Only in the movies would Kim Novak have to cast a spell to snare a man.
In the 1958 charmer “Bell, Book and Candle,” Novak plays a frustrated witch who resorts to magic to turn the head of the man living in her building.
The gentleman in question is Jimmy Stewart, who frankly looks a tad old to play the romantic lead here. The great actor’s demeanor alone casts him as more the avuncular type than an object of a young actress’ affections. “Candle,” based on the Broadway play, marked his final turn as a romantic hero, so it’s clear he felt so, too.
But movie stars can trump curious casting decisions nearly every time. Besides, the film’s breezy spirit and deep bench – both Jack Lemmon and Ernie Kovacs shine in supporting turns – make “Candle” a fine respite from today’s rom-com antics.
Novak stars as Gillian, the proprietor of an ancient artifacts store who casts her curious eyes at a man living above the store. Shep (Stewart) is engaged, but that doesn’t stop Gillian or her nosy aunt (Elsa Lanchester) from tricking Shep into Gillian’s shop and planting a romantic seed.
A little love incantation is all the fertilizer needed here, and Shep can’t ditch his fiance fast enough. But is Gillian willing to leave witchcraft behind to become Shep’s wife?
Novak is surprisingly effective at conveying the loneliness of a closeted witch, and even the chatty nature of her aunt and brother (Lemmon) can’t chase away her blues. The film sags after the pivotal spell is cast, and it stays that way until Kovacs emerges as an author eager to write a book about the witches and warlocks among us.
Lemmon’s first few scenes prove to be a wash. The gifted comic actor is asked to mug incessantly while playing the drums, but when his character partners up with the inquisitive author things get far more interesting. The brother’s motives aren’t spelled out adequately enough for even Lemmon to fill in the blanks, and the film’s romantic resolution feels like a 50 yard dash to the closing credits.
Still, “Bell, Book and Candle” soldiers o, thanks to its gaudy star power and a script which tilts between silly cat close-ups and the bruised heart of its leading lady.
The Blu-ray extra of note is a conversation with Novak about both the film and her laconic leading man. Stewart was as un-Hollywood as you could get, the actress raves, and it’s a miracle he was able to shield himself from the industry’s excesses for so long.