DATELINE: Early Bewitched
After Hitchcock made them a romantic couple with perfect chemistry in Vertigo, they made another film that year. It was called Bell, Book, & Candle.
It was a sharp satire about a coven of witness in Manhattan.
James Stewart and Kim Novak excelled in turning suspense to laughs, with an assist from actors like Jack Lemmon and Ernie Kovacs.
At least one scene echoes Novak’s San Francisco apartment in Vertigo, but she has a scene-stealing cat named Piwacket this time.
Stewart is a book publisher who falls under Novak’s spell, but the entire concept was done to death in the 1960s under the TV series name of Bewitched. The original idea here seems to have been undercut over the years—except for the striking adult subtlety.
Lemmon and Kovacs shack up in a hotel room to write a book, but their relationship sounds a great deal like consenting adults. They play it to the hilt in the closeted 1950s, which may be the biggest surprise. The Zodiac Club where Lemmon hangs out with other warlocks certainly doubles for a 1950s gay club.
Novak is stunningly beautiful, and Stewart still has enough in the tank to be at the top of his game. The scenes shot in New York with body doubles indicate that Stewart and Novak never left the Hollywood studio when making this film.
The magic of movies is perfect here, from the lush color, muted effects of witchcraft, and the interplay of adults not into situation comedy.