Stewart is Bewitched by Novak
6 years before Elizabeth Montgomery gave us Samantha Stephens the loveable witch in the TV series "Bewitched", Kim Novak gave us another loveable witch in "Bell, Book and Candle". Based upon John Van Druten's play, "Bell, Book and Candle" is a fun, lightweight romantic comedy which has an element of romance from different social climbs about it. As such there is something very obvious about the movie as it takes what is essentially a very routine rom-com idea and giving it the twist of being a romance between a witch and an average Joe. But whilst ultimately obvious "Bell, Book and Candle" is fun, never going for the big laughs but delivering one smile moment after another.
For a witch Gillian Holroyd (Kim Novak - Vertigo) leads a very normal life, although there is still part of her which wonders what it would be like to be fully normal and no longer a witch. When she meets publisher Shepherd Henderson (James Stewart - Night Passage) she sets her sights on him especially when she learns that he is about to marry Merle Kittridge (Janice Rule) a former enemy when they were both at college. Casting a spell over Shepherd, Gillian gets exactly what she wants and maybe more as is Shepherd spellbound by her magic or is it really love?
As already mentioned one of the most disappointing things for me about "Bell, Book and Candle" is the storyline. It's all very obvious as we watch Gillian 'Gil' the witch, bored with her life, wondering what life is like for those who are not restrained by their magical ability fall for the pleasant Shepherd 'Shep' who lives above her shop. It has that element of romance from different social climbs, and so whilst the twist of it being a witch and an average Joe is amusing it is also very expected. You know that by the time the movie ends Gil will have won Shep's affections lost them when he discovers the truth but then won them again. And it is annoying as the embellishments, the whole subplot about the writer, Sidney Redlitch, researching magic in Manhattan seems like padding and never used to its full potential which means the wonderful Ernie Kovacs is underused as well.
But whilst the storyline ends up disappointing there is much to love about "Bell, Book and Candle". The naturalness between Kim Novak and James Stewart is one of those things which probably comes from having already worked together on Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo". It almost feels in the scenes where they are falling in love that there is real chemistry, not the sort which sparks off of the screen but oozes warmth. And even in the scenes they do not share they both deliver enjoyable performances, Stewart delivering that comfortable every man performance which he did better than anyone. Whilst Novak racks up the sexiness with an almost cat like performance as Gil, slinking about in such an extraordinarily, beautiful way.
And whilst it is frustrating that Ernie Kovacs ended up underused as Sidney Redlitch the farcical humour he delivers from his confused writer is just wonderful. And it is the same which can be said of Jack Lemmon as Gil's brother Nicky who steals almost every scene he appears in with his brilliant mugging. But it is Elsa Lanchester as Aunt Queenie Holroyd who scores the most laughs with her wonderfully over the top, almost childish portrayal as tge playful Aunt, mischievously interfering in the lives of Gil and Shep. It is this trio who end up delivering all the bigger laughs whilst the humorous romance of Gil and Shep just makes you smile especially when it comes to the point that Gil tries to come clean to him as to who she really is.
What this all boils down to is that despite the actual storyline being disappointing for being so obvious it is the performances of all the cast which makes "Bell, Book and Candle" a fun movie. Whilst Kim Novak and James Stewart work well together making the obvious romantic storyline more entertaining than it possibly should be it is the scene stealing performances of Kovacs, Lemmon and Lanchester who bring the bigger laughs.