Bell, Book and Candle  

From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

Related e

Wiki Commons

Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Bell, Book and Candle (1958) is a romantic comedy directed by Richard Quine, based on the hit Broadway play by John Van Druten, and starring James Stewart and Kim Novak in their second on-screen pairing (after the Alfred Hitchcock classic Vertigo, released earlier the same year). The film, adapted by Daniel Taradash, was Stewart's last film as a romantic lead. Columbia Pictures head Harry Cohn allowed Novak to appear in Vertigo (as a last-minute replacement for pregnant Vera Miles) in exchange for Stewart appearing in this film with Novak. The supporting cast includes Jack Lemmon and Ernie Kovacs.

Fans of the film point to similarities between it and the earlier I Married A Witch (1942) and especially the 1960s television series Bewitched (produced by Columbia's television division), speculating that this film may have been an inspiration. The original 1950 play starred Rex Harrison, his then wife Lilli Palmer, Jean Adair, and Larry Gates.



The film opens 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 primitive art to use the telephone. When she learns he is about to marry an old college enemy of hers, Merle Kittridge (Janice Rule), she takes revenge by casting a love spell on him while falling for him herself. She must eventually make a stark choice, as witches who fall in love lose their supernatural powers. Gillian's cat and familiar, Pyewacket, becomes agitated and leaves her when she decides in Shep's favor.

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 acquires an "inside" collaborator when Gillian's wizard 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. He becomes angry, believing that 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 that walks into her apartment), but finds that she has lost her powers because of her love for Shep. Meanwhile, he finds that he literally cannot leave Gillian, because of the spell. To escape, he turns to another witch, Bianca de Passe (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 that Gillian has lost her magic powers because of her love for him. The two are reconciled.

Meaning of the title

The title "Bell, Book and Candle" is a reference to excommunication, which is performed by bell, book and candle. It is opened with "Ring the bell, open the book, light the candle," and closed with "Ring the bell, close the book, quench the candle."


This name has become a popular one for cats because of this movie, but few know its origin. Pyewacket was one of the familiar spirits of a witch detected by the "witchfinder general" Matthew Hopkins in March 1644 in the town of Maningtree, Essex, UK. Hopkins claimed that he spied on the witches as they held their meeting close by his house, and heard them mention the name of a local woman. She was arrested and deprived of sleep for four nights, at the end of which she confessed and named her familiars, describing their forms. They were Holt, Jarmara, Vinegar Tom, Sacke and Sugar, Newes, Ilemauzer, Pyewacket, Pecke in the Crowne, and Griezzel Greedigutt. Hopkins says he and nine other witnesses saw the first five of these, which appeared in the forms described by the witch. Only the first of these was a cat; the next two were dogs, and the others were a black rabbit and a polecat. It's not clear what sort of animal Pyewacket was. As for the meanings, Hopkins says only that they were such that "no mortall could invent." The incident is described in Hopkins's pamphlet "The Discovery of Witches" (1647).


Cary Grant had wanted to play the lead in this film. The following year, however, Grant starred in Hitchcock's North by Northwest, a movie that Stewart had badly wanted to play but Hitchcock cast Grant instead, blaming the critical and commercial failure of Vertigo on Stewart's appearance, believing that Stewart looked too old to draw audiences as a leading man and casting Grant (who was four years older but looked younger) in the part. Today, both Vertigo and North by Northwest are viewed as two of Hitchcock's greatest works, and North by Northwest became his biggest box-office hit.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Bell, Book and Candle" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools