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Classic of the Week: Bell, Book and Candle (1958)


Bell, Book and Candle is a 1958 American Technicolor romantic comedy film directed by Richard Quine, based on the successful Broadway play by John Van Druten. It stars Kim Novak as a witch that casts a spell on her neighbor, played by James Stewart. It also features Jack Lemmon, Ernie Kovacs, Hermione Gingold and Elsa Lanchester.

The film is set in the late 1950’s in Greenwich Village during the Christmas holiday season and follows Gillian Holroyd, a free spirited witch who likes going barefoot and is bored and depressed with her life. She starts to admire her new neighbor, publisher Shep Henderson, who lives above her rare African art store and ground floor apartment. She likes him, but hates his fiancé, so she casts a spell on him to make him fall in love with her instead, but the two end up falling in love for real.

This is a clever, funny and romantic film. It is slow at times, making those scenes a tad boring, but at other times, scenes seem a bit rushed. Kim Novak is fantastic as Gillian and James Stewart is good, not great as Shep Henderson, a role that he should have been outstanding in. Jack Lemmon is good as Gillian’s bongo playing brother, Nicky Holroyd. Elsa Lanchester is great as Aunt Queenie Holroyd and Hermione Gingold is also great as Bianca De Pass. This film is filled magic, mischief, music and romance. It isn’t outstanding, but it isn’t terrible either, it is only good, nothing more.

Love stories with magic have been done before and there are some that are far better, like, I Married a Witch. Kim Novak and her character are the best thing about this film, which is sad, because James Stewart is one of the greatest actors of all time, but he didn’t do so well in this one. It was like he lost his greatness in this one. But Novak was made for her role.

I really want to like this film more, but every time I try to watch it, I find it only good, but nothing real exciting, nothing special. I Married a Witch and the TV show Bewitched are far better. Maybe if there had been more action, less slow scenes, more comedy and less cheesy romance, it might have been better. Film critics and commentators have said and still say this is a wonderful movie, but I beg to differ. I was bored at times and only found portions of this motion picture entertaining. Maybe on stage it’s better. But for me, this was an overall unsatisfactory film. 11+ 3/5

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