Young lovers fall afoul of repressive society as Salem elders get caught up in the witch hunts and trials of 17th century Massachusetts. One family in particular uses the hysteria to its ... See full summary »
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Gregory La Cava
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Young lovers fall afoul of repressive society as Salem elders get caught up in the witch hunts and trials of 17th century Massachusetts. One family in particular uses the hysteria to its advantage, getting even with everyone for every slight--real or imagined. Written by
Ed Lorusso <email@example.com>
A splendid cast, well-crafted set pieces and a strong theme work in this film's favor. The legendary witchcraft hysteria that gripped the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1692 is given the conventional Hollywood studio adaptation that is, reconstructed to fit around a romantic love story but done so well within the studio strictures that it can still hold the interest decades later. The lovers here are the oft-paired screen team of Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray. At first they seem miscast as a Puritan maiden and a lusty political rebel but they both handle their roles with conviction and spirit.
Director Frank Lloyd, no stranger to period dramas (he also directed MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY and BERKELEY SQUARE) and his frequent collaborator, screenwriter Bradley King, tell a good and gripping tale of rumors run amok, when scheming child Bonita Granville decides to get attention and sympathy by pretending to be possessed by the devil, setting in motion a chain of accusations that eventually sends fifteen people to the gallows. The supporting cast is one of the most impressive ever assembled for a standard Hollywood production. What a roster! Louise Dresser, Henry Kolker, Sterling Holloway, Beulah Bondi, Donald Meek, Madame Sul-te-wan (powerfully effective as Tituba, the West Indian slave accused of bewitching her mistress's family), Gale Sondergaard, Effie Tilbury, and a trio of exceptional or exceptionally well directed - child actors (Granville, Virginia Weidler, Benny Bartlett). And that's only about half of the fine ensemble on display.
Colbert's 20th-century-urban eye makeup (lipstick, plucked brows, mascara-coated lashes, eye shadow), while far less intense than usual, is still somewhat distracting but at least gets toned at an appropriate point in the scenario, and she has a hot-blooded courtroom scene which again proves how deftly she can hit the ball out of the park when necessary. For the record, Gale Sondergaard's face is also cosmetically enhanced but we don't see nearly as much of her, so she doesn't stand out.
The struggle dramatized herein between superstition and emotion vs. evidence and reason is ongoing. The real story of the Salem trials is of course far more complicated than what is presented here. Let's say that MAID OF SALEM gives a strong suggestion of what really went on and would be good encouragement for further study.
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