Blu-ray Review: BELL, BOOK, AND CANDLE (Twilight Time)

J Hurtado, Contributing Writer
This film may not exactly be the Twitchiest title on the market, but it gave me so much joy, that I just have to share. Richard Quine's Bell, Book, and Candle is a late '50s gem from Columbia Pictures with an ace cast, a fantastic whirlwind of a story, and some really great laughs, the likes of which we rarely see anymore. Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak headline a great film than more consistently induces ear to ear grins than almost anything I've watched lately, and Twilight Time's Blu-ray presentation is top notch.

Jimmy Stewart plays Shep Henderson, a book publisher with a marriage imminent and a life to die for. Into his life walks the Holroyd clan, Aunt Queenie (Elsa Lanchester), Nicky (Jack Lemmon), and the lovely Gil Holroyd, played by the iciest of blondes, Kim Novak. The Holroyds at first appear to simply be an idiosyncratic set of tricksters, but soon enough, we learn about their witchy side, and so does Shep. When Gil casts a love spell on Shep, the two take to each other like fish to water, that is, until Shep finds out the truth. Will Shep forgive Gil? Will Gil forgive herself? It's a ride definitely worth taking.

Most film fans will recognize the pairing of Stewart and Novak from Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo, which many would argue is his finest moment. However, before Vertigo was Bell, Book, and Candle. The two films could not be further apart thematically, but the chemistry between the two is palpable in both. The earlier film allows for Stewart to stretch his comedic wings and he does a brilliant job, delivering laughs and gags at every turn. Jimmy Stewart could do more with his face than most actors could do with a ten page monologue. Novak, on the other hand, is just as cold as can be, and while I found it to be distancing at first, the more I think about her performance, the more I realize how appropriate it was. Though I'm not sure if it's a case of an actress giving a great performance, or a writer customizing a film perfectly for an actress's talents. Either way, it's the audience who wins, and boy do we ever.

The hot and cold relationship between Novak and Stewart is augmented by several incredible supporting performances that really make this movie hum. An early comedic turn from Jack Lemmon really takes the cake, though, as Lemmon's Nicky Holroyd steals the show every time he's on screen. His impeccable comic timing and infinitely expressive face are the tools of a master, and I really hope that this disc gets the film the attention it deserves. Also on board are Ernie Kovacs as an expert in witchcraft who gets taken in by the Holroyd clan, and Elsa Lanchester as Gil's Aunt Queenie, a charmingly daft middle-aged woman who serves as a lovely foil and plot facilitator during the proceedings. The film is as much worth watching for them as it is for the leads.

Bell, Book, and Candle is a film that could probably muster thousands of words from the right critic. My analysis may be sparse, but I at least hope that it provides some glimpse of the quality of this fantastic, family-friendly comedy classic ripe for rediscovery. The film was never exactly rare or particularly overlooked, but in the hands of Twilight Time, this Blu-ray disc looks fantastic, and surely better than it ever has. Bell, Book, and Candle is now among my favorites of the Twilight Time catalog, and if you give it a shot, I'm sure it'll be one of yours, too.

The Disc:

Bell, Book, and Candle is among Twilight Time's finest Blu-ray efforts for a number of reasons. The cinematography from James Wong Howe is given a lovely treatment by Sony and Twilight Time. Many of the wide shots may suffer from the kind of muddling that '50s cinema often displays, but the closeups and interiors are just gorgeous. Those closeups are bursting with detail, intense colors, and beautiful, natural film grain, and with Kim Novak on screen, the more detail the better! The wicked upbeat jazz from The Candoli Brothers and the crackling dialogue are also treated wonderfully in this lossless audio track. As usual, Twilight Time have also included an isolated score, which is definitely worth checking out for the great soundtrack of this film. Overall, I was very impressed with the A/V of this wonderful film. There may be times where the image is unremarkable, but when those shots under controlled lighting show up, you'll be blown away.

This film boasts more extra features than any Twilight Time Blu-ray I've reviewed, and they are pretty darned interesting, to boot! First and foremost is the wonderful essay by Twilight Time's resident essayist, Julie Kirgo. Apart from the superficial analysis I've provided, Kirgo takes us behind the scenes of Bell, Book, and Candle, illuminating some of the studio machinations that went into the creation and casting of this film, as well as some of the backstage politics. This is another of her wonderful essays, and I dare say I look forward to these discs as much to read her words as to watch the films! In addition to that we've got two audio based features with Kim Novak, one running around 9 minutes in which she speaks about Bell, and a second running around fifteen minutes in which she addresses her next film, The Middle of the Night. Both are very interesting, and Novak proves to be an open book, if effusively flattering. These are older features, but they are accompanied by the new HD footage from Bell, and look and sound great.

I'm a big fan of classic comedy, and they don't get much better than this witchy wonder from 1958. Twilight Time's Bell, Book, and Candle is limited to 3,000 copies and is available exclusively at Screen Archives. Order it through the link below!

Oh! I almost forgot to mention that this disc has one of the most beautiful covers I've seen in a long time. That artwork is fantastic, I'd love to have a poster of it!
Special Features:
- Isolated Score Track
- "Bewitched, Bothered and Beautiful"
- "Reflections in the Middle of the Night"
- Original Theatrical Trailer
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