Starting off with a surprisingly funny witch burning in the 17th century which comes complete with an intermission and someone selling snacks that have “An anti-witch charm in every tub”, poor old Jennifer (Veronica Lake) and her wizard father Daniel (Cecil Kellaway) are quickly rather crispy. Though oddly this isn’t the end of their characters and they live on in smoke form, but even more strangely they are trapped under a tree for a few centuries.
Before their demise Jennifer cast a spell on witchfinder Jonathan Wooley (Frederic March) so that he and all of his descendants would be unlucky in love, and we quickly take a trip through the ages to see that is indeed true. Then we’re in present day America, well, 1942 at least, where thanks to a thunder storm the tree they were trapped by is destroyed and as Daniel is such a skilled magical fella he’s able to give his daughter a new body.
Straight away they set out to make the latest in the Wooley line miserable, one Wallace Wooley (March, again) who is set to be married though he doesn’t exactly look overjoyed whenever he’s with his wife to be Estelle. He’s also running for governor thanks to Estelle’s father backing him, but once in the flesh Jennifer does everything she possibly can to seduce Wallace, who fights his corner for the majority of the movie but is clearly attracted to his witchy foe.
Lake’s absolutely superb as the seductive supernatural lead, there’s a fair amount of fish out of water comedy initially which she’s really great at, but the film works best when she wishes to make Wallace’s life miserable, and she delivers lines like “It would be nice to have lips, lips to whisper lies, lips to kiss a man and make him suffer” in a beautifully mocking way. Also excellent is Cecil Kellaway as the rather demented father figure who is very fond of a tipple or two, and he’s beautifully mean when he discovers that thanks to a potion gone awry Jennifer has fallen for Wallace.
Admittedly Jennifer is a borderline sex pest and when viewed through twenty-first century eyes some of the things she does are rather dodgy. But hell, she was burnt to death and then forced to spend centuries as smoke with her overbearing father, and she’s technically a villain during these parts too as they’re set before she falls in love with March, so I’m possibly being unfair.
March is great in the straight man role, the script is peppered with a lot of amusing strangeness, and the plot moves at a fast pace and is pleasingly unpredictable, especially when Daniel is on screen and somewhat crazy about taking revenge. The ending is the only disappointing element, in that it follows the route the majority of normal rom-com’s do, if this had carried on being deranged it could have been an all time classic, but this is still a very enjoyable forties film with two superb performances making it a must see if you like your fast talking screwball comedy with an often weird sense of humour.