Long before Elizabeth Montgomery made witches attractive, Veronica Lake made them downright sexy in this hilarious comedy from director Rene Clair that stars a befuddled Frederic March who gets tangled up with our broom riding Lake and her rascal of a warlock father, Cecil Kellaway.
March stars here as a candidate for the state governor who is set to marry Susan Hayward as a matter of convenience and to earn votes as her father is a newspaper magnate much like Mr. Hearst back in the day. March’s life is going to be severely complicated when the spirit of Lake and Kellaway are released by a bolt of lightning from an ancient tree they have been residing in since there burning at the stake in the days of witch hunters and the pilgrims. As you’ll see in the opening clip of the film it was March in costume who led the burning and therefore his family has had a curse laid upon them to never be happy in love.
This curse allows the script to give us a montage of different Freddy March’s thru the family history that is a comical delight as he continually strikes out in his love life.
The set up for March to find Miss Lake is teasingly done. With a hotel set on fire by Kellaway, March is bewitched into hearing a woman’s voice inside the deserted building. He rushes past the firefighters into the smoke and follows Miss Lake’s voice until he reaches her newly formed body. It isn’t until he gets her into a room unaffected by the fire that he sees the beauty of the damsel in distress. Might I add I’m not sure she ever looked better.
The flirting begins immediately as she sets about to at first capture his heart only to joyously break it. When March exits the fire torn building carrying Lake in his arms, the voting public watching from a distance erupt in cheers. March thinks he’s done with her but far from it. When she turns up in his bedroom on the eve of his marriage to Hayward, March is beginning to feel the heat.
Surprisingly, Lake isn’t getting the results she expected. She turns to Kellaway for a magic brew that will surely capture Freddy’s heart. That is assuming he drinks it and opens his eyes to see her before all others. What might happen if the wrong person drinks it and …….. oh, I won’t spoil it. Let’s just say things could get turned upside down with hilarious results.
Frederic March is one of those actors I only knew growing up as the non horror star who played the Jekyll and Hyde role to great acclaim though it took me years to actually see his Oscar winning turn. He was never on my radar much as he wasn’t a star of films that a teenage kid was looking to see on the late show. That sure changed when I saw by chance The Best Years of Our Lives. So here Fred is once again playing a rather “stuffy shirt” but poking fun at it in a comedic vein. He’s henpecked and weak minded thanks to the bullying of Hayward and her daddy. With a bit of witchcraft involved, he just might get out from under them and be the man he always wanted to be.
Kellaway is of course is one of those scene stealers who does his best here to deliver some laugh out loud hijinks thanks in part to his weakness for the bottle and lapse in spell casting memory.
Now to Miss Lake. She exudes a child like innocence here that is so endearing it’s impossible not to fall for her on screen charms. Let’s not pretend here either, her beauty and sex appeal score a bullseye as well. Decked out in Edith Head costumes adds to her look but one has to respect her comedic timing being pitch perfect playing opposite March’s straight backed politician.
Highly recommended. It’s out on blu from Criterion if you care to look for it and remember………..
“Love is stronger than witchcraft.”