Bell, Book and Candle

Bell, Book and Candle is a 1958 American Technicolor romantic comedy film directed by Richard Quine, based on the successful Broadway play by John Van Druten adapted by Daniel Taradash. It stars Kim Novak as a witch who casts a spell on her neighbor, played by James Stewart. The supporting cast features Jack Lemmon, Ernie Kovacs, Hermione Gingold, and Elsa Lanchester. The film is considered Stewart's final role as a romantic lead.

Bell, Book and Candle
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRichard Quine
Produced byJulian Blaustein
Written byDaniel Taradash
Based onBell, Book and Candle
(1950 play)
by John Van Druten
Music byGeorge Duning
CinematographyJames Wong Howe
Edited byCharles Nelson
Phoenix Productions, Inc.
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • November 11, 1958 (1958-11-11)
Running time
106 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$2.5 million (estimated U.S./ Canada rentals)[1]


In the late 1950s, during the Christmas holiday season, Greenwich Village witch Gillian Holroyd, a free spirit with a penchant for going barefoot, is bored, a little depressed and restless in life. She admires her new neighbor, publisher Shep Henderson, who lives above her rare African art store and ground floor apartment. When Shep arrives upstairs and unlocks his own front door he discovers Gillian's aunt Queenie rummaging around in his living room. She also lives in the building and has her own curiosity, because he's recently moved in and she seems to want to know more about him by studying his belongings. Her excuse is that she came in to shut his window as it was snowing outside. Annoyed and perplexed as to how she somehow managed to get through his locked door, he is terse with her and says he needs to use the telephone, ushering her out. She puts a hex on the telephone and so when he lifts the handset to use it, garbled voices can be heard on the other end. It's implied clearly that Queenie possesses magical powers. Shep subsequently meets Gillian downstairs after asking to use her phone.

That night at The Zodiac Club, Gillian, Queenie, and Gillian's warlock bongo playing brother Nicky meet Shep and his fiancé Merle Kittridge who both drop in. Gillian recognizes Merle as an old college enemy of hers and torments her with encircling trumpet players. She learns that Shep is planning to marry her the next day so later that night back at her apartment, when Shep drops in by himself on his way home, Gillian takes revenge by using her Siamese cat and familiar, Pyewacket, to cast a love spell on Shep, who becomes immediately enamoured with Gillian. She will use him more as a pseudo boyfriend and close companion, as witches, according to the film's plot, cannot (or unusually rarely) fall in love.

Shep then is compelled the next morning, after staying up all night talking and canoodling Gillian out on the town, to visit Merle at her apartment to break up suddenly with her on the day of the marriage. She is left confused and astonished, with him saying that he doesn't love her anymore.

Sidney Redlitch, 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 and publishing his next book. Redlitch is researching a book on witches in New York, and unknown to Gillian he acquires an "inside" collaborator in Gillian's brother Nicky when Nicky offers his inside knowledge on witches in exchange for a portion of the proceeds.

Gillian eventually realises that with Shep's total obsession for her and proposal of marriage, she must make a choice, as, in the film's plotline, witches who fall in love lose their supernatural powers. She discovers her brother is collaborating on the witches book and is furious, feeling that Shep (the publisher) will find out about her and her family through the book and will realise that his love was only the result of her spell.

Gillian uses her magic to make Shep lose all interest in publishing Nicky and Redlitch's book, making his reading of it a drudgery, him thinking the whole story is ridiculous and hopeless as a commercial proposition. Gillian comes to Shep's office and confesses her identity as a witch to Shep, feeling she needs to be honest with him. Still in love with her, he simply doesn't believe her story, but in a chance encounter on the street outside his apartment later with Queenie, she inadvertently confirms the version of events and Shep becomes angry, believing Gillian enchanted him just to spite Merle. Shep confronts Gillian and the two quarrel, with Shep leaving her heartbroken after he has confirmation that his infatuation was indeed a spell. Gillian threatens to cast various spells on Merle, such as making her fall in love with the first man who walks into her apartment plus give her uncontrollable compulsions to travel all over the world. Pyewacket however refuses to be involved in Gillian's attempts to cast a spell on Merle and runs away.

Meanwhile, Shep, through the recommendation of Nicky, turns to another witch, Bianca De Pass, who can break the original spell by making a horrid looking and smelling potion in her ramshackle house and making him drink it whilst he is verbally taunted by her giant parrot. He does so in the hopes he can get back to his previous existence. He then visits Merle to explain that Gillian is a witch and his behaviour has been the result of her spell. Merle does not believe him and is not interested in any further friendship with him. He thinks Gillian may have cast a curse on Merle and warns her, unaware that Pyewacket ran away and no curse was cast.

Months later, with Gillian moping and realising that she had indeed fallen in love with Shep for real, she is too proud to confront him. Pyewacket turns up at Shep's office, climbing through his open window to find him too in an irritable mood, also unhappy about his life in general. Capturing Pyewacket in his wastepaper basket, he returns him to Gillian's store and discovers she has lost her magic powers because she can now cry (witches apparently cannot cry unless they are in love and have lost their powers). We learn that Pyewacket is now Queenie's cat and it's implied she must have sent Pyewacket to Shep's office to help resolve the love-struck pair's situation. When Shep realizes Gillian's love is true, he too realizes he loves her for real and the two reconcile.



David O. Selznick purchased the rights to Van Druten's play in 1953,[lower-alpha 1] planning to cast his wife, Jennifer Jones, in the part of Gil. At the urging of Daniel Taradash and Julian Blaustein,[3][4] Columbia purchased the property from Selznick in 1956.[5]

Taradash, who had adapted From Here to Eternity (1953) for Columbia with great success, augmented the story slightly by incorporating characters who are only names in the play (notably Mrs. De Pass, and Shep's fiancée Merle) and expanding the action to locations beyond Gil's apartment.[6]

For the lead roles, Taradash and Blaustein hoped to get Rex Harrison and Lilli Palmer, who had starred in the play, but Columbia chief Harry Cohn decided on Kim Novak for the female lead.[7] Novak was on loan to Paramount making Vertigo and the scheduling conflict put Harrison out of consideration as well.[3] Taradash and Blaustein also suggested Cary Grant and Grace Kelly as the leads and Alexander Mackendrick to direct; Kelly got married, however, and there were creative differences between the studio and both Grant and Mackendrick.[3] Since the arrangement with Paramount for Novak's appearance in Vertigo included reciprocity, Cohn advanced James Stewart for the role of Shep.[4] Bell, Book and Candle is generally recognized as Stewart's final romantic leading role.[8]

Early in 1957, producers also launched a somewhat promotional search for Siamese cats to play Pyewacket.[9] According to one release, as many as 12 cats were needed to perform the number of stunts in the film.[10]

Production began on February 3, 1958, and was completed on April 7.[11]


The movie was scored by George Duning, another Columbia veteran who earned praise for his work on From Here to Eternity. The main theme melds bongos and violins, evoking elements of the plot;[12] heard during the opening credits, a few staves of "Jingle Bells" are incorporated to set the Christmas tone of the initial action. Each witch, including Pyewacket the cat, is identified by a musical signature. Duning used creative means such as recording sounds and replaying them at high speed to achieve an eerie background effect for the score.[12]

The soundtrack was released in January 1959 by Colpix (CT-506).[13][lower-alpha 2] Most of the recording took place in Munich with Duning conducting the Graunke Symphony Orchestra. The segments featuring the Brothers Candoli, who appear in the film playing at the Zodiac Club, were recorded in Hollywood at Columbia; on these tracks, John Williams can be heard on piano.[15]

Philippe Clay makes a cameo appearance in the film performing "Le Noyé Assassiné" at the Zodiac Club, but this performance is not included on the soundtrack album. However, Harkit Records in England ( have reissued the soundtrack album as HRKCD 8099 which does include the Phillippe Clay track.

DVD release

The film was released on DVD on March 28, 2000. The DVD includes vintage advertising, talent files and the original theatrical trailer. It also includes audio and subtitle tracks for English and Spanish, bonus trailers, the open matte full-frame theatrical cut and a matted widescreen-only extended cut with four minutes of footage not seen in theaters.[16] The theatrical cut of the film (102 minutes) is included on the DVD along with the extended version, which is 106 minutes long.

Release and reception

Bell, Book and Candle was considered a "blockbuster" by Columbia and prior to its release it was promoted accordingly.[17] Novak appeared with Pyewacket on the November 25 cover of Life, along with a write-up that highlighted a tie-in with Life photographer Eliot Elisofon who was the color consultant on the film.[18] There were favorable write-ups in other major magazines and a production number on The Steve Allen Show featured the theme music.[19][lower-alpha 3]

On November 11, 1958, the movie made its world premiere in Los Angeles at the Warner Beverly Theatre. It played an exclusive engagement there until its New York premiere on December 25.[21]


Bell, Book and Candle received Academy Award nominations in two categories: Best Art Direction (Cary Odell and Louis Diage); and Best Costume Design (Jean Louis). It also received a Golden Globes nomination for Best Motion Picture – Comedy.[22]

Legacy and attempted adaptations

Bewitched creator Sol Saks admitted that he drew on Bell as well as the earlier witch-themed I Married a Witch (1942).[23][24] Screenwriter Paul Wayne said: "He was pretty honest about the fact it wasn't a particularly original idea."[24]

In 1976, Bell, Book and Candle was pitched as a television sitcom fantasy series.[14] A 30-minute pilot episode, starring Yvette Mimieux and Michael Murphy, aired on NBC on September 8, 1976.[14][25] The supporting cast included: Doris Roberts (Aunt Enid), John Pleshette (Nicky Holroyd), Bridget Hanley (Lois), Susan Sullivan (Rosemary), Edward Andrews (Bishop Fairbarn), and Dori Whitaker (Melissa). The pilot was directed by Hy Averback and written by Richard DeRoy. Bruce Lansbury was the executive producer.[25] The show was not picked up.[14]

In 2006, The Walt Disney Company planned a remake of the film, with Alicia Keys scheduled to play Gillian Holroyd.[26] The deal was organized by Disney studio executives Dick Cook and Nina Jacobson. Keys was going to produce it with her manager Jeff Robinson as the first project for their company Big Pita, Little Pita; Keys would have also been the musical supervisor and organized the soundtrack. Robinson had chosen Keys for the remake after watching the original film; she agreed to the project to avoid "from falling into predictable roles". She explained: “I never wanted to play myself, not in the first role or even the second. I want to do the unexpected.”[27] Keys said that the remake would be more "contemporary" and "really delve into the characters more".[28] According to Kurt Loder of Rotten Tomatoes, the remake was never made and Keys dropped out of the role.[29]

See also


Informational notes

  1. Selznick's former wife Irene produced the play on Broadway.[2]
  2. Re-issued by Citadel Records in 1976 (CT-6006) and 1978 (CT-7006).[14]
  3. The number was a dance by Augie and Margo. Steve Allen also wrote lyrics for the theme.[20]


  1. "1959: Probable Domestic Take". Variety. January 6, 1960. p. 34.
  2. Van Druten, John (1951). Bell, Book and Candle: Comedy in Three Acts. Dramatists Play Service. p. 3. ISBN 978-0-8222-0104-5.
  3. McGilligan, Patrick (1997). Backstory 2: Interviews with Screenwriters of the 1940s and 1950s. University of California Press. p. 324. ISBN 978-0-520-20908-4.
  4. Eliot, Marc (2006). Jimmy Stewart: A Biography. Crown/Archetype. p. 301. ISBN 978-0-307-35268-2.
  5. Green, Paul (2011). Jennifer Jones: The Life and Films. McFarland. pp. 224–225. ISBN 978-0-7864-8583-3.
  6. Erskine, Thomas L.; Welsh, James M., eds. (2000). Video Versions: Film Adaptations of Plays on Video. ABC-CLIO. pp. 26–27. ISBN 978-0-313-03203-5.
  7. Dick, Bernard F. (2015). The Merchant Prince of Poverty Row: Harry Cohn of Columbia Pictures. University Press of Kentucky. p. 141. ISBN 978-0-8131-4753-6.
  8. Quirk, Lawrence J. (1999). James Stewart: Behind the Scenes of a Wonderful Life. Applause. p. 246. ISBN 978-1-55783-416-4.
  9. Mosby, Aline (January 7, 1957). "Film Producers Launch Search for Cat With Ava's Personality". The Deseret News. p. A13. Retrieved September 14, 2015.
  10. Johnson, Erskine (March 4, 1958). "Hollywood Today". The Spencer Daily Reporter. p. 3. Retrieved September 14, 2015.
  11. "Bell, Book and Candle". Catalog of Feature Films. American Film Institute. Archived from the original on September 25, 2015. Retrieved September 13, 2015.
  12. Hischak, Thomas S. (2015). The Encyclopedia of Film Composers. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 197. ISBN 978-1-4422-4550-1.
  13. Nielsen Business Media, Inc (January 5, 1959). "Reviews and Ratings of New Popular Albums". Billboard. 71 (1): 20–21. ISSN 0006-2510.
  14. Pitts, Michael R. (2010). Columbia Pictures Horror, Science Fiction and Fantasy Films, 1928–1982. McFarland. pp. 12–14. ISBN 978-0-7864-5766-3.
  15. Thomas, Tony (1978). "Back cover". Bell, Book and Candle LP (Media notes). George Duning. Citadel Records. Retrieved September 14, 2015.
  16. "Bell, Book and Candle DVD". March 28, 2000. Retrieved November 10, 2019.
  17. "Col. to Push 7 Top Films". Motion Picture Daily. 83 (64): 1. April 2, 1958. Retrieved September 14, 2015 via Internet Archive.
  18. "Bewitching Tale About Witches". Life. 45 (21): cover, 66–69. November 24, 1958. Retrieved September 14, 2015.
  19. "Values in Pre-Selling Touted by Rosenfield". Motion Picture Daily. 84 (110): 1, 6. December 9, 1958. Retrieved September 14, 2015 via Internet Archive.
  20. Allen, Steve (1999). Steve Allen's Songs: 100 Lyrics with Commentary. McFarland. p. 35. ISBN 978-0-7864-0736-1.
  21. For the Los Angeles premiere see "'Book' Opens Big". Motion Picture Daily. 84 (93): 3. November 13, 1958. Retrieved September 14, 2015 via Internet Archive. For the New York premiere see "'Candle' Here Dec. 25". Motion Picture Daily. 84 (112): 3. December 11, 1958. Retrieved September 14, 2015 via Internet Archive.
  22. "Bell, Book and Candle". Movies. The New York Times. Archived from the original on May 11, 2011. Retrieved December 23, 2008.
  23. Saks, Sol (1991). Funny Business: The Craft of Comedy Writing. Lone Eagle Publishing Company. ISBN 978-0-943728-45-2.
  24. McLellan, Dennis (April 21, 2011). "Sol Saks dies at 100; creator of 'Bewitched'". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on July 9, 2014. Retrieved April 13, 2018.
  25. Goldberg, Lee (2015). The Best TV Shows That Never Were: 300 Memorable Unsold Pilots. Lee Goldberg. ISBN 978-1-5115-9074-7.
  26. "Alicia Keys Stars in Bell, Book & Candle". Empire. July 14, 2006. Archived from the original on April 15, 2018. Retrieved April 13, 2018.
  27. Fleming, Michael (July 13, 2006). "Mouse locking up Keys". Variety. Archived from the original on April 15, 2018. Retrieved April 13, 2018.
  28. Vineyard, Jennifer (November 21, 2006). "Alicia Keys Tries to Cast a Spell on Hollywood with Witch Remake". MTV News. Archived from the original on April 15, 2018. Retrieved April 13, 2018.
  29. Loder, Kurt (December 9, 2015). "12 Film Critics Remember Their Favorite Holiday Movies". Rotten Tomatoes. Archived from the original on November 27, 2017. Retrieved April 13, 2018.
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