Unrated, but this movie might be considered full on icky by today's considerations. Let's talk about the fact that this movie tip-toes between adorable witchcraft and full on demonic witchcraft. In the TCM introduction, they talked about how this kind of was the test-run for Bewitched. Bewitched is adorable and cute. This movie is a sneeze away from having a Hollywood version of a black mass. But there are some moral implications to consider before watching it. TV had this as TV-PG. I would never let my kids watch this sometimes adorable movie and sometimes really disturbing movie.
DIRECTOR: Richard Quine
The comic book store that I've been supporting is called "Bell, Book, and Comic." That's almost exclusively what put this movie on my radar. BTW, that comic store is awesome. It's in Dayton. You should check it out. When I found out that this was a Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak movie that was made the same year as Vertigo, I lost my mind even more. Besides the fact that their age difference is full on gross, I wanted to see a tonal sequel to Vertigo. I knew that Bell, Book, and Candle was a comedy and I know that I wasn't going to get an exact follow-up, but I wanted a tie between the two. It's like when I used to watch everything that Simon Pegg was in desperate hopes to find a successor to Shaun of the Dead. Bell, Book, and Candle isn't any of the things that I thought it was. In fact, I have a really hard time defining what genre this movie falls in outside of "supernatural."
I thought this movie was a romantic comedy. In the broadest of strokes, it is. There are jokes in it and many of the characters could be shaped more in a comedy context. Jack Lemmon, who was a national treasure --especially in this era, plays his typical early Jack Lemmon persona. He nicely fits within the box that I put this movie in. As does Elsa Lanchester's Aunt Queenie. She's a solid comic trope. But the leads, who dominate the movie, don't really flex their comic chops. Jimmy Stewart does comedy quite a bit, but it always is reserved, especially compared to Lemmon. Kim Novak, it seems, doesn't get any jokes for a reason. Lauren kind of scoffed when she started watching Novak's performance. I think that comes from a bit of experience with Novak, but she was proven right. Novak is always at about the same level, which is ironic when the movie is about a character who can't cry and then SPOILER does indeed cry. The crying scenes are no more or less intense than the other sequences. I can't help but compare Gil to Sabrina in the comic book series The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Everything is just scaled to about an eight in intensity. I think that's what Richard Quine was looking for. I get the vibe that Richard Quine was a mod, kind of into the counter-culture beatnik scene. (I'm sorry...Detroit Native Richard Quine. Aw, geez. The guy committed suicide. What a bummer.) Everything about Novak's performance and the general aesthetic about the movie seemed like they wanted to blow minds. I'm sure that this movie got passed through the system as what would become Bewitched, but instead was this movie that your grandparents couldn't see. Hysterically, the movie is fairly tame by today's standards, but I just get the vibe that this movie wanted to be bigger than the script that was passed through the system. I have to wonder what Jimmy Stewart thought about all of this witchcraft and demonology on screen, because I get the vibe that the start of It's a Wonderful Life and the American Tail sequel would have something to say about that. (Now say the last part of the last sentence in Jimmy Stewart's voice and it is mildly funnier.)
In my MPAA rant section, I talked about how this movie was kind of icky. It really is icky. You know how we all, like two years ago, banded against "Baby, It's Cold Outside" because it's all about consent. Yeah, this movie is all about how consent is not really a thing. I know, it makes me seem like a real punk standing against this movie from 1958 when the gender roles are reversed. But this movie is a really clear slippery slope. For those unaware, the movie has Gil (Kim Novak) using a love spell to have Shep (Jimmy Stewart...again, way older than Novak), dump his fiancee and fall madly in love with Gil. Gil does this as a form of mischief because we find out that Shep's fiancee was a terrible person who slighted Gil in college. Gil is not in love with Shep because it is impossible for a witch to fall in love. Rather, she finds him attractive and enjoys messing with mortals. The two kiss a whole lot and she eventually falls in love with him, causing her to confess her true feelings. He is hurt and the two end up together. We can see the ickiness of the whole premise. Making Merle, Shep's fiancee, flawed is absolutely shameless in this movie. It is a way that we can forgive what is, at its core, a fundamentally corrupt act. The odd thing is that the movie never really pulls the trigger for how evil they want to make Merle. Considering, at the end of the day that this movie is supposed to be a romantic comedy. This might be one of those movies that is really hurt by how dated it is. There are a few movies that are criminally out of date politically that I can still kind of enjoy. Like, I don't hate Gone With the Wind, but it is sullied by the uncomfortable racial moments. Bell, Book, and Candle was really hard to watch because the rapey elements of the movie are the premise of the movie. I know that other movies have taken on that very same narrative, so I can't throw this movie under the satanic bus by itself, but the political climate going right now is very effective. This movie is almost a museum piece rather than something that can be watched for sheer entertainment by itself. (Don't worry, my next review is all about being woke. Stay tuned.) The movie, because of how uncomfortable it is and how much I didn't root for the romantic leads to end up together, felt way longer than it actually was. The runtime is only about an hour-forty-five, but it felt interminably wrong. I guess that's why chemistry in rom-coms is so vital. I don't think I have ever been so vehemently against the protagonists ending up together. It leans heavily on a foundation that doesn't really work.
This movie is remarkably simple. Trying to talk about this movie ad nauseum is a challenge. Perhaps the only thing I can think of is giving the context for this movie. The movie is made in 1958. This is on the verge of the Sexual Revolution and the grossness inherent to this film may be very telling about how people viewed relationships. Merle's casting off is done with a comedic effect, but she has this absolutely bizarre reaction in a later sequence. When Shep discovers that Gil is a witch who cast a spell on him, Merle finds the entire scenario absolutely hilarious. She is light hearted and lacks any degree of spite. They talk like old friends. I can't help but make another Vertigo comparison. In Vertigo, I'm pretty sure Midge is the same role. Midge has this unrequited love for Stewart's Scottie. Scottie dumps all of his relationship troubles on Midge, once again with the focus being on the not-quite-truthful Kim Novak. (Geez, it's all coming together!) The idea that relationships seem fairly fluid in this era, a precursor to the sexual revolution, where people treat each other only for the pleasure that they can get out of each other, might make an interesting examination of the purpose of art. Bell, Book, and Candle might be an interesting examination of how reflective art becomes of a political consciousness. The fact that Midge calls no-harm / no-foul over Gil's transgressions and weird, somewhat implicit approval of Shep's pursuit of Gil strikes me as odd. I've seen this character in lots of rom-coms, mainly because no one likes a rom-com that ends with a cloud of bitterness. But those characters are often just poorly written because the script needs a resolution. Bell, Book, and Candle instead doesn't really shape Merle into anything realistic. She is treated as almost something less than human. She has no decision making choices for herself. When she is meant to be unpleasant for the purpose of the story, she comes across as annoying. I'm thinking of her weird storm-phobia as the band plays to her. But when she is meant to be a pleasant character, she becomes a sounding board for Shep. I think that this might be because there is a large lack of everyman characters. The only other human characters is the author of the book, who is characterized as an eccentric, hardly a sounding board for this regular guy. Now I'm definitely overthinking this whole movie, but that's because the content of this movie is kind of lacking. But the reason that these characters don't get a lot of depth aren't only because sometimes a story needs flat characters. It rather seems that there would be no reason to sympathize with Merle. The world was treating people like Merles and that's very bleak to me. But again, I might be completely wrong.
I'm sorry to my comic book shop for not liking this movie. I was really jazzed to watch this movie, but the icky premise just pervades the whole movie. I know that it's a shame that I'm a dude who only got incensed when the victim is a dude, but that might just be wrong-time/wrong-place. Considering that I really dig the cast, I can't see myself enjoying this one.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.