A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Friday, March 4, 2016

Bell, Book and Candle (Richard Quine, 1958)

Kim Novak was an actress of very narrow range, but in the right role and with a good supporting cast, she made a strong, sexy impact, as she does in Picnic (Joshua Logan, 1955) and Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958). In Bell, Book and Candle, she is paired again with her Vertigo co-star, James Stewart, and surrounded by a supporting cast full of scene-stealers: Jack Lemmon, Elsa Lanchester, Hermione Gingold, and Ernie Kovacs. The movie is nothing special: a fantasy romantic comedy with Novak as Gillian Holroyd, a witch who runs a primitive-art gallery on the ground floor of the apartment house where Shep Henderson (Stewart), a book publisher, lives. She puts a spell on him; he leaves his fiancée, Merle Kittridge (Janice Rule), for her but breaks it off when he discovers that he's been hexed. And so on. The movie was made after Vertigo, and Novak and Stewart were re-teamed because of a deal Columbia had made when it loaned out Novak to Paramount for the Hitchcock film. It's not the most plausible of pairings: Novak was 25 to Stewart's 50 -- an age difference that was less problematic in the plot of Vertigo, with its theme of erotic obsession. Stewart chose never to play another romantic lead, but Bell, Book and Candle gives him some good moments to show off his exemplary skill at physical comedy, as in the scene in which he's forced to scarf down a nauseating witches' brew concocted by Mrs. De Passe (Gingold). The screenplay by Daniel Taradash opens up a one-set Broadway comedy by John Van Druten that had starred Rex Harrison and Lili Palmer. It was nominated for Oscars for art direction and for Jean Louis's costumes, but lost in both categories to Gigi (Vincente Minnelli). The cinematography is by James Wong Howe.