Bell, Book and Candle

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Bell, Book and Candle
Promotional film poster
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
Janice Rule
Elsa Lanchester
Ernie Kovacs
Hermione Gingold
Music by George Duning
Cinematography James Wong Howe
Edited by Charles Nelson
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release dates
December 25, 1958 (1958-12-25)
Running time
106 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $2.5 million (estimated US/ Canada rentals)[1]

Bell, Book and Candle is a 1958 American romantic comedy Technicolor film directed by Richard Quine, based on the successful Broadway play by John Van Druten, which stars James Stewart and Kim Novak in their second of four on-screen pairing (after Vertigo, released earlier the same year). Kim Novak and Jack Lemmon paired in Phffft (1954), Pepe (1960) and The Notorious Landlady (1962).

The film, adapted by Daniel Taradash, was Stewart's last film as a romantic lead. Columbia Pictures head Harry Cohn agreed to allow Novak to appear in Vertigo as a last-minute replacement for pregnant Vera Miles, so long as Stewart appeared in this film with Novak. The supporting cast includes Jack Lemmon and Ernie Kovacs.

The original 1950 play starred Rex Harrison, his then-wife Lilli Palmer, Jean Adair and Larry Gates. The play is set entirely in the Holroyd residence and is written for a cast of five. The additional characters that appear in the film are only mentioned by name in the play.


During the Christmas holiday season, Greenwich Village witch Gillian Holroyd (Kim Novak), a free spirit with a penchant for going barefoot, has been unlucky in love and restless in life. She admires from afar her neighbor, publisher Shep Henderson (James Stewart), who one day walks into her gallery of African art to use the telephone (after Gillian's aunt Elsa Lanchester put a spell on his phone). When she learns he is about to marry an old college enemy of hers, Merle Kittridge (Janice Rule), Gillian takes revenge by casting a love spell on Shep, and she eventually falls for him herself. She must make a choice, as witches who fall in love lose their supernatural powers. When she decides to love Shep, Gillian's cat and familiar, Pyewacket, becomes agitated and leaves.

Sidney Redlitch (Ernie Kovacs), the author of the best-selling book Magic in Mexico, arrives in Shep's office (thanks to a little magic) after Gillian discovers Shep's interest in meeting him. Redlitch is researching a book on witches in New York, and he acquires an "inside" collaborator when Gillian's warlock brother Nicky (Jack Lemmon) volunteers his services in exchange for a portion of the proceeds.

Gillian uses her magic to make Shep lose interest in Nicky and Redlitch's book, and then confesses her identity as a witch to Shep. Shep becomes angry, believing she enchanted him just to spite Merle, and the two quarrel. Gillian threatens to cast various spells on Merle, such as making her fall in love with the first man who walks into her apartment, but she finds that she has lost her powers because of her love for Shep. Meanwhile, Shep finds he literally cannot leave Gillian, because of the spell. To escape, he turns to another witch, Bianca de Passe (Hermione Gingold), who breaks the spell. Shep confronts Gillian and leaves her heartbroken. He then tries unsuccessfully to explain to Merle that Gillian is a witch. Months later, Shep returns and discovers Gillian has lost her magic powers because of her love for him. When he realizes her love is true, the two reconcile.


Production and release[edit]

The title "Bell, Book and Candle" is a reference to excommunication, which is performed by bell, book, and candle. It is opened with "Ring the bell, open the book, light the candle," and closed with "Ring the bell, close the book, quench the candle." In the film, this is misidentified as exorcism.

Cary Grant had wanted to play the lead in this film. The following year, however, Grant starred in Hitchcock's North by Northwest, a movie Stewart had wanted badly to play. Hitchcock cast Grant instead, blaming the critical and commercial failure of Vertigo on Stewart's appearance, believing Stewart looked too old to draw audiences as a leading man and casting Grant (who was four years older but looked younger) in the part.[citation needed]

When first released in 1958 by Columbia Pictures, Bell, Book and Candle was a moderate success. The soundtrack, featuring Philippe Clay and The Brothers Candoli who appeared in the film in cameo appearances, also found success.[citation needed]


Songs from the film include:


Fans of the film point to similarities among it, the earlier I Married a Witch (1942), and the 1960s television series Bewitched (produced by Columbia's television division).[2] Bewitched creator Sol Saks revealed in his book The Craft of Comedy Writing that he drew on these and other sources, such as folktales.[3]

"Bell, Book, and Candle" is also the name of the shop owned and operated by the fictional Cassandra Nightingale in the Hallmark movie series The Good Witch.


Academy Awards[edit]


Golden Globes[edit]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "1959: Probable Domestic Take". Variety. January 6, 1960. p. 34.
  2. ^ "Prelude to Bewitched"., a Bewitched fan site. Retrieved May 20, 2012. 
  3. ^ Saks, Sol (1985). "The Craft of Comedy Writing". Writer's Digest. 
  4. ^ "Bell, Book and Candle". The New York Times. Retrieved December 23, 2008. 

External links[edit]