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There are many reasons why Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo is the greatest film of all time, but one of those reasons may come as a surprise. It gave us Columbia Pictures' delightful 1958 comedy, Bell, Book and Candle. When Hitchcock approached Columbia for Kim Novak's services, he was offered a deal: if James Stewart agrees to make a movie for the studio, Hitchcock could cast Novak in Vertigo. The parties agreed to the arrangement, and while Columbia probably would have made a film of John Van Bruten's supernatural Broadway hit anyway, it wouldn’t have been the same without Jimmy Stewart.
Bell, Book and Candle, directed by Richard Quine, stars Novak as Gillian Holroyd, a young witch living in Greenwich Village. She has decided that she'll never find love within her own community of witches, warlocks and magic, so she figures that her neighbor, book publisher Shepard Henderson (Stewart) might be her match. The problem, however, is that Shep is about to marry his college sweetheart. Gillian casts a spell on Shep to derail his marriage plans, but when she begins to genuinely fall in love with him, she starts feeling bad for the decision.
One of the reasons why Bell, Book and Candle probably hasn't survived its fall into obscurity is that it is just a pleasant, fun comedy. Quine is a director known for comedies (if you know of him at all) and did go on to make some fun movies like Sex and the Single Girl and Paris When It Sizzles, but those and this are movies that never aspire to be anything more than good romantic comedies.
Bell, Book and Candle just happens to be among the best of the genre, thanks not just to the great performances from the leads, but there's a wonderful supporting cast here. Jack Lemmon plays Gillian's brother, Nicky, who is scheming to keep Sidney Reidlitch from writing an expose about witches and warlocks, but winds up actually helping him. Sidney is played by Ernie Kovacs, who was a great television comic, but is sadly underused by Quine in the film. There's also Elsa Lancaster as Gillian's aunt, who loves playing tricks on regular people. Rounding out the supporting cast is Hermione Gingold, Gillian's main rival and the witch Nicky takes Shep to in an attempt to end the spell.
There are several other elements that keep Bell, Book and Candle fresh. Novak and Stewart are so relaxed as leads and have great chemistry together. If only Stewart wasn't 25 years older than her they may have made more than two movies together. Despite the age difference, the two are wonderful and it's great that they got to reunite for a fun movie after the super-serious Vertigo.
George Duning also provides a lovely score, especially thanks to that infectious main theme. There's also incredible color cinematography from James Wong Howe, whose camera captures Novak's stunning beauty. This came at the prime of her career and she never looked better (even Hitchcock didn't really glorify her as she is here... all those backless dresses!).
On Home Video: Bell, Book and Candle was released on Blu-ray by Twilight Time last year with an isolated score track and a theatrical trailer (which does include some special footage of Novak with an actual bell, book and candle). There's also two neat features from Sony's 2006 Novak DVD collection, in which she reminisces about this film and Middle of the Night, a great movie that paired her with Frederic March.
I don't think Bell, Book and Candle has any hidden messages or lends itself to indefinite analysis like Vertigo. It's a pleasant, fun romantic comedy that shows how love may be more powerful than whatever spells witches can come up with.