It certainly isn’t among the great movies, but Bell, Book and Candle, adapted for the screen from John Van Druten’s 1950 play about witches and warlocks amidst mere humans, is a superb and charming light Romantic comedy set in New York City, a classic fantasy with no bells and whistles let alone any Very Serious Mortality Bell that tolls for anyone (sorry, Mr. Donne)–any solitary and inquisitive Thee who should Ask Not for Whom–but is a pleasant movie with a mighty cast of fine actors at the top of their magical skills in a far lighter world where the conditions of love are dramatized as a choice for witches between keeping their powers of imposing spells on mere humans–mere but engaging humans—and thereby, since witches per se cannot gain romantic love, ever experiencing love’s labors lost; or, in a radical step, surrendering their powers to become purely human and risking everything in passionate but uncertain love with unaware mortals.
It should go without saying–but in these days of the Super Heroes it doesn’t–that pleasant movies have their place in the lives of moviegoers. Bell, Book and Candle certainly does.
When you have James Stewart, Kim Novak, Jack Lemmon, Ernie Kovacs, Hermione Gingold, Elsa Lanchester and Janice Rule at the top of their human powers, just about any movie will work. Novak especially stands out in this marvelous group. If one might think her inspired performance in Vertigo opposite Stewart–the classic they had just recently completed–is something of a surprise, treat yourself to her mythic acting here which transcends the light story: especially her witch’s expressions; her natural choreography in moving around in settings; and her love scenes with Stewart, especially at the top of a New York skyscraper in a magical interlude. In Bell, Book and Candle, Kim Novak, a natural actor of great talent, has her own magical powers and effortlessly imposes spells. She steals the show amidst the great competition. She should have been cast in more notable films than the studios saw fit to assign her.
The other secret of Bell, Book and Candle is the musical score by George Duning. It is captivating, moving and seems to bring the perfect mood. Duning composed the score of From Here to Eternity, and recalling that apt music, you can see that he has some magical powers of his own in scoring movies.
The wonderful jazz trumpeters, the Condoli brothers, Pete and Conte, entertain the witches, warlocks and humans by playing some duets in a Manhattan night club. They never surrender their angelic powers in playing that difficult horn.
Bell, Book and Candle…very good at the end of a pleasant day.
Here is Duning’s score: elegant, classy, New York in the 50’s.