GirlOnBroomstickA Czech comedy-fantasy from the 1970s that may not be all that funny, but the film’s visual brilliance and manic invention make for an extremely entertaining viewing experience.

1972’s GIRL ON A BROOMSTICK (DIVKA NA KOSTETI) isn’t as well known as other Czech fantasy films of the period (like MORGIANA or BEAUTY AND THE BEAST), but it was a success, and remains one of the key films of its director Vaclav Vorlicek (of THREE WISHES FOR CINDERELLA and WHO WANTS TO KILL JESSIE?). A belated Vorlicek helmed sequel, LITTLE WITCH ON A BROOMSTICK (SAXANA A LEXIKON KOUZEL), appeared in 2011, but wasn’t nearly as successful financially or artistically.

Far better received was THE GIRL ON A BROOMSTICK’S wonderful psychedelic jazz soundtrack by Angelo Michajlov, which was released on CD in 2010 by the UK label Finder Keepers (alongside equally vital Czech film soundtracks like VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS and THE CREMATOR). That soundtrack, I might add, includes the single “Saxana,” crooned by the film’s star Petra Cernocka, which was a massive hit in the film’s native land.

Saxana is a young witch in training at a shape-shifting school. After failing to transform herself into a raven one day Saxana is forced to stay after school for—300 years! She becomes determined to rebel by entering the “world of humans,” and does so in the form of an owl. As such she’s captured and taken home by an middle-aged man as a gift for his teenage son Johnny.

Saxana attends school with Johnny the following day, and inadvertently falls into the orbit of an especially mischievous student. Under the nefarious influence of the student and his pals, Saxana gives an instructor rodent teeth and transforms the rest of the faculty into rabbits. When Saxana tries to free herself from the boys’ clutches they lock her in a closet, but she escapes by flying out the window on a broomstick.

She ends up crashing her broom into the home of the rodent-toothed teacher. The two ladies forge an alliance, with the teacher learning Saxana’s secrets and taking the rabbit teachers to a local petting zoo.

As for Johnny, he’s transformed into an action figure that has its head separated from its body—so when Saxana changes him back to human form his head and body remain separated. Two more people are transformed into cows, the gang of teen miscreants get rabbit ears, and Saxana’s fellow shape-shifters come after her. And so on.

This film contains all the visual flair of Czech fantasy classics like MORGIANA and BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, but in place of those films’ brooding socio-political overtones THE GIRL ON A BROOMSTICK is unerringly spunky and light-hearted. Director Vaclav Vorlicek displays an unflagging energy, bolstered by a wealth of imaginative sight gags. The many depictions of people transforming into various animals are quite memorable, as are the simple but ingenious arm-extension gags (in which Saxana sticks an arm under a table and it stretches across the room).

The “humor,” as you might guess, hasn’t dated well, and nor does it “transcend borders” (as some have mistakenly claimed). What does register is the high-spirited quasi-gothic aura, and also Petra Cernocka in the title role. A popular singer making her film acting debut, Cernocka exudes wide-eyed innocence and a PG rated sexiness—an effect magnified by her eye-catching (to say the least) outfit, consisting of a skimpy black robe that’s turned into a miniskirt in the latter scenes.

Vital Statistics

Filmove Studio Barrandov

Director: Vaclav Vorlicek
Screenplay: Hermina Frankova, Milos Macourek, Vaclav Vorlicek
Cinematography: Valdimir Novotny
Editing: Miroslav Hajek
Cast: Petra Cernocka, Jan Hrusinsky, Jan Kraus, Vlastimil Zavrel, Michal Hejny, Jaromir Spal, Vlastimil Hasek, Vladimir Mensik, Frantisek Filipovsky, Zdenek Dite, Josef Blaha