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teaser Bewitched (1945)

As writer, director and narrator of the radio program Lights Out (1936-1939, 1942-1943), Arch Oboler was practically a household name. His show was hugely popular across the country, and it was only a matter of time before Hollywood came calling. After writing the screenplays for Escape (1940) and Gangway for Tomorrow (1943), Oboler was finally given a chance by MGM to direct Bewitched (1945), a 'B' film based on an especially popular Lights Out episode called "Alter Ego." The movie is an intriguing suspense drama starring Phyllis Thaxter as a killer being examined by psychiatrist Edmund Gwenn. Flashbacks reveal her to be schizophrenic, with a second, evil personality responsible for the murder.

For a MGM film, even a 'B' movie, Bewitched had an extremely low budget. But Oboler's radio expertise made the most of it, and he filled the picture with stylistic flourishes that came from radio. The use of sound effects, editing, stylized dialogue, and heightened, punchy music all reveal the radio influence. The music, in fact, was so important to Oboler that he fought to get a good composer who was actually scoring 'A' movies - Bronislau Kaper, who had just finished scoring Gaslight (1944) and Without Love (1945). Finally, Oboler gave Thaxter's evil personality its own voice, well supplied by an unbilled Audrey Totter, a film noir fixture (Lady in the Lake (1947), Tension, 1950) whose career began in radio in 1939.

Psychiatry-themed movies were all the rage in the 1940s, expressing anxieties and fears that reflected the mood of WWII-era America. The easy reassurance provided by many of the psychiatrist characters perhaps also filled a need felt by moviegoers for reassurance themselves. Be that as it may, the subject soon permeated nearly every genre. The specific issue of multiple personalities had been tackled in earlier movies like The Curious Conduct of Judge Legarde (1915), The Brand of Satan (1917), The Untameable (1923), and less clinically, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920 and 1931). But in the new trend of psychiatry movies, schizophrenia as a clinical matter was something quite different, and in that sense Bewitched was ahead of its time, anticipating by over a decade the more famous The Three Faces of Eve (1957) and Lizzie (1957).

This was only Thaxter's second movie. She would go on to appear in several fine films including Act of Violence (1948), No Man of Her Own (1950) and The Breaking Point (1950) before turning to television. She returned to the big screen in Superman (1978) as Superman's adoptive mother, Ma Kent.

Oboler directed eight more pictures, specializing in gimmicky dramas including Bwana Devil (1952), the first feature-length 3D movie and the one which ushered in the 3D craze, and the post-nuclear holocaust melodrama, Five (1951), filmed in Oboler's own Frank Lloyd Wright-styled home.

Producer: Jerry Bresler, Herbert Moulton
Director: Arch Oboler
Screenplay: Arch Oboler
Cinematography: Charles Salerno, Jr.
Film Editing: Harry Komer
Art Direction: Malcolm Brown, Cedric Gibbons
Music: Bronislau Kaper
Cast: Phyllis Thaxter (Joan Arlis Ellis), Edmund Gwenn (Dr. Bergson), Henry H. Daniels, Jr. (Bob Arnold), Addison Richards (John Ellis), Kathleen Lockhart (Mrs. Ellis), Francis Pierlot (Dr. George Wilton).

by Jeremy Arnold

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