Ever since Puck spread the flower’s juice meant for Demetrius on Lysander’s closed eyes in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, audiences have been entertained by comedic tales of love potions gone wrong. The course of true love never did run smooth, not for couples created by the Bard or Hollywood.
One you may have missed is I Married a Witch (1942), an often overlooked tale of revenge gone charmingly awry.
Cecil Kellaway and Veronica Lake star as a deliciously unrepentant father-daughter warlock and witch who exist to wreak havoc on the human world. Their dastardly ways catch up to them in colonial New England when a group of Puritans, led by Jonathan Wooley, burn them at the stake and bury their ashes beneath a tree to imprison their spirits.
Just before their interment, Jennifer gets one last shot in by cursing the Wooley men to always marry the wrong woman.
Fast forward a few generations, and Daniel and Jennifer are released when lightning fells the tree that imprisoned them. Eager for further vengeance on the Wooleys, Jennifer tracks down the most recent descendant, Wallace (Fredric March.) To Jennifer’s delight, Wallace is on the brink of marrying his own shrew (an early role for Susan Hayward), just as all his forefathers have done, thanks to her curse.
Then Jennifer gets an even better idea—she will convince Wallace to fall in love with her, and proceed to make his life a living hell.
Despite her father’s reservations, he agrees to give Jennifer human form and soon poor Wallace is rescuing the naked witch—in the body of Veronica Lake, blonde locks as shiny and flowing as ever—from a fire on the eve of his wedding.
Wallace has a lot to lose if anyone finds out that Jennifer (with the help of a little magic) spent the night in his bed, even if he wasn’t in it. His fiancé may be a shrew, but she’s the daughter of the man who is backing his run for governor. He’s not immune to Jennifer’s charms, but he’ll lose his fiancé, his reputation, and the election if he succumbs to them.
To obliterate his resistance, Jennifer concocts a love potion so that Wallace will fall irrevocably in love with her, but through a series of missteps the Bard would approve of, she ends up accidentally drinking the potion herself.
Now the witch is in love with her sworn enemy—and determined to have him.
Sol Saks, who wrote the pilot episode of the long-running TV series Bewitched (1964-1972), credited I Married a Witch as one of the influences for his story of a witch who decides to marry and live as a suburban housewife. Fans of the TV show will certainly enjoy the film, which has a similar vibe, even down to Jennifer’s wacky, interfering father, a direct ancestor to Agnes Moorehead’s wonderfully meddling Endora.
Veronica Lake is most remembered for her long blonde hair that fell seductively over one eye, and playing the temptress in film noirs with Alan Ladd. But as she proved in both Sullivan’s Travels (1941) and I Married a Witch, she was quite capable of comedy when given the opportunity.
Fredric March is a bit miscast, and the film certainly would’ve been better had Joel McCrea played Wallace, as the director and producer wanted. McCrea and Lake had just come off their triumph in Preston Sturges’ classic Sullivan’s Travels, and their chemistry on-screen was palpable.
Off-screen, however, McCrea detested Lake and turned down the role of Wallace Wooley, later telling Robert Osborne, “Life’s too short for two films with Veronica Lake.” (Though they did end up making a second film together, Ramrod, in 1947. Hollywood’s players have always been good at setting aside their differences when there’s enough money on the table or careers are in free fall. They call his professionalism.)
For her part, Lake didn’t seem to harbor any ill will toward McCrea, though in discussing Witch in her autobiography, she bluntly asserted, “I hated Fredric March.”
“Love is stronger than witchcraft,” Jennifer tells Wallace at the end of the film when she overcomes her father’s mystical attempts to keep them apart.
And the magic of movies—certainly witchcraft by another name—is stronger than any offscreen animosity when the cameras start rolling.
- Lake, Veronica and Donald Bain. Veronica: The Autobiography of Veronica Lake. 1969
- Turner Classic Films website. I Married a Witch.
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