Rene Clair’s I Married a Witch is perhaps best known for one of Veronica Lake’s string of successes before her career went downhill in the ’50s and beyond. There are some nice touches from Clair in this fun, simple story.
Lake plays Jennifer, a witch who has been tormenting the Wooley family for centuries. When she’s released from a prison she accidentally falls in love with Wallace Wooley (Fredric March).
One of the better scenes comes later in the film. It’s a nicely imagined sequence using some great rear projection and trickery for 1942. As Wallace and Jennifer try to get away from a mob in a cab they don’t realize that her evil witch father is the driver.
Clair starts in a close-up as the tires lift off the ground, and then cuts to a wider shot, bewildered cop in foreground:
These next two feel like Melies years later, especially that second one, in its wide landscape, twinkling building lights, and hazy clouds. But the first one is maybe the best in its spot-on play with perspective:
It’s not until Wallace notices the clock from the local clocktower in the background that he realizes they’re well off the ground:
It’s not only a well-designed sequence technically, but the shot selection is great, playing well with scale and disbelief.
Veronica Lake was an interesting character, known maybe best for her hair style covering one eye:
If the stories about her are to be believed, she was a pain in the butt to work with. Supposedly her career went down the tubes after she was convinced to lose her iconic coiffure due to WWII-era women working in factories, blinded in one eye, getting strands caught in machinery.
Clair has another great sequence at the would be wedding between Wallace and Estelle (Susan Hayward). As various chaos ensues-
Clair constantly cuts back to the beleaguered wedding singer who consistently starts up the same old love tune…even when love is truly and obviously out of the air:
The Imitation Game
In some ways The Imitation Game reminds me of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, which I far and away preferred. I suppose this new movie reminds me of the le Carre adaptation because it’s made by a director making his Hollywood debut, it’s heavy on period production design, and it features a British actor at the current top of his game (Benedict Cumberbatch with Sherlock, Star Trek, etc, vs. Colin Firth coming off of The King’s Speech).
The Imitation Game is well-acted, pretty to look at, and well -paced. That all adds up to…fine, but that’s about it. It’s also big-Hollywood-safe, hits every imagined dramatic note, and skirts some of the most interesting parts about Alan Turing’s life (his homosexuality, the aftermath of his “outing”), instead placing them as simple backdrop for the WWII Enigma narrative.
That story’s got plenty going for it and ultimately the film is as much “us vs. them” in US vs. Germany, as it is Turing vs. his superiors who don’t trust him. That thread of paranoia would be more interesting if it weren’t sacrificed for suffering artist scenes, and easy dramatic moments (the “good old boys” working with Turing coming in at the nick of time and saving his machine; a co-worker who just so happens to have a family member aboard a targeted ship; a wasted Charles Dance playing only dastardly and nothing more; a wrenchingly annoying score).
Only as I’m writing this does The Imitation Game remind me of A Beautiful Mind, another film that I didn’t particularly care for, though at least that one had more about the psyche of its lead.