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I researched this film a little and discovered a web site that claims it was actually an inside joke about the Post WWII Greenwich Village world of gays and lesbians. With the exception of Stewart and Novak, the warlocks and witches represented that alternative lifestyle. John Van Druten who wrote the stage play was apparently gay and very familiar with this Greenwich Village. I thought this was ironic because I first saw Bell, Book and Candle in the theater when I was in 5th or 6th grade just because my parents took me. It was hard to get me to a movie that didn't include horses, machine guns, or alien monsters and I planned on being bored. But, I remember the moment when Jimmy Stewart embraced Kim Novak on the top of the Flatiron building and flung his hat away while the camera followed it fluttering to the ground. As the glorious George Duning love theme soared, I suddenly got a sense of what it felt like to fall in love. The first stirrings of romantic/sexual love left me dazed as I left the theater. I am sure I'm not the only pre-adolescent boy who was seduced by Kim Novak's startling, direct gaze. It's ironic that a gay parable was able to jump-start heterosexual puberty in so many of us. I am in my late 50's now and re-watched the film yesterday evening and those same feelings stirred as I watched that hat touch down fifty years later . . .
"Bell, Book and Candle," one of two 1958 pairings of James Stewart and Kim
Novak, may or may not be a great movie. I've long since given up caring
about that question; these days, at the umpty-umpteenth viewing of the film
(which dates back to the first time I ever caught it in its "secondary," or
"neighborhood release" at San Francisco's Castro Theatre), I find myself
still enjoying it as though I were seeing it for that first
On the surface, this should rightly be only one among many so-called, and largely formulaic, "sophisticated comedies" of the late-50s era. Wrong!
For one thing, you can't cast James Stewart in such a film and expect it to run true to form! More to the point, you shouldn't expect him to appear opposite Kim Novak (and 'opposite' here is the key word, in that his aura of decency and groundedness were diametrically contrary to the glacial other-worldliness which she personified), and not expect strange sparks to fly. (Hitchcock, after all, relied on this dichotomy, for different purposes, in "Vertigo.")
Add to this mixture certain key scenes which rely upon the comic chemistry between Jack Lemmon and Ernie Kovacs --already well-established in the previous year's "Operation Mad Ball" (and catch this overlooked gem, if you can, if only to see Kovacs at his absolute cinematic best) -- and you're well on your way to understanding why "Bell, Book and Candle" still turns up regularly on such venues as American Movie Classics, to say nothing of its "shelf life" in video rental outlets.
Were that not enough, you get BOTH Elsa Lanchester and Hermione Gingold, a first-rate score by George Duning ("Picnic"), superior production values and -- oh, yeah, by the way -- a storyline that can both make you laugh and pluck at the errant heartstring or two (if you don't watch out!) . ..
You get a lesson in cinematic chemistry. Maybe even . . . alchemy!
This movie was like any Jimmy Stewart film,witty,charming and very enjoyable.Kim Novak's performance as Gillian,the beautiful witch who longs to be human,is splendid,her subtle facial expressions,her every move and gesture all create Gillian's unique and somewhat haunting character,she left us hanging on her every word.I should not fail to mention Ernie Kovacs' and Elsa Lanchester's highly commendable performances as the scotch loving writer obsessed with the world of magic(Kovacs) and the latter as the lovable aunt who can't seem to stop using magic even when forbidden to.The romantic scenes between Stewart and Novak are beautifully done and the chemistry between them is great,but then again when is the chemistry between Jimmy Stewart and any leading lady bad!
Bell Book and Candle is not a great movie by any means (it's fair), but it's
worth checking out for a couple of reasons. First, it's almost hard to
believe this is the same Kim Novak that graced the screen in Vertigo the
same year. The combination of her manner in this film, and her incredibly
striking natural good looks make her almost hypnotic. She wears little or
no makeup throughout the film, and looks infinitely better than being
slathered in makeup in all her other films. Sharon Stone wishes she looked
The second reason this film is worth checking out is Jimmy Stewart. Now, while I consider Stewart my favorite actor of all time, there were many instances where he was just not effective in the role he was playing. He's at his best when he's playing the naive sap (Mr. Smith, Destry, Harvey), the everyday man (Made for each other, Philadelphia story), or the straight nose who is thrust into unusual situations (this film, You Can't Take it with you) where he can play off of what's happening to him. His weaker performances, I felt, were in his straight forward dramatic roles (liberty valance, man who knew too much, even Vertigo). This film is a chance to see his everyman thrust into wacky situations.
This film is a little too tame to be considered screwball, but as with any good screwball, the supporting cast is as important as the leads. Elsa Lanchester, AKA Bride of Frankenstein, is hilarious. Ernie Kovacs, as Sidney Redlitch, is an absolute riot. I had to pause the film when he goes looking for a little "post holiday cheer", I was laughing so hard. Then, of course, there's a pre-The Apartment Jack Lemmon in a supporting role, as well.
Bell Book and Candle isn't great, and it never really seems sure of what kind of film it's trying to be, but it's pretty funny and worth seeing for the performances alone.
The play Bell, Book, and Candle was a favorite of mature actresses to
do in summer stock and take on the road. One famous story, told by
director Harold J. Kennedy, has Ginger Rogers insisting that her then
husband, William Marshall, who was not an actor, costar with her.
Marshall wore a toupee, and when he walked through a doorway, his
toupee caught on a nail and stayed behind, dangling in the doorway as
he walked on stage.
The play was adapted successfully into a beautiful color film starring Kim Novak, James Stewart, Jack Lemmon, Elsa Lanchester, Hermoine Gingold, Ernie Kovacs, and Janice Rule. It's light entertainment, about a normal-appearing family of witches (Novak, Lemmon, and Lanchester) and the publisher (Stewart) who lives in their building. The most expert of them is the sultry, soft-voiced Gillian, who would love to be normal. One night, with Stewart in her apartment, she puts a spell on him using her Siamese cat, Pyewacket, and he falls in love with her.
"Bell Book and Candle" was filmed on a charming set that replicates New York. The movie is loads of fun. Jack Lemmon is very funny in a supporting role as Gillian's brother, a musician in the witch and warlock-laden Zodiac Club. He uses his powers to turn streetlights on and off and to turn on the occasional woman. Janice Rule is perfect as the snobby ex-college rival of Gillian, now dating Stewart, and Ernie Kovacs has a great turn as an eccentric who is writing the definitive book on witches. Lanchester and Gingold, of course, are always wonderful, Lanchester Gillian's daft aunt and Gingold as a sort of queen of witchcraft.
Kim Novak is a good fit for Gillian, giving the character a detachment befitting a witch, showing emotion when it becomes appropriate, and with that voice, fabulous face, and magnificent wardrobe, she certainly is magical. Stewart, in his last foray as a romantic lead, costars with Novak as he did in Vertigo, and they make an effective team. He supplies the warmth, she supplies the coolness, and somehow, together they spark. In this, of course, he's much more elegant than in "Vertigo." A charming film, good for a Sunday afternoon, good around Christmas (as part of it takes place at Christmastime), and great if you feel like smiling.
Kim Novak, at the peak of her career, is lovely here, as beautiful (single)
witch, Gillian Holroyd. New neighbor, Shep (James Stewart) moves in
upstairs, and suddenly that "ole black magic" is brewing all over the
Based upon the popular 1950s stage play, this movie does have a bit of the stagy feel to it. Despite that, there is the good use of Technicolor, George Duning's pleasant score, and the great cast of comic actors. Ernie Kovaks looks a little out of place, but he does well. Jack Lemmon is great as Novak's warlock brother, Stewart is fine, Elsa Lanchester is good as well, and so is Hermione Gingold. The real star of the film, however, is Pyewacket, Novak's handsome seal-point Siamese cat. What ever happened to him?
Not exactly a knee-slapping comedy, but pleasant, lite and fluffy entertainment. Enjoyable, and a stark contrast to Novak and Stewart's earlier pairing (the same year) in Hitchcock's "Vertigo". Worth seeing.
Kim Novac is wonderful as the 'good witch' falling in love with mortal
James Stewart. The special treat with this film is that there is a
complete 'underground society' (literally) of witches and warlocks, of
whom we get to know Elsa Lanchester and Jack Lemon, both recommending
Kim Novak quickly forget her romance with the mortal man.
This film is a visual feast with some tidbits of 1950s Jazz music in the score. Complete with black cat, spell-book and magic tricks. Who can blame Jimmy Stewart for falling for Kim Novak's spell? The International cast of supporting actors includes an authentic Parisian Night Club Act, as well as the ultra-eccentric Hermione Gingold (of Gigi/Moulin Rouge fame). Elsa Lancaster is an absolute delight as the intuition-plagued Auntie Queenie. Don't miss this bewitching piece of light entertainment!
It took Bell, Book, and Candle almost a decade to get from Broadway to
the screen. John Van Druten's play ran for 233 performances during the
1950-1951 season and served as a starring vehicle for the then married
Rex Harrison and Lilli Palmer. I'm sure that the Shepherd Henderson
that Harrison portrayed must have been light years different than Jimmy
Stewart. Also the entire play took place in the Holroyd apartment and a
whole lot of characters were added for the screen.
A good job was done in transferring this stage work for the screen, it barely betrays it's stage origin. Stewart is very good as the puzzled publisher who gets ensnared in a witch's spell because Kim Novak takes a fancy to him.
Novak was quoted as saying that her favorite leading man during her career was Jimmy Stewart and her two favorite films, Vertigo and Bell Book and Candle are the ones she did with him.
Hermione Gingold is absolutely brilliant as the head witch, Mrs. DePass, and watching Stewart drink that concoction she mixed up to kill Kim Novak's spell was a scream.
Jack Lemmon plays Novak's brother and by this time he was doing leads and carrying films on his own. He's good, but I do wonder why he accepted a supporting part here.
One thing I am curious about. How did they manage to get Pyewacket the cat to act on stage for 233 performances?
The John Van Druten Broadway hit is brought to the screen with a maximum
star power in this romantic fantasy about a modern-day witch who beguiles
successful Manhattan publisher. James Stewart may get top billing, but it
Kim Novak who steals the show as one of the most alluring witches ever to
cast a spell on the movie screen. The lead pairing is, in fact, one of the
movie's few weaknesses: the gray-haired Stewart seems a bit old for the
role, and while it is easy to see why he falls hard for Novak, it's a
harder to understand what she finds attractive about him, as they seem
mismatched in temperment and outlook. (It is one of the story's amusing
conceits that witches and warlocks are portrayed as Greenwich Village
beatniks and bohemians.) Curiously, the Stewart-Novak pairing would
a lot more heat in "Vertigo", released the same year as this film, but
"Vertigo" had a compelling suspense story, and the benefit of Alfred
The film's comic moments are mostly provided by the stellar supporting cast, including a young Jack Lemmon (as Kim's warlock brother), Elsa Lanchester (their ditzy aunt), and Ernie Kovacs (!) as a befuddled writer. Hermione Gingold even shows up in a hilarious cameo as a sort of Grand Witch. There's lots to like in this movie--wit, romance, and a great cast--that is, if you can possibly take your eyes off the enchanting Miss Novak. I have seen the movie a half a dozen times, and I never can.
Made in the same year as "Vertigo," this is an equally bewitching movie, though in a much lighter vein. It's set in an enchanted New York during the winter: Kim Novak is a witch who casts a spell over James Stewart, but gets caught in it instead. The interesting sidelight is that Novak's rival is played by Janice Rule, who originated the part of Madge in "Picnic" on Broadway (the part that Novak would make famous on film).
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