Bell Book and Candle [1958]

Staid, secure publisher James Stewart leads a quiet life until he meets his bewitching downstairs neighbor, Kim Novak. John Van Druten's lighthearted Broadway comedy becomes a lush if lightweight romantic vehicle for Stewart and Novak, who would reunite for Hitchcock's Vertigo the next year. Novak is at her best as a Greenwich witch halfway between the worlds of magic and mortals, looking after her dotty aunt (Elsa Lanchester) and mischievous warlock brother (Jack Lemmon) as they keep their skills in practice. Novak's specialty is making men fall for her, but it's a one-way street: when a witch falls in love, she loses her powers. Director Richard Quine gives the witches an almost beatnik sensibility, a real Greenwich Village subculture hanging out in underground clubs and smart curio shops. Elegantly photographed in rich, glowing colors by James Wong Howe, Bell, Book and Candle is a fantasy world in New York set to a funky bongo-laced jazz score by George Duning. Quine's gliding camera is somewhat marred by abrupt editing, but his handling of actors is superb, in particular Novak, whose mysterious beauty masks inner turmoil and romantic yearnings. Ernie Kovacs appears as a wry author whose specialty is the supernatural, and Hermione Gingold is suitably florid as a witch elder with a penchant for theatricality. For once in his life Stewart is actually upstaged by the slyly comic performances around him. --Sean Axmaker

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