedy Nothing Sacred), he was more renowned for his dramatic work. This film reminded audiences that even though somewhat older, he could play romantic comedy with skill and ease, and he’s wonderful here mixing befuddlement with a genuine attraction for this lovely siren. (The greatness in his performance is even more evident when one learns he did not like Veronica Lake even a little bit.) Veronica Lake, too, famous for film noirs and stoic roles in things like Sullivan’s Travels, is delightfully lithe and charming as the infatuated witch. Playing the young and beautiful but bitchy harridan, Susan Hayward makes a strong impression, and Robert Warwick is just as forceful as her iron-willed father. Cecil Kellaway is quite amusing as the vindictive ghost-father whose fondness for spirits causes his undoing, and Elizabeth Patterson offers another of her funny, precise domestics. Only Robert Benchley doesn’t quite measure up to work he had achieved in other films.
The film is framed at 1.33:1 and is presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. Working with less than pristine materials, Criterion has given us a more than acceptable high definition transfer. Evidence of work keeping the grayscale consistent throughout is obvious (blacks are surprisingly strong), but there are still some spots and scratches that haven’t been eliminated, and there is damage across the top of the frame that crops up on occasion. Sharpness at its best is very strong, and that’s mostly the case throughout the presentation. The film has been divided into 12 chapters.
Video Rating: 3.5/5 3D Rating: NA
The PCM 1.0 (1.1 Mbps) sound mix is typical of its era. Dialogue is easy to discern and is never overpowered by Roy Webb’s Oscar-nominated score or the various sound effects. However, Criterion’s engineers haven’t been able to completely eliminate age-based artifacts from the mix. There are some attenuated hiss and soft pops still present, not enough to deter enjoyment of the film but enough certainly to be noticed during occasional moments of quiet.
Audio Rating: 3.5/5
René Clair Interview (20:18): this audio radio interview with Gideon Bachmann finds the celebrated director talking a bit about his work in silent and early sound period movies but concentrating on the contrast between experimental cinema and commercial cinema.
Special Features Rating: 2.5/5
Theatrical Trailer (1:32, HD)
Twenty-Nine Page Booklet: contains cast and crew lists, filmmaker Guy Maddin’s essay on Clair’s career and a celebration of the film’s leading players, and a 1970 interview with the director conducted by film historian R. C. Dale.
Timeline: can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc and the title of the chapter you’re now in. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.
I Married a Witch is a delightful romantic comedy which moves fleetly and amusingly with its stars at their considerable comedic best. Though this is one of Criterion’s bonus-lite releases and the film isn’t in pristine shape either visually or aurally, it’s definitely a movie that can be easily recommended.
Overall Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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