Bell Book and Candle (1958)

Article 1985 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-21-2006
Posting Date: 1-18-2007
Directed by Richard Quine
Featuring James Stewart, Kim Novak, Jack Lemmon

A witch uses a spell to win the affection of a man about to be married to an old rival, but risks losing her powers when she starts to fall in love with him.

Had this been the first time I’d seen this movie, the main attraction for me wouldn’t have been Stewart, Novak, Lemmon, or Lanchester; it would have been to see Ernie Kovacs, one of the greatest innovators of television comedy. However, since I had seen the movie before, I knew that I would be a little disappointed with Kovacs here, not because he gives a weak performance here (he doesn’t; he’s still one of my favorite things in the movie), but because performing in this capacity did not give him the opportunity to really indulge in his strengths as one of the great television surrealists. Granted, I really shouldn’t have expected it, but I’m disappointed nonetheless.

The movie does have its strengths; the cinematography is beautiful, the special effects (the few that exist anyway) are very good, the use of color is stunning, and it has an excellent cast. It’s the story that leaves me cold. It was originally conceived as a drama, but only became a comedy when laughter during auditions indicated that it would work better that way. Still, I find very few laughs here, and despite the excellent cast, I simply didn’t find the characters interesting enough to bring this overlong but rather ordinary love story to life. And, despite the magic and witchcraft, I think the story is very ordinary – it’s one where a woman gives up everything for love, and that’s fairly common. No doubt the movie is loved in some quarters, and those who do are welcome to it; I find it overlong and dull. Still, it does say something that the comic-relief talking bird isn’t totally annoying.



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