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Blu-ray Review Bell Book and Candle Blu-ray Review

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Richard Gallagher, Apr 15, 2012.

  1. Richard Gallagher

    Richard Gallagher Well-Known Member
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    Bell Book and Candle is a mildly disappointing romantic comedy in which the parts add up to more than the whole. By that I mean that there is much to like about this film, including an attractive cast, an amazing Siamese cat, and beautiful cinematography by James Wong Howe, but the romance is rather tepid and the comedy is only occasionally amusing. However, the film does have many fans, and they will be thrilled to learn that Twillght Time has delivered another outstanding Blu-ray transfer from the Sony vaults. As with all Twilight Time titles, it is limited to a run of 3,000 copies so those who are interested in getting it should act while it is still available.




    Bell Book and Candle

    Studio: Twilight Time/Columbia Pictures
    Year: 1958
    Rated: Not Rated
    Program Length: 103 minutes                         
    Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1080p
    Languages: English 5.1 DTS-HD MA
    Subtitles: English SDH

    The Program

    Bell Book and Candle is a mildly disappointing romantic comedy in which the parts add up to more than the whole. By that I mean that there is much to like about this film, including an attractive cast, an amazing Siamese cat, and beautiful cinematography by James Wong Howe, but the romance is rather tepid and the comedy is only occasionally amusing. However, the film does have many fans, and they will be thrilled to learn that Twillght Time has delivered another outstanding Blu-ray transfer from the Sony vaults. As with all Twilight Time titles, it is limited to a run of 3,000 copies so those who are interested in getting it should act while it is still available.

    The film is based upon a 1950 Broadway play written by John Van Druten, which ran for 233 performances. It was adapted for the screen by Daniel Taradash and the film was directed by Richard Quine. The story opens in Manhattan on Christmas Eve. Gillian Holroyd (Kim Novak) is a primitive art dealer who lives in an apartment behind her shop. Shepherd Henderson (James Stewart) is an unmarried book publisher who recently moved into the second floor apartment above the shop. The third floor apartment is occupied by Gillian's Aunt Queenie (Elsa Lanchester). Gillian lives alone with her Siamese, Pyewacket (anyone who is familiar with the 17th-century "witchfinder general" Matthew Hopkins will immediately recognize what the cat's name portends). The shop owner notices Shepherd coming and going and she bemoans the fact that she does not have anyone like him in her life.

    On this Christmas Eve Shepherd arrives at home and is surprised to discover Aunt Queenie in his apartment. She explains that his door was open and snow was coming in through his window, so she let herself in to close it. Her story seems a bit fishy (she also has "tidied up" his desk and he has to unlock the apartment door to let himself in), but she is his neighbor and she seems to be harmless enough. He urges her to leave so he can make some phone calls, but before she goes she gazes at his phone and mutters something to herself. When he then tries to make a call, he hears nothing but jibberish on the line. He goes downstairs to Gillian's shop to ask to use her phone, and they introduce themselves for the first time. While using the phone, Shepherd notices that Gillian is reading a book, "Magic in Mexico." Shepherd remarks that he wishes he had published the book, because it became a best-seller. "Well, I can't think why," responds Gillian. "It's completely phony." As Shepherd is getting ready to leave, Aunt Queenie comes in and encourages Gillian to go out for the evening with her to a Greenwich Village nightclub, The Zodiac.

    At the club we are introduced to Gillian's brother, Nicky (Jack Lemmon), who plays the bongo drums with the club's combo. Also on hand is Bianca de Passe (Hermione Gingold), an older woman who holds court at the club. As the evening wears on Shepherd, who has been intrigued by what Gillian and Queenie had to say about The Zodiac, shows up with his fiancée, Merle Kittridge (Janice Rule). Gillian recognizes Merle as a former college classmate who caused trouble for her when they lived in the same dormitory at Wellesley. It turns out that The Zodiac is something of a coven, and Gillian, Nicky, Aunt Queenie and Bianca de Passe are all witches. Gillian hatches a plan to use her powers to lure Shepherd away from Merle, the primary complication being that witches do not feel emotions such as love. Shortly thereafter the author of "Magic in Mexico," Sidney Redlitch (Ernie Kovacs), shows up and enlists Nicky's help in researching his forthcoming book about witches in New York.

    Kim Novak is the major attraction here. Critics were rarely enamored with her skill as an actor, but she has never looked more stunning. The scene where she casts a spell upon Shepherd while Pyewacket sits in her lap is positively mesmerizing. James Stewart, in his last role as a romantic lead, is his usual laconic self. Jack Lemmon, Janice Rule, Elsa Lanchester and Hermione Gingold all turn in fine supporting performances. The major disappointment to me is that Ernie Kovacs was given so little to do with his role. There likely would have been more truly funny moments in the film if his character had been more fully developed.

    As noted, there is some wonderful cinematography in Bell Book and Candle, much of it filmed on location in New York City. One particularly memorable scene is captured when Shepherd and Gillian kiss on the roof of the Flatiron Building and he tosses his hat into the air. A single tracking shot follows the hat as it slowly descends before landing in the street at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Broadway. Notice also should be given to the jazz-infused music soundtrack by George Duning, which is enhanced by the playing of Pete and Conte Candoli. There is an amusing scene where Gillian encourages the combo to blare a jazzed-up version of "Stormy Weather" while surrounding Merle in The Zodiac. And then there is the remarkable performance by the cat, Pyewacket. This cat does much more than sit around, and it would be fascinating to learn how the filmmakers trained him to perform.

    Note: Many references, as well as the covers of both the Blu-ray and the earlier DVD, and the movie poster which is reproduced in the accompanying booklet, call the film Bell, Book and Candle, with a comma after "Bell." However, there is no comma in the film's opening title, so I have omitted it.

    The Video

    The picture quality of this Blu-ray release is outstanding. The transfer is consistently sharp and free of damage, with vibrant colors and numerous evocative shots of Manhattan. The film's grain structure is mostly intact - a direct comparison with the DVD which was issued in 2000 indicates that the Blu-ray has undergone some grain reduction, but it has been done with a light touch and the result is a pleasing, film-like appearance. The 1.85 framing appears to be accurate. This is a substantial upgrade from the 2000 DVD.

    The Audio

    The lossless 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack is excellent, with an emphasis on dialogue and music. The nature of the film does not lend itself to spectacular sound effects, but every word of dialogue is clear and understandable and the music is given a very realistic and satisfying soundstage. Pyewacket's occasional cries caused my cats to sit up and take notice. As is always the case with Twilight Time releases, the film can be viewed accompanied by the isolated score track.

    The Supplements

    There are more extras than usual for a Twilight Time Blu-ray. In addition to the isolated score track, there are two featurettes of audio interviews with Kim Novak which are accompanied by stills and scenes from her films. The interviews are uncredited but presumably were done at the same time that the interview which appears on the Blu-ray of Pal Joey was done. The first interview, which runs for just under ten minutes, focuses on Bell Book and Candle, with emphasis on her professional relationship and personal friendship with James Stewart. She also comments favorably on director Richard Quine but does not mention that she was reportedly having an affair with him. The second interview, which runs for 15 minutes, covers one of her less-known films, Middle of the Night, which is available on DVD as part of The Kim Novak Collection.

    Also included is the original theatrical trailer, which is in very good shape and includes a couple of seductive shots of Kim Novak which do not appear in the film.

    The Packaging

    Bell Book and Candle comes in a standard Blu-ray keep case. Included is an eight-page color booklet which contains an informative essay by Julie Kirgo, still photos, and a reproduction of an original movie poster.

    The Final Analysis

    Bell Book and Candle is an interesting film and looks terrific, but it is difficult to shake the feeling that it could have and should been much better. Nevertheless, it boasts a very attractive cast and Kim Novak fans will not want to pass up the opportunity to see her in high definition at the height of her beauty. The isolated film score is a nice extra for fans of George Duning's music.

    Equipment used for this review:

    Panasonic DMP-BD50 Blu-ray player
    Panasonic Viera TC-P46G15 Plasma display, calibrated to THX specifications by Gregg Loewen
    Yamaha HTR-5890 THX Surround Receiver
    BIC Acoustech speakers
    Interconnects: Monster Cable

    Release Date: Available Now



     

     
  2. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator
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    It might be a disappointing comedy, but it was the source of one my best fantasies in which Kim Novak waits for me to come home from a hard day of work in her tight black outfit holding that damn cat.
     
  3. Charles Smith

    Charles Smith Extremely Talented Member
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    Getting a little warm in here, say what?
     
  4. Richard Gallagher

    Richard Gallagher Well-Known Member
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    It's hard to argue with that!
     
  5. darkrock17

    darkrock17 Well-Known Member

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    Why is the featurette for her other movie on this release? where's the trailer and photo gallery that was on the DVD release?
     
  6. dana martin

    dana martin Well-Known Member

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    sometimes i wonder about the extras that are included in the TT releases or the lack of them, possibly it has to do wit what the "Parent" company (Sony or Fox) are willing to offer; otherwise this could have been a complete port over from the last dvd with the addition of the isolated score. One thing that we havent thought of, is if a special feature or featurette is made expressly for a release, the deal with the production company might be tied only to that release.
     
  7. Richard Gallagher

    Richard Gallagher Well-Known Member
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    The trailer for Bell Book and Candle is on the Blu-ray (and is in much better shape than it appears on the DVD). The others trailers which are on the 2000 DVD are Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and The Man From Laramie. Since Twilight Time isn't releasing those (at least, not yet) there is no reason for them to include those trailers.
     
  8. RKR1970

    RKR1970 Active Member

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    The DVD used an IP and the new restored BD used the OCN, so no grain work was performed.
     
  9. rsmithjr

    rsmithjr Well-Known Member

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    This film is hardly disappointing, it is a very unique and charming film. The cast all do a great job, but the real star is New York City, which can cast a spell on anyone. The endless variety of life in the city is highlighted throughout.
    It is also odd that no one has ever commented on the relationship between Vertigo and Bell Book and Candle, apart from the fact that the films were made based on a deal between the studios. In both films Kim Novak bewitches James Stewart, once for comedy and once for tragedy.
    The transfer is also great, and the sound is magnificent and gives George Duning's score its full due.
     
  10. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator
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    Besides my Novak fixation, I always thought the film was a good film that was rather different and quite amusing.
     
  11. Bob Cashill

    Bob Cashill Well-Known Member

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    And an amusing gay metaphor, too, which is right on the surface.
     
  12. Charles Smith

    Charles Smith Extremely Talented Member
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    As a kid I was positively enchanted with this movie -- without having any idea then that it was in color, or wider than 4x3 -- and it was my quintessential Jimmy Stewart film. I could never get enough of it then, even on afternoon TV with a hundred commercial interruptions. Years later, I never liked the look of the DVD. This is a godsend.

    I agree that "the parts add up to more than the whole". I think it's the original stage material holding it back a little bit, being at heart "just" a romantic comedy. I'd say they performed a miracle in adapting it, and while it's tempting to imagine something better, I'm grateful for everything they did. Every scene is pure eye and ear candy. Yum. And what a year for prime Kim Novak releases.
     
  13. rsmithjr

    rsmithjr Well-Known Member

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    Absolutely. But this seems to have been missed by the critics (who have also largely missed the film over the years).
    A few years ago, it was shown at the LA Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, introduced by Armistead Maupin. I don't know what he said, but I can guess.
     
  14. TheVid

    TheVid Well-Known Member

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    This is a wonderful blu-ray presentation, very accurate and pleasing viewing.
    I'd like to note that the original soundtrack for BELL, BOOK AND CANDLE is in the original mono (DTS 1.0 for this blu-ray release), and is not remixed for 5.1 as indicated on the disc label. The isolated score is presented in (DTS) 2-track stereo, as was the original soundtrack album.
    Director Richard Quine had a real knack for this kind of whimsical comedy (he later directed Jack Lemmon in the wonderful HOW TO MURDER YOUR WIFE), but I hope Twilight Time can get a high-definition print of his Kim Novak, bourgeois suburban melodrama, STRANGERS WHEN WE MEET (which also features more great George Duning music). It's in the Columbia library, too.
     
  15. lukejosephchung

    lukejosephchung Well-Known Member

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    Counting this release, Twilight Time has now released no less than THREE Columbia Kim Novak titles on BD..."Bell, Book & Candle", "Pal Joey" and "Picnic". All three have received stellar transfers courtesy of Sony's Grover Crisp and deserve high praise and support from vintage movie fanatics like us.
     
  16. benbess

    benbess Well-Known Member

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    I believe you, but I've never seen the film, and so I don't know what you're referencing here. I would like to look out for what you're talking about when I watch my copy, and so would you (or someone else) be willing to clue-in the clueless? Thanks.:)
     
  17. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Administrator
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    Okay, where to begin....

    Well, up until this afternoon I have never seen Bell, Book and Candle....

    ...but I have certainly heard of it...oh indeed I have! You guys have
    been making an incredible amount of noise on this forum about the film
    over the years for Blu-ray release, so it was hard not to have known
    about it.

    I suppose that I had to take a look for myself.

    So, I only knew that James Steward and Kim Novak were in the
    film. However, as I watched the opening credits I was very happy
    to see names like Jack Lemmon, Ernie Kovacs and.....of all people...
    Hermione Gingold. I just love Hermione Gingold.

    As for the film itself....

    I suppose someone cast a spell on me. I was pretty much hooked
    within the first few minutes. Thought the film was very charming,
    extremely entertaining, and by its end, I could completely understand
    why so many of you have been wanting a Blu-ray release.

    Sony did a very nice job with the transfer. There's a good amount
    of film grain intact here, but that's always a good thing. The print is
    free from scratches and debris.

    Rich Gallagher mentioned the film was shot on location in NYC.
    Unfortunately, the location footage is generally just that. Most of
    the majority of the street scenes appear to have been shot on a
    studio backlot. Nevertheless, it manages to feel very much like
    a New York film.

    Very surprised how much I liked this film. Kim Novak is beautiful,
    and I felt Stewart and her had really remarkable chemistry between
    each other.

    This is a film I will certainly watch again in a few years, so based
    on that, I would recommend a purchase.
     
  18. AnthonyClarke

    AnthonyClarke Well-Known Member

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    I too love Bell Book and Candle and though I'm usually pretty savvy, I also would appreciate a bit of elucidation on the gay subtext, which I missed completely. I guess Jack Lemon's character is totally fey, and he, like Kim, might fancy Jimmy Stewart, but that's the only thing I can think of .....
    cheers
     
  19. haineshisway

    haineshisway Well-Known Member

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    It's a charmer. And the photography by James Wong Howe is stunning. And I agree about the backlot - you really get a feel for the NY vibe - Quine was great with that. It wouldn't have looked as good shot on real locations. I think there's probably a little more grain than there should be - probably due to the elements - but it still manages to look lovely. There just should never be crawling grain like that on faces - it's a minor quibble though, because the color is lovely and it's sharp.
     
  20. TonyD

    TonyD Who do we think I am?

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    Didn't Bewitched come from this or was that something else?
     

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