You’ve endured repeat viewings of what “Arrested Development” refers to as “Love, Indubitably.” Maybe you even took a ride through The Tunnel of Love Indubitably. But the holiday and holiday-adjacent movie viewing doesn’t have to stop there.
Come down slowly from the emo-bomb of “It’s a Wonderful Life” with another James Stewart movie that also encompasses the holidays, but offers so much more, like witchcraft, bongo drums, and a super sultry Kim Novak.
“Bell, Book and Candle” came out in 1958 and, like “Vertigo” which came out the same year, pairs the lanky and loveable James Stewart with blonde bombshell Kim Novak. “Bell, Book and Candle” refers to an incantation to exorcise witches, because that is what Kim Novak is. From her groovy shop in the first floor of her Greenwich Village apartment building, Gillian Holroyd sells primitive and exotic art as her “cover,” but along with her brother, the sublime Jack Lemmon and her aunt, the magnificently bizarre Elsa Lanchester, selectively practices witchcraft.
Her aunt and brother can barely muster more than a few glorified witch pranks — Nicky, the brother, uses magic to change all the lights on Fifth Avenue and the aunt picks locks for purposes of snooping — but Gillian is the real deal, boasting some of the greatest powers among the local coven of witches. What makes this movie so much fun is the Greenwich Village beatnik scene into which the witches mix. Barefoot and mysterious, Gillian passes easily for a kooky chick.
When she meets neighbor Shep Henderson (Stewart) on Christmas Eve, he represents the kind of normal life Gillian secretly pines for, and she impulsively invites him to join her and her family at the Zodiac Club. In the film’s most memorable scene, crowds of beatnik witches enjoy quirky French singing, jazz and especially Gillian’s brother’s bongo playing. Into this fabulously fringe scene, straight-laced-but-game Shep shows up, unfortunately with a snobby, poisonous fiancée in tow.
When Gillian realizes the fiancée is also her old college nemesis, she abandons her reservations about trying to steal a man who is spoken for. From her corner in the Zodiac Club, as composed as a sphinx, she quickly dispatches her rival from her territory, and decides to make a play for Shep.
Gillian gets Shep back to her place and, purring in a bedroom voice that make Kathleen Turner sound like Spongebob Squarepants, plans to use her considerable non-magic gifts to try to snag Shep, but upon hearing of his plan to wed the next day, she summons Piewacket, her feline familiar. They make short work of Shep, and he is under her romantic spell.
Antics follow, as Gillian tries to reconcile her witchy and womanly sides. A legend warns that falling in love robs a witch of her powers, or conversely, that witches cannot truly fall in love. Gillian’s struggles and sacrifices prove a bit discouraging from a feminist perspective, but it’s still a delightful movie, and the soundtrack is fantastic. By now you can probably guess what television show spun off from it. “Bewitched.” And that’s how I feel every time I watch it.
And speaking of Greenwich Village, the new Coen Brothers movie about a folk singer from the ‘60s is coming out soon and I couldn’t be more excited if my own kids were in it. The Crescent Theater will be showing it in January, after “Dallas Buyer’s Club,” the latest film in the so-called McConaissance of golden boy turned serious actor Matthew McConaughey. Be a part of it Dec. 25 through Jan. 9. It’d be a lot cooler if you did.
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