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‘I Married a Witch’ Is a Perfect, Non-Terrifying Halloween Classic

René Clair’s 1942 classic is full of perfectly punctuated punchlines and scary-good on-screen chemistry

With more and more movie streaming services popping up, it can feel impossible to keep track of what’s showing where. So to help, this October I’ll be recommending a different film every day from one such service that embodies the spooky spirit of the season. From classic Halloween movies to indie horror to campy dark comedies, this is 31 Days of a Very Chingy Halloween.

Today I’m looking at I Married a Witch, René Clair’s timeless enchanted romcom, currently streaming on HBO Max and Criterion Channel

When witch Jennifer (Veronica Lake) and her warlock father Daniel are burned at the stake by puritan Jonathan Wooley, she puts a curse upon his bloodline, damning its men to generation after generation of rotten, unhappy marriages. Centuries later, the two witches’ spirits are freed from the tree under which their ashes were spread, with Jennifer taking a human form to further torment the latest Wooley — a politician named Wallace (Fredric March) — on the eve of his marriage and upcoming election. But all does not go to plan, and soon, the ditzy sorceress finds herself falling for the uptight statesman, much to her vengeful father’s chagrin.

Directed by French filmmaker René Clair (And Then There Were None) in 1942, I Married a Witch is a classic screwball romantic comedy with a supernatural twist. Fans of films like Hocus Pocus will appreciate its classic witchy imagery and mischievous, beautiful enchantresses, as well as its comedic dialogue and expert-level worldplay. In one scene where Jennifer and Wally meet in a burning building, she asks him if he prefers blondes or brunettes, to which he snappily replies, “If you don’t get out of this fire, you’ll be a redhead!” Just dynamite stuff. 

Likewise, the lowkey special effects are charming and impressive for a nearly 80-year-old film — for much of the movie, Jennifer’s father is represented by an upward-billowing puff of smoke.

And though the film’s title would imply the story is from Wallace’s perspective, Lake’s character is the one who truly drives things. As Jennifer, she’s lithe and bubbly, cooing sweet nothings and perfectly punctuated punchlines at Wallace as he desperately attempts to escape her advances (which, given her delightful demeanor and pin-up beauty, stretches my suspension of disbelief). With her otherworldly looks and effervescent charm, it’s a surprise Lake wasn’t cast in more supernatural fare — her most famous roles were in noirs as a femme fatale.

March and Lake have wonderful onscreen chemistry, which is remarkable given the fact that the two didn’t get on very well off-camera. In pre-production, March had reportedly referred to Lake as “a brainless little blonde sexpot, void of any acting ability” to which she retorted he was a “pompous poseur.” Lake apparently engaged in bewitching mischief at the expense of her co-star on-set from there on, but without any of their characters’ romantic repartee. In one instance, Lake hid a 40-pound weight in her dress for a scene where March had to carry her.

But regardless of the drama behind the scenes, I Married a Witch is a delightful classic flick for the spooky season that’ll get you into the Halloween spirit without leaving you terrified (unless you’re terrified of bombshell blondes or timeless jokes, that is). 

To see a list of each of the previous entries, check out the A Very Chingy Halloween list on Letterboxd.

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