Bell, Book and Candle

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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
Music by George Duning
Cinematography James Wong Howe
Edited by Charles Nelson
Phoenix Productions, Inc.
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release date
November 11, 1958 (1958-11-11)
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 and adapted by Daniel Taradash. It stars Kim Novak as a witch who casts a spell on her neighbor, played by James Stewart. Rounding out the supporting cast are Jack Lemmon, Ernie Kovacs, Hermione Gingold and Elsa Lanchester. The film is considered Stewart's last as a romantic lead.


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 Queenie (Elsa Lanchester) has 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 Pass (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.



David O. Selznick purchased the rights to Van Druten's play in 1953,[a] planning to cast his wife, Jennifer Jones, in the part of Gil. At the urging of Daniel Taradash and Julian Blaustein,[3][4] Columbia purchased the property from Selznick in 1956.[5]

Taradash, who had adapted From Here to Eternity (1953) for Columbia with great success, augmented the story slightly by incorporating characters who are only names in the play (notably Mrs. De Pass, and Shep's fiancée Merle) and expanding the action to locations beyond Gil's apartment.[6]

For the lead roles, Taradash and Blaustein hoped to get Rex Harrison and Lilli Palmer, who had starred in the play, but Columbia chief Harry Cohn decided on Kim Novak for the female lead.[7] Novak was on loan to Paramount making Vertigo and the scheduling conflict put Harrison out of consideration as well.[3] Taradash and Blaustein also suggested Cary Grant and Grace Kelly as the leads and Alexander Mackendrick to direct; Kelly got married, however, and there were creative differences between the studio and both Grant and Mackendrick.[3] Since the arrangement with Paramount for Novak's appearance in Vertigo included reciprocity, Cohn advanced James Stewart for the role of Shep.[4] Bell, Book and Candle is generally recognized as Stewart's final romantic leading role.[8]

Early in 1957 producers also launched a somewhat promotional search for Siamese cats to play Pyewacket.[9] According to one release, as many as 12 cats were needed to perform the number of stunts in the film.[10]

Production began on February 3, 1958, and was completed on April 7.[11]


The movie was scored by George Duning, another Columbia veteran who earned praise for his work on From Here to Eternity. The main theme melds bongos and violins, evoking elements of the plot;[12] heard during the opening credits, a few staves of "Jingle Bells" are incorporated to set the Christmas tone of the initial action. Each witch, including Pyewacket the cat, is identified by a musical signature. Duning used creative means such as recording sounds and replaying them at high speed to achieve an eerie background effect for the score.[12]

The soundtrack was released in January 1959 by Colpix (CT-506).[13][b] Most of the recording took place in Munich with Duning conducting the Graunke Symphony Orchestra. The segments featuring the Brothers Candoli, who appear in the film playing at the Zodiac Club, were recorded in Hollywood at Columbia; on these tracks, John Williams can be heard on piano.[15]

Philippe Clay makes a cameo appearance in the film performing "Le Noyé Assassiné" at the Zodiac Club, but this performance is not included on the soundtrack album.

Release and reception[edit]

Bell Book and Candle was considered a "blockbuster" by Columbia and prior to its release it was promoted accordingly.[16] Novak appeared with Pyewacket on the November 25 cover of Life, along with a write-up that highlighted a tie-in with Life photographer Eliot Elisofon who was the color consultant on the film.[17] There were favorable write-ups in other major magazines and a production number on The Steve Allen Show featured the theme music.[18][c]

On November 11, 1958, the movie made its world premiere in Los Angeles at the Warner Beverly Theatre. It played an exclusive engagement there until its New York premiere on December 25.[20]


Bell, Book and Candle received Academy Award nominations in two categories: Best Art Direction (Cary Odell and Louis Diage); and Best Costume Design (Jean Louis). It also received a Golden Globes nomination for Best Motion Picture – Comedy.[21]

Legacy and attempted adaptations[edit]

Alicia Keys (pictured in 2013) was scheduled to star in a Disney remake of Bell, Book and Candle as Gillian Holroyd.

Bewitched creator Sol Saks admitted that he drew on Bell as well as the earlier witch-themed I Married a Witch (1942).[22][23] Screenwriter Paul Wayne said: "He was pretty honest about the fact it wasn't a particularly original idea."[23]

In 1976, Bell, Book and Candle was pitched as a television sitcom fantasy series.[14] A 30-minute pilot episode, starring Yvette Mimieux and Michael Murphy, aired on NBC on September 8, 1976.[14][24] The supporting cast included: Doris Roberts (Aunt Enid), John Pleshette (Nicky Holroyd), Bridget Hanley (Lois), Susan Sullivan (Rosemary), Edward Andrews (Bishop Fairbarn), and Dori Whitaker (Melissa). The pilot was directed by Hy Averback and written by Richard DeRoy. Bruce Lansbury was the executive producer.[24] The show was not picked up.[14]

In 2006, The Walt Disney Company planned a remake of the film, with Alicia Keys scheduled to play Gillian Holroyd.[25] The deal was organized by Disney studio executives. Dick Cook and Nina Jacobson. Keys was going to produce it with her manager Jeff Robinson as the first project for their company Big Pita, Little Pita; Keys would have also been the musical supervisor and organized the soundtrack. Robinson had chosen Keys for the remake after watching the original film; she agreed to the project to avoid "from falling into predictable roles". She explained: “I never wanted to play myself, not in the first role or even the second. I want to do the unexpected.”[26] Keys said that the remake would be more "contemporary" and "really delve into the characters more".[27] According to Kurt Loder of Rotten Tomatoes, the remake was never made and Keys dropped out of the role.[28]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Selznick's former wife Irene produced the play on Broadway.[2]
  2. ^ Re-issued by Citadel Records in 1976 (CT-6006) and 1978 (CT-7006).[14]
  3. ^ The number was a dance by Augie and Margo. Steve Allen also wrote lyrics for the theme.[19]
  1. ^ "1959: Probable Domestic Take". Variety. January 6, 1960. p. 34.
  2. ^ Van Druten, John (1951). Bell, Book and Candle: Comedy in Three Acts. Dramatists Play Service. p. 3. ISBN 978-0-8222-0104-5. 
  3. ^ a b c McGilligan, Patrick (1997). Backstory 2: Interviews with Screenwriters of the 1940s and 1950s. University of California Press. p. 324. ISBN 978-0-520-20908-4. 
  4. ^ a b Eliot, Marc (2006). Jimmy Stewart: A Biography. Crown/Archetype. p. 301. ISBN 978-0-307-35268-2. 
  5. ^ Green, Paul (2011). Jennifer Jones: The Life and Films. McFarland. pp. 224–225. ISBN 978-0-7864-8583-3. 
  6. ^ Erskine, Thomas L.; Welsh, James M., eds. (2000). Video Versions: Film Adaptations of Plays on Video. ABC-CLIO. pp. 26–27. ISBN 978-0-313-03203-5. 
  7. ^ Dick, Bernard F. (2015). The Merchant Prince of Poverty Row: Harry Cohn of Columbia Pictures. University Press of Kentucky. p. 141. ISBN 978-0-8131-4753-6. 
  8. ^ Quirk, Lawrence J. (1999). James Stewart: Behind the Scenes of a Wonderful Life. Applause. p. 246. ISBN 978-1-55783-416-4. 
  9. ^ Mosby, Aline (January 7, 1957). "Film Producers Launch Search for Cat With Ava's Personality". The Deseret News. p. A13. Retrieved 2015-09-14. 
  10. ^ Johnson, Erskine (March 4, 1958). "Hollywood Today". The Spencer Daily Reporter. p. 3. Retrieved 2015-09-14. 
  11. ^ "Bell, Book and Candle". Catalog of Feature Films. American Film Institute. Archived from the original on September 25, 2015. Retrieved September 13, 2015. 
  12. ^ a b Hischak, Thomas S. (2015). The Encyclopedia of Film Composers. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 197. ISBN 978-1-4422-4550-1. 
  13. ^ Nielsen Business Media, Inc (January 5, 1959). "Reviews and Ratings of New Popular Albums". Billboard. 71 (1): 20–21. ISSN 0006-2510. 
  14. ^ a b c d Pitts, Michael R. (2010). Columbia Pictures Horror, Science Fiction and Fantasy Films, 1928–1982. McFarland. pp. 12–14. ISBN 978-0-7864-5766-3. 
  15. ^ Thomas, Tony (1978). "Back cover". Bell, Book and Candle LP (Media notes). George Duning. Citadel Records. Retrieved 2015-09-14. 
  16. ^ "Col. to Push 7 Top Films". Motion Picture Daily. 83 (64): 1. April 2, 1958. Retrieved 2015-09-14 – via Internet Archive. 
  17. ^ "Bewitching Tale About Witches". Life. 45 (21): cover; 66–69. November 24, 1958. Retrieved 2015-09-14. 
  18. ^ "Values in Pre-Selling Touted by Rosenfield". Motion Picture Daily. 84 (110): 1, 6. December 9, 1958. Retrieved 2015-09-14 – via Internet Archive. 
  19. ^ Allen, Steve (1999). Steve Allen's Songs: 100 Lyrics with Commentary. McFarland. p. 35. ISBN 978-0-7864-0736-1. 
  20. ^ For the Los Angeles premiere see "'Book' Opens Big". Motion Picture Daily. 84 (93): 3. November 13, 1958. Retrieved 2015-09-14 – via Internet Archive.  For the New York premiere see "'Candle' Here Dec. 25". Motion Picture Daily. 84 (112): 3. December 11, 1958. Retrieved 2015-09-14 – via Internet Archive. 
  21. ^ "Bell, Book and Candle". Movies. The New York Times. Archived from the original on May 11, 2011. Retrieved December 23, 2008. 
  22. ^ Saks, Sol (1991). Funny Business: The Craft of Comedy Writing. Lone Eagle Publishing Company. ISBN 978-0-943728-45-2. 
  23. ^ a b McLellan, Dennis (April 21, 2011). "Sol Saks dies at 100; creator of 'Bewitched'". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on July 9, 2014. Retrieved April 13, 2018. 
  24. ^ a b Goldberg, Lee (2015). The Best TV Shows That Never Were: 300 Memorable Unsold Pilots. Lee Goldberg. ISBN 978-1-5115-9074-7. 
  25. ^ "Alicia Keys Stars in Bell, Book & Candle". Empire. July 14, 2006. Archived from the original on April 15, 2018. Retrieved April 13, 2018. 
  26. ^ Fleming, Michael (July 13, 2006). "Mouse locking up Keys". Variety. Archived from the original on April 15, 2018. Retrieved April 13, 2018. 
  27. ^ Vineyard, Jennifer (November 21, 2006). "Alicia Keys Tries to Cast a Spell on Hollywood with Witch Remake". MTV News. Archived from the original on April 15, 2018. Retrieved April 13, 2018. 
  28. ^ Loder, Kurt (December 9, 2015). "12 Film Critics Remember Their Favorite Holiday Movies". Rotten Tomatoes. Archived from the original on November 27, 2017. Retrieved April 13, 2018. 

External links[edit]