Directed by Rene Claire
Written by Robert Pirosh and Marc Connelly, based on an uncompleted novel by Thorne Smith (completed by Norman Matson)
Starring Fredric March, Veronica Lake, Robert Benchley, Susan Hayward, Cecil Kellaway
In the 1940s, there was a small boomlet of fantasy films and at some point someone thought to try to use Thorne Smith again. Smith was a popular fantasist of the 1930s, best known today for Topper. So in 1942, French director Rene Clair got hold of an unfinished novel by Smith, The Passionate Witch and managed to convince Preston Sturges and Paramount to make it into a move. The result was I Married a Witch.
It starts in colonial Salem, Massachusetts, where Johnathan Wooley (Fredric March) convicts Jennifer (Veronica Lake) and her father Daniel (Cecil Kellaway) of witchcraft, where they are burned at the stake and the ashes buried beneath a tree, but not before Jennifer curses Wooley and all his descedants to marry the wrong woman.
In 1942, the curse continues, but a bolt of lightning frees Jennifer and Daniel. They go seeking the descendant of Wooley – Wallace (March) who’s about to marry Estelle Masterson (Susan Hayward). Jennifer appears in a human body to torment Wooley – but ends up falling in love.
The story is slight, of course, and March and Lake make the most of their roles.* March was the better actors, as his two Oscars show; Lake really was just a hairdo. Still, she is fine as Jennifer, and Cecil Kellaway does a good job as her father.
The concept, of course, was used the next year in Fritz Lieber’s novel Conjure Wife and, of course, years later in Bewtitched.**
*Evidently, they hated each other on the set
**Though the TV show just used the idea; the characters were far different