Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

BURN, WITCH, BURN

Janet Blair indulges in witchcraft as Peter Wyngarde sleeps













BURN, WITCH, BURN (aka Night of the Eagle/1962). Director: Sidney Hayers.

Professor of sociology Norman Taylor (Peter Wyngarde) is disturbed to discover that his wife, Tansy (Janet Blair) is using fetishes and other talismans of witchcraft to increase his good fortune and protect him from his enemies at university. This goes against everything the rational man believes in (or doesn't), so Norman destroys all of Tansy's little items, and things go from bad to much, much worse ... Fritz Leiber's novel "Conjure Wife" was first filmed in 1944 as Weird Woman; this version is also very creditable. The two leads are quite effective and there is also solid support from Margaret Johnston (The Psychopath) as Flora, a sinister background figure. One of the best sequences has to do with a huge stone eagle that comes to life and pursues Norman through passages and corridors at the college.The story was filmed a third time as the comedic Witch's Brew. The versatile Blair was Red Skelton's leading lady in The Fuller Brush Man while Wyngarde was Peter Quint in The Innocents and did a lot of television work as well. Hayers also directed the British chiller Circus of Horrors.

Verdict: Zesty supernatural item. ***.

3 comments:

Matthew Bradley said...

A major reason for this film's effectiveness is surely the fact that it was adapted by veteran genre authors and screenwriters Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont, who simplified some of Leiber's [note correct spelling; his father and namesake, Fritz Sr., was a venerable Hollywood character actor] complex climax for the screen. George Baxt, who wrote Hayers's CIRCUS OF HORRORS, apparently made some revisions to their script, but was credited only in England, not in the U.S.

It's also noteworthy that WEIRD WOMAN, part of Universal's "Inner Sanctum" series of mysteries starring Lon Chaney, Jr., gave any apparently supernatural happenings a rational explanation, whereas Hayers et al. maintained Leiber's genuinely supernatural events. The film's U.S. title may cause some confusion with Abraham Merritt's differently punctuated novel BURN WITCH, BURN!, filmed by Tod (DRACULA, FREAKS) Browning as THE DEVIL-DOLL in 1936.

In 1991, Matheson told me that Spike Lee's former cinematographer, Ernest Dickerson, had hoped to direct another version featuring an African-American cast.

William said...

Thanks for the interesting info, Matthew. I have seen Leiber Sr. in a number of old movies. I think director Hayers should also get some credit for a successful picture, but of course the screenwriters are important; I mention them in many reviews but not all, depending on the movie.

NOTE: Matthew Bradley has written an excellent book on Richard Matheson available on amazon.

Matthew Bradley said...

Thanks, Bill; certainly haven't forgotten your very generous review of RICHARD MATHESON ON SCREEN. Funny that the senior Leiber appeared in such genre films as the 1939 HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME and 1943 PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. I guess that apple didn't fall too far from the tree! :-)

Hayers certainly shares credit for the film's effectiveness, although it's interesting to note that his other work was less consistently distinguished than Matheson's. Of course, I brought up the latter because I know we both admire him.