***½/**** Image A- Sound B Extras B
starring James Stewart, Kim Novak, Jack Lemmon, Elsa Lanchester
screenplay by Daniel Taradash, based on the play by John Van Druten
directed by Richard Quine
by Jefferson Robbins What a strange companion piece this makes for Vertigo, released the same year by Paramount. Columbia issued Bell, Book, and Candle as a Christmas confection, but it's bitter chocolate--both for the extratextual residues carried over by Vertigo co-stars James Stewart and Kim Novak and for the conceit of a powerful woman who must rein herself in to become worthy of a clueless paramour. In each, Stewart is a bewitched man who throws away much of his dignity in pursuit of a sexual obsession and torments a beautiful apparition of a woman to tears. Re-examined now, despite its technical proficiency, its occasionally risqué dialogue, and its mindfulness of New York's post-Beat subculture of the time, Bell, Book, and Candle is also a fantasy of limited vision. It posits a world of real magic but never contemplates the ramifications beyond its heroes' immediate personal needs. This shortsightedness, unfortunately, is now engraved on the thirteenth chromosome of all romantic comedies; the exceptions that dare glance up at the wider world are mutations. Still, Bell, Book, and Candle carries off some covert gender reversals most contemporary comedies couldn't muster, and it echoes in the "Harry Potter" franchise of novels and films in ways that make me think J.K. Rowling was a fan.