It’s autumn, again (albeit a miserably damp one), which almost always appeals to Big Gay Horror Fan’s more subtle, romantic side. So, the horrors I’ve been drawn to of late have definitely been of the more ‘Ella Fitzgerald in a smoky jazz club followed by a cardigan bundled walk in the park’ variety.
Still, for all who think 1942’s I Married Witch is just a silly piece of old fashioned froth with no roots in true terror – prepare to be surprised as I was. Granted, this smoky piece of cinema’s true charms lies in its Katherine Hepburn-Spencer Tracy war of the sexes’ comparisons. But there is plenty of charming Halloween boogedy, boogedy to found here, as well. Released as a wave of silken fog from her hilltop prison, soon to be silvery blonde witch Jennifer immediately begins seeking romantic revenge on the descendant of the pilgrim who had sentenced her to death, hundreds of years before. Forming a stunning corporal body from the flames of a hotel fire, Jennifer makes up for lost time by exploding sexily through the skies on a broom, riding up stairway banisters in reverse and, with the help of her gleefully demented warlock father, devising a love potion to enslave her target to her forever. The plot twist in which Jennifer, herself, swallows the elixir turns the tale into unfortunate reverse feminism mode, but clues the viewer into the original basis for such future projects as Bell, Book and Candle and the beloved television show, Bewitched.
As Jennifer, Veronica Lake is pure celluloid magnificence, and at 4’ 11’, looks like the true embodiment of a living doll. Her physicality, though, makes the 25 year age difference between Lake (born 1922) and co-star Frederic March (born 1897) all the more glaring, though. Apparently, feeling that March treated her like dirt, Lake found plenty of time to play jokes on him, on set. Although, when she wasn’t rubbing his crotch with her foot while the cameras were focusing on his face or rigging her body with weights for scenes where he carried her, the two rarely spoke. This vast canyon in experience, also, supplies I Married a Witch with a crystal clear stance on the sexist ageism of Hollywood, as well. Would the powers-that-be have ever considered pairing character actress Clara “Aunt Em” Blandick (born 1880) with swashbuckler Tyrone Power (born 1914) in a gothic romantic comedy? Hell, I might as well ask if BGHF will ever get to help Dylan McDermott prep for his nude scenes in American Horror Story. And we all know the answer to that one! (And if you don’t know, I’m not telling!)
But despite its constrictions (including casting red hot Susan Hayward, whose sexuality smolders despite her earnest efforts to tame it, as March’s repressed fiancé) I Married a Witch ultimately proves itself to be a delightfully misty classic. Interestingly, the lingering horror of the true fate of the Salem witches, which is touched upon in the film’s opening, gives it a palpably haunting atmosphere, as well.
As for the transcendent Lake, despite a number of classics (Sullivan’s Travels, This Gun For Hire), she found herself dumped in mediocre fare for most of her career and all but disappeared from Hollywood productions by early 1950’s. Struggling with alcoholism, she executive produced and starred in a Floridian based drive-in shocker, Flesh Feast, in 1970. (Though, online sources claim the film was actually shot in 1967.) While, her strong work as Dr. Elaine Frederick may be a fitting farewell performance for terror nuts everywhere, it is indeed a true horror that she lost her life to hepatitis complications, a few years later, at the very young age of 50.
Meanwhile, a modern production with golden age glint emphasizes some of the struggles that Lake must have experienced in her own career. Peilin Kuo’s short feature Prescott Place is a visual feast for lovers of strong 1940’s women’s films, Douglas Sirk melodramas and the richly gothic horrors that graced the screen in the 50’s (including Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte and the ilk). Chronicling the crazed illusions of a masked, former Hollywood queen, this highly acclaimed production features a passionate performance from Alexis Iacono and one of the creepiest talking dolls this side of Dead of Night.
Most clearly reminiscent of Sunset Boulevard, Iacono’s Jane Prescott has been long neglected career-wise and romantically abandoned, as well. When an age old lover finally returns to her arms, Prescott finally releases all hope for a normal life by locking him away with her only companion, a doll that strangely bares her likeness. Obscure, yet rich with recognizable emotion, Kuo and Iacono have created a highly original piece with Prescott Place.
More information on Prescott Place can be gathered at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Prescott-Place/160089877344149 or at www.prescottplacemovie.com !
And until next time –
Sweet love and pink Grue, Big Gay Horror Fan!