Sunday, September 2, 2012

150. BELL BOOK AND CANDLE (1958)


Richard Quine, who directed most of Kim Novak's vehicles for Columbia, doesn't quite get the most out of this one, but it has an abiding deliciousness about it. You can see it in this frame grab of Novak and her familiar Pyewacket, the compositional highpoint of James Wong Howe's curiously muted color photography, and it's there in the cocktail that this specific combination of players provide. Scripted by Daniel Taradash (PICNIC) from a play by John Van Druten, it pairs Novak and James Stewart (just prior to their classic teaming in Hitchcock's VERTIGO, and already comfortable together onscreen) as two neighbors in a Manhattan apartment building, fated for familiarity. Stewart is book publisher Shepherd Henderson, and Novak is Gillian Holroyd, a member of a local witch coven along with beat club bongo player Jack Lemmon and a ditzy aunt played by Elsa Lanchester, who is given a rare opportunity in her middle age to look (in my view, anyway) as lovely as she was. Stewart is dating painter Janice Rule, an old college roommate of Novak's who says the wrong catty thing, prompting Novak to disrupt their romance with a love spell that sends Stewart into her arms instead. Witches can neither experience love nor shed tears, according to the lore here, which telescopes a third act twist in which Stewart becomes aware of the spell and Novak finds herself unexpectedly in the grip of real love.

There's a pleasant enough (if monotonous) supporting role for Ernie Kovacs, as the hapless alcoholic author of popular mondo-themed books whom Gillian conjures back to the Big Apple as a present for Shep, and scenes for Hermione Gingold and Howard McNear. But nearly all the film's pleasures are sensuous, and thus ideally well-served by Twilight Time's new Blu-ray edition, limited to 3000 copies, which presents George Duning's elegant stereo score on an isolated track and offers Howe's subtly expressionistic color photography with enough grain to keep its crispness honest.

Viewed via Twilight Time Blu-ray disc

2 comments:

  1. Novak at her tremulous best, gay subtext (Greenwich Village "witches" indeed), my favorite movie cat--what's not to love? (Or like a lot; I don't think it hits every note, either. I'm surprised the play is never revived.)

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  2. This is no classic, I agree which is why I haven't upgraded the DVD to this blu-ray. BUT it does have a way of staying with ones' memory BECAUSE of the VERTIGO connection...because Quine never got the attention as a director he now seems to deserve, because of Quine's relationship with the also late Blake Edwards (whose GUNN I recently caught up with again after years of not seeing it on NETFLIX), the masterful James Wong Howe cinematography, George Duning's grandly sensual score (one of the most under-rated in his career), and beautifully performed by the entire cast. Ernie Kovacs is tough to take sometimes, but he wasn't an actor per se. His characters (such as he was given the roles for) were caricatures for the most part which he was given little opportunity to flesh out. (Coming to mind are NORTH TO ALASKA, OPERATION MAD BALL {think that was his first}...BUT his portrayal in STRANGERS WHEN WE MEET (also by director Richard Quine, and starring Kirk Douglas and Kim Novak AGAIN)...show had he lived he'd have been FINE ACTOR indeed.

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