Rene Clair’s lighthearted screwball comedy is an absolute delight. Veronica Lake is smoldering with her signature peekaboo bangs. She plays opposite Frederic March as the playfully vengeful witch, recently freed from her tree-prison by a lightning strike (along with her warlock father, played by the incomparable Cecil Kellaway).
The humor is wonderfully paced, and really holds up to a contemporary viewing. I particularly love the practical effects. Rene Clair’s history with the French avant-garde cinema scene can be seen in the ingenious use of classic camera tricks. Simple reverse shots of smoke and a few exquisite miniatures add a distinct visual playfulness that has aged very well.
Amusingly, behind the scenes March and Lake did not get along. Miss March called Lake “a brainless little blonde sexpot, void of any acting ability”, and Lake called March a “pompous poseur”. Lake’s acting career was tragically cut short due to a drinking problem (but also do to her resistance to unwanted advances by misogynist film-world men…). Veronica played practical jokes on March, like hiding a 40-pound weight under her dress for a scene in which March had to carry her, or pushing her foot repeatedly into his groin during the filming of a from-the-waist-up shot.
There is a pretty baffling essay in the Criterion Release DVD written by the idiosyncratic arthouse-director Guy Maddin in which he elaborates the poetic metaphor of being a “haunted airplane air traffic controller” considering the magical confluence of cast and crew on this picture. I found it very fun to read, even if only for its bizzareness.