A week or so ago when I posted on the Samantha statue in downtown Salem many people voiced their support of this…….(searching for objective word) semblance, most expressing the point of view that Bewitched came to Salem at its low point, after the Northshore Mall had been built and all the Salem shops had left downtown and urban renewal had emptied the city. Samantha symbolizes the full-scale, no-holds-barred adoption of witchcraft tourism as Salem’s key late twentieth- and twenty-first century industry, the equivalent of its maritime trade in the early nineteenth century and its textile and leather industries in the early twentieth. So it follows that this television show is an important part of Salem history, right up there with the Witch Trials, Leslie’s Retreat, the China Trade, the Massachusetts 54th, the Great Salem Fire, and the contributions of Salem men and women to the cumulative national efforts in both World War I and World War II and later conflicts. With this in mind, I feel completely justified in my focus on a rather silly (but nonetheless charming) movie today, just because this particular movie is the precursor/inspiration for the all-important Bewitched. Without this movie, I Married a Witch (1942), there would be no Bewitched, and presumably for some, without Bewitched, there would be no Salem!
I’m a devoted TCM fan but somehow I had never seen this classic, so when it aired on Sunday afternoon I gave it my full attention. It definitely paved the way for Bewitched in more ways than one: adorable blonde witch (in this case Jennifer played distinctively by the it-girl of the moment, Veronica Lake), stiff husband (Frederic March), mischievous witch parent (Cecil Kellaway rather than Agnes Morehead), a Hollywood view of the old country (Massachusetts). Here’s a succinct plot summary: Jennifer and her father were burned at the stake after being found guilty of witchcraft in 1672 (not 1692) with stalwart Puritan Jonathan Wooley serving as the key accuser; in return they curse successive Wooleys with bad wives, and we see some brief scenarios from 1770, 1861, and 1904 in which Wooleys are married to shrews. Flash forward to 1942 when lightning strikes the old oak tree in which the witches have been encased: they are liberated as mere wisps of smoke and they venture to a nearby house, where Wallace Wooley (March) is attending a fundraiser in support of his bid for Governor of Massachusetts, shrewish fiancée (Susan Hayward) in tow. Jennifer sets her sights on Wallace–she wants to continue the curse–so they follow him to Boston, still as puffs of smoke. When they see the Pilgrim Hotel, they decide to light it on fire (not quite sure why, except for the PILGRIM name), and Wallace stops to show his concern since he is running for governor. He ends up rushing into the hotel and “rescuing” Jennifer, who now assumes her Veronica Lake form. She seldom leaves his side after that, and concocts a love potion so that he will marry her rather than Susan Hayward. By mistake, SHE drinks the love potion and then all bets are off…….and marriage ensues. The ending suggests that Wallace is going to have an interesting life (like Darren!) from that point on.
A few notes on the scenes and the film: opening shots–Preston Sturges was originally involved with the film, and Dalton Trumbo was one of the (uncredited) screenwriters! A blurry scene (sorry): but this is where they are selling concessions between witch burnings, which is immediately telling the audience that this is not your standard Salem film. I wasn’t crazy about March in this film and apparently he wasn’t crazy about Lake; “in flight”; the PILGRIM HOTEL before it is set ablaze; from then on, it’s all Veronica: she spends a lot of time curled up kittenishly in the wing chair in Wooley’s “colonial” house in what is presumably Boston, before portraits of his unhappy ancestors. Couldn’t they find an all-black cat? All you see are the white paws and nose as it dashes around. Together at the end, back in “Salem”, Veronica in a beautiful sheer black dress, almost rivaling her hair.