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You know that movie where Kim Novak tricks Jimmy Stewart into falling for her, but ends up also falling for him? I could be talking about the classic Hitchcock flick Vertigo, but I'm actually talking about a movie they made soon after, Bell Book and Candle. That's not meant as a dig at the movie, I just thought the similarity was interesting. Of course the stories are wildly different, with Bell Book and Candle being a comedy and Vertigo being a thriller/mind fuck. In this movie Kim Novak plays Gillian, a witch who runs an African art store below the apartment where Shep (James Stewart) lives. Gillian has become fascinated with Shep, at the same time that she has become bored with her life as a witch. After running into Gillian and her aunt Queenie (played by the bride of Frankenstein herself Elsa Lanchester) Shep takes his fiancee to a club that the witches have told him about. What he doesn't know is that the Zodiac is a hangout for witches.
He also doesn't know that Gillian and his fiancee Merle know each other from their college days. Let's just say they didn't see eye to eye. The fact that Shep is going to marry a woman she can't stand seems to be more than Gillian is willing to bear. She casts a spell on him causing him to fall for her, and they end up spending an enchanted night together in every sense of the word. Shep breaks off his engagement with Merle and begins spending his free time with Gillian. Meanwhile an author whom Gillian has bewitched into coming to meet Shep after he expressed a desire to talk to him has begun a book about witches in New York City. Redlitch (played by Ernie Kovacs in the weirdest way possible) is looking for an in with the witchy crowd that he knows is just under the surface of the city. He gets his wish from Gillian's brother Nicky (Jack Lemmon) who wants to collaborate on the book.
Gillian agrees to marry Shep, and then quarrels with Nicky about the book. Nicky threatens to reveal to Shep that Gillian is a witch, so she decides to pre-empt him by telling Shep herself. Shep doesn't believe it until Queenie unwittingly verifies some of the details for him. Of course as a result of this he breaks it off with Gillian and gets Nicky and Redlitch to take him to the big witch about town to break the spell. Nicky is all too eager to help as he is angry with Gillian because she cast a spell to prevent the book from getting published. Gillian loses both her powers and her familiar as a result of falling in love, something witches cannot do without consequence. Queenie ends up with the cat, who after quite a bit of time has gone by pays a visit to Shep's office. Shep doesn't know the cat belongs to Queenie now, so he returns it to Gillian, thinking that she sent it as some sort of scheme. After they argue for a bit he sees her crying and knows she is no longer a witch because witches can't cry. Now they both know that they are really in love with one another with no magic involved.
The movie is definitely a rom-com, it doesn't get too raucous and even with the witches it doesn't tilt too far into dark territory. Still it's a fun flick and Jimmy Stewart is always fun and engaging. And of course looking at Kim Novak for an hour and a half is pleasant regardless of anything else that's happening on the screen. I wondered if the movie was seen as too lightweight coming as it did directly after Vertigo, but it appears to have been well received. All of the performances are fun, and while the story may not seem revolutionary today it's still engaging. It's not a movie you hear about that often, but it did have an impact on pop culture. This movie along with I Married a Witch inspired the t.v. show Bewitched. There was also a pilot for a series that never got picked up (ironically since the pilot was after Bewitched execs may have thought people would find it derivative of the show that it inspired) and a planned remake starring Alicia Keys that fell through. That's okay though, I like Alicia Keys but I'm good with Jimmy and Kim any time.
© 2022 Gracchus Gruad