Bell, Book and Candle (1958)

Sixty-three years ago today, the film Bell, Book and Candle premiered. You have to see this movie.

Title: Bell, Book and Candle
Directed by: Richard Quine
Produced by: Julian Blaustein
Written by: Daniel Taradash
Based on: Bell, Book and Candle (1950 play) by John Van Druten
Starring: James Stewart, Kim Novak, Jack Lemmon, Ernie Kovacs, Hermione Gingold, Elsa Lanchester, Janice Rule
Music by: George Duning
Cinematography: James Wong Howe
Edited by: Charles Nelson
Costume Design: Jean Louise
Production Company: Phoenix Productions, Inc.
Distributed by: Columbia Pictures
Release date: November 11, 1958
Running time: 106 minutes
Country: United States
Language: English
Box office: $2.5 million (estimated U.S./ Canada rentals)

In 1950s Greenwich Village, Gillian Holroyd is the owner of a rare African art store, and secretly a witch. Bored with her routine life, she takes an interest in her new neighbor, publisher Shep Henderson. On Christmas Eve, Shep arrives home to discover Gillian’s aunt, Queenie, inside his apartment. Offended at being ushered out, Queenie – also a witch – casts a hex on Shep’s telephone. He visits Gillian to use her phone, and they discuss the best-selling book Magic in Mexico and his desire to meet the author, Sidney Redlitch. As Shep leaves, Queenie invites them both to the Zodiac Club. Having perused his letters, Queenie reports that Shep is engaged, but encourages Gillian to use her magic to pursue him anyway.

That night, Shep brings his fiancée Merle Kittridge to the Zodiac Club, meeting Gillian, Queenie, and Gillian’s brother Nicky, a bongo drum-playing warlock. Recognizing Merle as an old college enemy, Gillian torments her with the club band until Merle flees, followed by Shep. Returning to Gillian’s apartment, the Holroyds exchange Christmas gifts; Nicky gives Gillian an enchanted liquid, with which they attempt to summon Redlitch. Queenie and Nicky depart when Shep arrives, and he reveals that he and Merle are eloping later that day. Gillian uses her Siamese cat and familiar, Pyewacket, to cast a love spell on Shep, who becomes immediately enamored with her.

After spending all night out on the town with Gillian, the infatuated Shep breaks up with Merle. Redlitch arrives at Shep’s office, having been magically compelled to meet him, and explains that he is researching witches in New York City for his next book. The oblivious Shep introduces him to the Holroyds, and Nicky later reveals his powers to Redlitch, offering him access to the witch community in exchange for half the book’s profits. Reveling in her romance with Shep, Gillian is torn when he proposes to her; although witches lose their magic if they fall in love, she agrees to marry him.

Gillian and Nicky quarrel about his exposing their world to Redlitch, and for her preparing to renounce magic and marry Shep. Using her powers to make Shep lose all interest in publishing Nicky and Redlitch’s book, Gillian confesses that she is a witch and their relationship is the result of her spell. Shep refuses to believe her, but runs into Queenie, who confirms Gillian’s version of events. Believing she enchanted him purely to spite Merle, Shep leaves Gillian heartbroken. He goes to Nicky, who brings him to Bianca De Pass, the Zodiac Club’s proprietor, and she brews a potion for him to drink, breaking Gillian’s spell over him.

Shep confronts Gillian and cruelly presents her with a broom. She threatens to curse Merle, but Pyewacket runs away, and Shep is unable to convince Merle that he was bewitched. Queenie finds Pyewacket, but the cat rejects Gillian, who is now able to cry – proof she has fallen in love and is no longer a witch. Weeks later, Ms. De Pass has become Redlitch’s new collaborator, and Queenie confides to Nicky that she is worried about Gillian. Pyewacket is sent to Shep’s office, and he returns the cat to Gillian at her transformed store. She explains that Pyewacket is no longer her cat; Shep realizes from Gillian’s tears that she truly loves him, and they reconcile with a passionate kiss. Watching through the window with Queenie, Nicky celebrates by casting a spell on the entire street.

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