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George Miller’s The Witches of Eastwick

Devils, doubles and deep desires

Let's all take a moment to celebrate this crazy gem of a film made by George Miller — currently flopping commercially in cinemas with his latest wonderful fairy tale story about stories — back in 1987, a whopping two years before male lead Jack Nicholson would play the iconic Joker, defining the role for nearly two decades, and a whole seven years before he would get even more blatantly animalistic in Wolf.

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Oct 30, 2022

© 1987 Warner Bros., Inc.

All those sides of him are visible here already and what a strange, beautiful, R-Rated mixture of dark humor, profanity and supernaturally-tinged comedy it is that he shows them in. Sure, you might say this streak in Nicholson was already fully unleashed in The Shining but there is a devilish demeanor in his charismatic, horny and slick performance here that just adds that extra bit of spice and liveliness to what was just a straight-up descent into madness in Kubrick's film.

From its porn-worthy tagline (Three beautiful women. One lucky devil.) to its madcap finale that you have to see to believe, The Witches of Eastwick is an outrageous vestige of experimental, big-budget studio policies of the late 80s that actually paid off with a number 9 spot in the top 10 highest grossing films that year. The film is a testament to how an adult story with adult words but a childlike imagination, creativity and playfulness can really entertain the masses if it's done right and cast right. Just look at that genius tennis match scene full of fun and wonder that leads the plot precisely nowhere and yet enriches the film in so many ways. Look at it and tell me you don't just know that a scene like that would get cut immediately from any modern film if it were ever written in the first place.

Since we've spoken of the devil already, let it not go unnoticed and actually let it be even more celebrated, who is leading this film with their female power and combined explosive sex appeal, as no less than three incredible women are at the center of this biblical-meets-supernatural story and they are actually the catalyst to set all the events in motion. Their friendship and kinship as people, who have had to endure quite a lot and who feel trapped in their small-town existence, is what dreams up the appearance of the Nicholson character in an unlikely moment of synchronized thoughts, which, as it turns out, is not something unlikely for these three.

© 1987 Warner Bros., Inc.

“I have nothing against a good fuck, but there is danger here. Somebody has to do something about it.”

In a strange way — and acknowledging that the film was written by two men — this film starts out trying to be the hardest Bechdel test fail imaginable with three at first unnamed women dreaming up the ideal man they want to come into their lives to sweep them off their feet and liven up their lowly existence and who then later have a conversation about said man in said dream they had at the same time. That's not where the script stays, however, and it actually turns quite a bit of things around over the course of the film, changing the power dynamics but still weaving in a subtle longing that all three women still feel for that man afterwards despite all the events that have occurred by then and them having come into their own without him. It's an interesting amount of nuance that is disappearing more and more these days.

Along the way, we also get a lot of silver-tongued devil moments of course, demonstrating what kind of sway his words can hold over people even though they utter their disgust for him in the most precise, opiniated and elaborate fashion like Cher's character does in his bedroom early on. If her brief monologue isn't the most eloquent insult to have ever graced the silver screen or to at least warrant a place in the top 10, I don't know what qualifies.

To finish things off, I'd like to point out that the wonderfully playful and at times also ominous score for this film was composed by none other than John Williams and it feels like a somewhat unusual entry in his oeuvre although not entirely so. I somehow had a bit of a Danny Elfman vibe when the score first kicked in but it's also unmistakably Williams at the same time and some of the more uplifting tunes wouldn't feel out of place in a Pixar film, I think.

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