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Maid of Salem – The Bystander – Wednesday 3rd March 1937

Films of the Day 44 Maid of Salem and Made in England By George Campbell


IF you like Claudette Colbert – and if you don’t you’re a myopic mugwump, and no friend of mine – make a point of seeing Maid of Salem, Paramount’s excursion into a singularly bloody chapter in New England history. Salem, as you know, was the scene of the witchcraft persecution of 1692. The madness started with ten hysterical girls accusing Tituba, a negro slave employed by a local parson, of bewitching them. Before it died down, nineteen poor wretches were hanged for practising the black arts and another pressed to death. as was the law here, too, for refusing to plead.

Not, at first sight, the stuff that films are made on; but a powerful, gripping drama, relieved here and there by touches of humour. The little Puritan community, with its house-raisings, its church services with the women care fully segregated from the men lest lustful thoughts should be engendered by propinquity, its bans on dancing and whistling, and even laughing, has been re-created on the screen in all its bleak bigotry but without perceptible exaggeration; and the way the blood-lust starts and spreads is only too horribly familiar. Millions of Americans will see this picture and rejoice that the bad old days are gone. But are they? Change the clothes and the archaisms of speech (a mistake, anyway), charge a negro with rape in stead of magic, and you could find just such a case of hysteria and mass-murder in the United States to-day. Enough of sociology. Maid of Salem is picturesque, exciting entertainment, brilliantly acted by Miss Colbert and a very powerful cast. If there is any other young actress on the screen who combines Miss Colbert’s graces and talents for comedy, romantic tenderness and tearing drama – she hasn’t come this way. Fred MacMurray plays opposite her Bonita Granville, so brilliantly hateful in We Three, is the child who starts the trouble; and the others include Harvey Stephens, Gale Sondergaard (the queer-looking villainess of Anthony Adverse), Louise Dresser, Beulah Bondi, J. Farrell MacDonald, Halliwell Hobbes, Brandon Hurst, the old silent star, William Farnum, and a lady of colour with dramatic talent, by the name of Mme.Sul-te-Wan, who plays Tituba quite memorably.


Claudette Colbert as the Maid of Salem


The casting of Claudette Colbert as the Maid of Salem in the film of that name was like the casting of an apple of discord amongst the critics: some thought she was just right, some thought she wasn’t. Mr. Campbell here joins the former band (he says you’re a myopic mugwump if you don’t like her) with regard to her part in this story of the witchcraft persecution in puritan New England. She’s supported by Fred MacMurray, and Bonita Granville acts a hateful child again. Maid of Salem is at the Carlton.


The Bystander – Wednesday 3rd March 1937

September 18, 2018 Posted by | Social History, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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