Bell, Book and Candle

This is one of a handful of movies that begin on Christmas Eve but conclude several months later (the others include Beyond Tomorrow and The Great Rupert. Holiday Inn starts on one Christmas Eve and runs through two full years. Remember the Night begins on Christmas Eve and concludes just after New Year’s. And, of course, A Christmas Carol starts on Christmas Eve and concludes on Christmas Day. This is the third film on our list starring James Stewart (the others are The Shop Around the Corner and It’s a Wonderful Life). There are several other acting connections with other movies on our Christmas watch list, which I’ll mention in the “Character Actor” section below.


The beautiful young witch Gillian Holroyd (Kim Novak) is attracted by her upstairs neighbor, publisher Shepherd Henderson (James Stewart), and when she realizes that he is engaged to her nasty college nemesis, she casts a spell on him and he falls in love. When Shep realizes that she has enchanted him, he drinks a potion to break the spell, but now Gillian realizes that she has fallen in love with Shep and lost her bewitching powers.


The film is set in New York, highlighted by a Christmas morning scene atop the Flatiron Building and aerial shots of the adjacent Madison Square.


The film begins on Christmas Eve, and you will see Christmas trees being dragged on the Manhattan sidewalks, Santa by a kettle ringing his bell, and snow falling everywhere.


This was a breakthrough role for Jack Lemmon, who plays Gillian’s flaky brother Nicky. After Bell, Book and Candle, he starred in Some Like It Hot and then The Apartment and became a major movie star in the 1960s. Ernie Kovacs, who was married to Edie Adams, who we saw in The Apartment, was a TV comedy pioneer but also had a few interesting character roles in movies. Elsa Lanchester appeared in The Bishop’s Wife. You may recognize Howard McNear (Shep’s co-publisher) from his role as Floyd the barber in TV’s The Andy Griffith Show.


When Fred Astaire first moved to New York in 1905 to start taking dancing lessons with his sister, Adele, he lived in a rooming house on 23rd Street, just a few blocks west of the Flatiron Building.


The beautiful Kim Novak, the wonderfully witty script, the scenes of the Flatiron Building and Madison Square, and of course Pyewacket the cat. James Wong Howe’s cinematography is wonderful. (He also was the director of photography for The Thin Man.)