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Criterion gives this Veronica Lake comedy a bare-bones high-def release - is it worth the investment...?
Universal / 466 Minutes / 2013 / Unrated / Street Date: September 17, 2013
There’s a dingbat snap to Rene Clair’s I Married a Witch – when one realizes that the project was once intended to be an Ernst Lubitsch affair, there’s very little surprise registered. Within this bizarre affair are characters far more well-spoken than you’d expect, narrative developments that feel almost architectural in their design, and an overall tone that drips of preening showmanship: it’s not a comedy, it’s a smart comedy.
Our affair begins as we watch a witch (Veronica Lake) being burned at the stake. As the flames get higher, she lets the man who led the charge to bring her to this demise (Fredric March) that he and all his children, grandchildren, and so on will be cursed from beyond the grave to have chronically unstable marriages. We then fast-forward to the early 1940s where March plays a simple man excited to be soon married (to a prissy rich chick played by Susan Hayward). Situations align for a new incarnation of Lake to return to the scene, and she sets her sights on raining on as many of March’s parades as possible.
Aficionados of Rene Clair cite I Married a Witch as an encapsulation of the director’s time in Hollywood, as a comedy that marries the fast-talking witticism of the age with Clair’s road-tested penchant for evocative cinematic imagery. This writer wagers, though, that if his name wasn’t on an early title card here, I Married a Witch would seem harried and lifeless: it may be intelligently constructed and assured with a Noel Coward-esque haughty bite, but in the end it plays out like a so-so comedy that Lubitsch was right to walk away from.