John Van Druten’s wonderfully offbeat romantic comedy ends up in excellent Hollywood hands in Richard Quine’s fanciful screen version of Bell, Book and Candle.
The Production: 4/5
John Van Druten’s wonderfully offbeat romantic comedy ends up in excellent Hollywood hands in Richard Quine’s fanciful screen version of Bell, Book and Candle. With a terrific cast of expert comic actors and a smooth production blending New York City location photography with Hollywood interiors and exteriors, Bell, Book and Candle retains its supernatural charms with a minimum of screen trickery letting the real emotions in the story and inventive performances and direction come to the fore.
In the late 1950s, glamorous Gillian Holroyd (Kim Novak) is a modern-day witch living in New York City’s Greenwich Village. When she encounters easy-going publisher Shepherd Henderson (James Stewart), she decides to make him hers by casting a love spell. Gillian takes added pleasure in doing so because Henderson is engaged to her old college rival, the haughty Merle Kittridge (Janice Rule), and her spell ends that relationship pronto. However, Gillian finds herself actually falling for Shep, which poses a problem: she will lose her powers if she falls in love, and additionally, the man she loves thinks the entire notion of witchcraft is poppycock.
Daniel Taradash’s screenplay remains basically faithful to the hit 1951 John Van Druten play, but he and director Richard Quine do avail themselves of the opportunity to take the love story and other subplots out of Gillian’s apartment and into the streets and be-bop clubs of New York City. Quine makes his camera do some wonderful hovers and swoops around the Scorpio Club when we first arrive there to soak in its atmosphere, and there are also lyrical shots of Central Park and the Flatiron Building (where a hat is blissfully tossed away symbolically by Shep in the throes of love, and we’re allowed to follow its journey all the way down to the street). Once Shep is told about the spell that’s been placed on him, Quine takes us high above him to watch his rant around his office, an interesting choice of camera placement. Elsewhere, though, the visual implementation of magic is subdued even though witchcraft is front and center almost from the beginning. Jack Lemmon’s warlock Nicky Holroyd enjoys flipping street lights on and off, and there’s one gleeful spell cast in order to bring supernatural writer Sidney Redlitch (Ernie Kovacs) to the city. But most of the magic is achieved simply with close-ups of eyes and music and sound effects on the soundtrack, guaranteeing that the emphasis will remain on the snappy dialog and the clutch of eccentric performances from the film’s supporting players.
James Stewart at 50 may have been slightly overage for the romantic figure of Shepherd Henderson (Rex Harrison played it on Broadway and the West End), but he’s just fine in the role with his relaxed demeanor and ease with his leading lady very positive attributes for the character. Kim Novak plays Gillian with a dreamy, almost otherworldly quality that’s a fresh take on a modern day witch. Jack Lemmon has lots of fun with the mischievous Nicky though the script might have dwelled a little more on his disappointment over not earning the millions of dollars he was hoping for while collaborating with the vacant Sidney Redlitch on a book about witchcraft in Manhattan. This is one of Ernie Kovacs’ most subdued film performances as Redlitch, but with the eccentricities of Elsa Lanchester as Gillian’s aunt and Hermione Gingold as Manhattan coven mistress Bianca de Passe, it’s good that he’s not chewing the scenery. Janice Rule plays the bitchy, superior Merle Kittridge to perfection. Howard McNear pops in briefly for a scene as Shep’s book publishing partner.
3D Rating: NA
The film’s 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio is faithfully rendered in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. The pristine transfer offers excellent color (reds are especially strong) and sharpness though those with an aversion to grain will be disappointed to find it prevalent here. There are no problems at all with scratches, fading, dirt, or debris. The movie has been divided into 13 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio mono track offers very striking high fidelity. The dialogue is always very discernible and has been combined with the ebullient George Duning background music and sound effects with professional surety. There are no hints of age-related artifacts such as hiss, pops, crackle, or flutter.
Special Features: 3/5
Bewitched, Bothered, and Beautiful (9:33, HD): interviewer Stephen Rebello has an amicable audio interview with Kim Novak while clips and stills from the film play on-screen. She has loving memories of working with director Richard Quine and also speaks glowingly of James Stewart, Jack Lemmon, and Ernie Kovacs. Interestingly, neither she nor Rebello mention her female co-stars at all.
Reflections in the Middle of the Night (15:03, HD): Rebello and Novak discuss one of her favorite films (though sadly not a hit): Middle of the Night. She again has heaps of praise for her director Delbert Mann and co-star Fredric March.
Backstage and at Home with Kim Novak (9:28, HD): Novak praises her favorite costume designer Jean Louis as clips from Pal Joey are shown, and then she walks us around her home and grounds and shows us some of her artwork.
Theatrical Trailer (2:36, HD)
With the Twilight Time release of Bell, Book and Candle now out of print, Sony has thoughtfully provided its own release of the charming, offbeat romantic comedy looking and sounding most outstanding. Recommended!