Movies watched: I Married A Witch, The Departed
Where watched: home
Elapsed time: 77 minutes, 151 minutes
Total cumulative time: 5 hours, 23 minutes
Let’s open the file on Veronica Lake. First we’ll have to blow the dust off. Now let’s look at the facts: Born in Brooklyn, family moved to Hollywood when she was sixteen. Got a walk-on part the following year. Signed to a contract at Paramount at the age of nineteen. She was only 4’11”. She originated the “peek-a-boo” hairstyle that became all the rage in the war years of the early 40’s. She was paired frequently with Alan Ladd, which makes sense: he was short, she was shorter. She was a star throughout the 40’s, but developed a bad reputation, and by the early 50’s she couldn’t get work in Hollywood. She was married and divorced four times. Her first child died shortly after birth. After moving to New York, she worked waiting tables. She was arrested multiple times for public drunkenness. She drank herself to death at the young age of 50.
My first introduction to Veronica Lake was L.A. Confidential. I suppose I had heard the name before, but I wasn’t aware of her as a real person. Shortly thereafter I saw Sullivan’s Travels, and I was blown away at her poise and presence, especially considering she was still a teenager. She and Joel McCrea seem to have a genuine rapport on screen, but apparently McCrea disliked working with her, and refused to work with her again. Frederic March would have the same experience on this movie, which he began to refer to on set as “I Married a Bitch.”
I Married A Witch is a light, fresh, enjoyable comedy that breezes through a short 77-minute running time. More than 20 years after this movie’s release, it would be one of the main inspirations for the the TV show “Bewitched”, and it has the same level of charm, wit and warmth. Veronica Lake and Frederic March are great, as are Susan Hayward and Robert Benchley in supporting roles. The movie was directed by Rene Clair, who is virtually unknown today. Many of his films are avant-garde French works, but he spent a few years in Hollywood, making movies that are all forgotten today. This is one that deserves to be remembered.
Dalton Trumbo did some uncredited script-doctoring on this movie. I forgot to mention when I wrote about Where the Sidewalk Ends that it was written by Ben Hecht. Between the two of them, Trumbo and Hecht did uncredited writing on literally hundreds of Hollywood screenplays (if you don’t believe me, look them up on IMDb).
This is one of many films that would be completely unknown today if not for the Criterion Collection. Their blu-ray release looks and sounds fantastic. If you enjoy comedies from the golden age of Hollywood, it’s well worth a viewing. And now we can close the file on Veronica Lake. File it in row H for Hollywood; section B, for Broken Dreams.
And what possessed me to re-watch The Departed? It seems like it just came out a couple of years ago, but I actually hadn’t watched it in about 8 years. I liked it when I saw it in the theater; I like it even more now. Setting this movie in Boston was a brilliant move. And even though it is based much more on the Hong Kong movie Infernal Affairs than it is on Whitey Bulger, this movie feels more authentic than Black Mass, in which Johnny Depp hid behind (a little too much) makeup to play the real-life Whitey Bulger. Black Mass had some decent performances, but ultimately left me cold, whereas The Departed is full of life from the first frame.
Later-life Jack Nicholson has kind of assumed the mantle previously worn by later-life Marlon Brando. Early in his career, Nicholson balanced masculinity with an easy-going charm and a devil-may-care attitude.. Now, having won all the awards, with nothing to prove, he lets his crazy show even more, and the don’t-give-a-shit attitude works wonders for his character. He has aged better than many of his peers (are you listening DeNiro and Hoffman), by choosing his material carefully and not becoming a caricature of his former self.
The Departed has an amazing assemblage of talent for one movie, and everyone makes the most of their parts. Robbie Robertson was the soundtrack producer, and as in most Scorsese movies the music is a very important element of the film. I’m not sure whether it was Robbie or Scorsese who chose to use the live version of “Comfortably Numb” with Van Morrison on vocals, but it is a brilliant choice.
Watching this movie makes me want to see some more Nicholson, from earlier in his career, when he was at the top of his game. How about 1974’s Chinatown? To paraphrase Steven Soderbergh, it was good to be Jack Nicholson in 1974. (Hell, I think its good to be Jack anytime.)