December 6, 2020
Bell, Book and Candle (1958)
Grade: 65/100

Director: Richard Quine
Stars: James Stewart, Kim Novak, Jack Lemmon

What it's about. Impossibly beautiful Kim Novak is a witch, as is her brother Jack Lemmon and her aunt Elsa Lanchester. They live in New York City, and spend evenings in a nightclub called the Zodiac, where the star performer is French artiste Philippe Clay. Fifty-ish James Stewart becomes Novak's neighbor in the upstairs apartment.

Because it's a movie, Novak desires Stewart, and casts a spell on him to fall in love with her. Stewart promptly breaks up with his beautiful but arrogant fiancée Janice Rule on their wedding day. Stewart and Novak become inseparable.

A simple happy ending is too much to ask. Novak and Lemmon quarrel over supernatural author Ernie Kovacs. Stewart sees another witch, Hermione Gingold, to break Novak's love spell. Novak loses her witch powers. Stewart and Novak break up. Yet a crowd-pleasing happy ending is in the works.

The film was based on John Van Druten's 1950 Broadway play. James Stewart had misgivings about his role, but he had little choice. Stewart was the lead in Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958) with Kim Novak. Stewart was a free agent, and Novak was signed to Columbia. Novak could make Vertigo, a Paramount movie, but in return Stewart had to make a film with Novak for Columbia. Of course, that was this movie. Purportedly, the film was the inspiration for the 1960s television series "Bewitched."

How others will see it. Although it was a comedy, Bell, Book and Candle was well received in its day. It was nominated for two Oscars, along with a Best Comedy nod from the Golden Globes.

Today at, it has nearly 10K user votes, a respectable total for a 62-year-old movie. The user rating of 6.9 (out of 10) is a bit low, but women over 45 (the most independent-minded demographic) grade it higher, 7.4 out of 10. Presumably, they identify with Novak. American viewers grade it higher (7.0) than non-Americans (6.6). Americans may be more appreciative of the cast, which was A-list for the time.

The user reviews are mostly from fans of the movie, who enjoy Novak's spectacular beauty and her chemistry with James Stewart, a well-known pairing due to the celebrated Vertigo.

How I felt about it. I like the movie, and it's not just because Kim Novak is a feast for the eyes. It's certainly not because of Jack Lemmon, who is annoying here. It's not because of the director, Richard Quine, whose films are unpromising overall.

I do like Ernie Kovacs and Elsa Lanchester. But the real reason to watch this movie is its script, adapted from the Van Druten play by Daniel Taradash. It's hard to write a good comedy. But Taradash pulls it off, partly because he doesn't try to make the movie funny. It's a romance posing as a comedy.

It's not an important movie. It will always be known as the answer to a trivia question, the other film starring Stewart and Novak. But it is actually better than Vertigo, a weird, exasperating, and ridiculously overwrought and overrated romantic psychodrama, or whatever it is. With Bell, Book and Candle, you have a good cast, a ravishing lead, and a lot of fun. Nothing much, but enough.