Bell, Book, and Candle

Year 1958

James Stewart as Shepherd 'Shep' Henderson  
Kim Novak as  Gillian 'Gil' Holroyd
Jack Lemmon as Nicky Holroyd
Ernie Kovacs as Sidney Redlitch
Elsa Lanchester as Aunt Queenie Holroyd
Hermione Gingold   as Bianca de Passe
Janice Rule as Merle Kittridge
Director - Richard Quine
Playwrite - John Van Druten
Screenwriter - Daniel Taradash

The title of the film Bell, Book, and Candle comes from the ritual performed by witches when they end their ceremonies. At least it is according to Sidney Redlitch (Kovacs) who claims the ritual is to, "Ring the bell, close the book, quench the candle." I've never read anything like that when I've read about witches.

The movie is a love story. How is this then a guy movie? It's got good acting, funny scenes, a decent plot, and Kim Novak. Mostly, it has Kim Novak.

Gillian Holroyd (Kim Novak) and Pyewacket (Some Cat)

Gil Holroyd has the Christmas blues. She's a lonely witch who has a secret desire to be "human". Her upstairs neighbor, Shep Henderson (Stewart), seems like a nice guy and someone she'd like to get to know better. It turns out that he's engaged to someone that Gil dislikes from her college days. She kills two birds with one stone and hexes Shep to fall in love with her and thereby cancel his engagement. Of course, she falls in love with Shep and loses her witchy powers as a result.

No one can tell me that the television show Bewitched wasn't inspired by (stolen from?) Bell, Book, and Candle.

If that's all that there was to the movie, it'd be dull and boring. But there's an interesting cast of supporting characters. There's Jack Lemmon as the "beatnik" brother, Elsa Lanchester as the simple aunt, Hermione Gingold as a pretentious potion purveyor, Janice Rule as the jilted fiancée, and the wonderful Ernie Kovacs as the author of an uninitiated's version of a book on magic.

The movie is based on a play. This works two ways. The first is that there aren't many locations and all of the scenes are framed within a stage set. This means that very little takes place outside and nothing much happens off-camera or simultaneously. It feels cramped. The good side to this is that everything is polished. From the lines to their timing to the background of the characters, it's all very smooth. The scenes are all well constructed with attention to detail, which is always a plus and adds to the viewing enjoyment.

How do you categorize this movie? The humor isn't constant, so it's not really a comedy although some people may categorize this as a romantic comedy.

What wrong with this movie? One of the biggest issues is a twenty-five year old Novak being smitten by a fifty year old Stewart. But they also did that Spring/Autumn romance thing in Veritgo so maybe it was acceptable in the late 50's for a guy to be romantically involved with someone young enough to be his daughter.

The movie also has some scenes that don't ring true. (Bell? Ring? Never mind.) When Shep and Kittridge are at the Zodiac Club (a nightclub for witches), trumpets blare in the ears of Kittridge. Shep, who's supposedly going to marry Kittridge the next day, thinks Kittridge is not being a good sport. I'd say she's lucky she's not deaf after having three trumpets being blasted at her. If someone did that to my wife, I'd be a touch angry.

When Shep and Gil split up, Shep gives Gil a broom along with some nasty comment about it being a spare for riding or something. Personally, I think his anger was over the top. And one more thing. Take another look at the picture above and tell me what she'd have to do to get you angry enough so that you'd want to humiliate her.

Throughout the movie Kim Novak is sultry, vulnerable, and sophisticated. Even when she's angry she never loses that touch of class. It must be the director because there's one scene where even Elsa Lanchester (the bride of Frankenstein?) looks cute.

Here are some lines from the movie.

Kittridge: A witch?
Shep: Yes!
Kittridge: Shep, you just never learned to spell.

Parrot: Who's a fool? You're a fool.

Nicky: You know what it says on love potions. "Shake well, but don't tell."

Redlitch: You don't know me, but I think I want to see you.

Queenie: Somehow, it seems more like Halloween than Christmas.

No nudity, profanity, or blasphemy. The subject matter makes it a good Halloween movie. There's high chick flick potential here and guys will be entertained by the antics of Lemmon and Kovacs. (Kovacs was always underrated.)

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