Friday, August 16, 2013

Delightfully Dark Style: Bell, Book and Candle


I first saw the movie Bell, Book and Candle (1958) on TV one cold, rainy afternoon when I was a teenager. It's the story of Gillian Holroyd (Kim Novak), a witch living in Greenwich Village with her cat and familiar, Pyewacket, who falls for her very normal neighbour, Shepherd Henderson (James Stewart). My mother had casually remarked that it was the inspiration behind the television series Bewitched, and my interest had been instantly piqued. As a kid, I loved to watch the reruns of shows like Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, and of course, The Addams Family. My aesthetic taste is a strange brew of mid 20th century style mixed with the Gothic, and I'm sure a childhood television diet of magical sixties sitcoms filled with witches, genies, and charmingly macabre oddballs is partly responsible for that. Bell, Book and Candle, with its combined retro cocktail chic and supernatural elements, also had a huge impact on me.




Although she had the pinup looks of a standard fifties bombshell, Kim Novak never came across as a ditzy blonde playing Gillian in Bell, Book and Candle. With her smoky, modulated voice and her sultry, languid movements, she's the very essence of mystery and urban sophistication. And of course, we can't forget the other star of the film... no, I don't mean James Stewart... I'm referring to Pyewacket the cat! I love all cats, but it was Pyewacket who kick-started my particular affection for felines from the Siamese family.

The sets and clothing (Gillian's wardrobe is almost exclusively red and black) are a huge part of the film's appeal, and in fact, Bell, Book and Candle was nominated for Oscars in Art Direction/Set Decoration and Costume Design.



Now, I will confess, it's not a perfect movie. There is a moment when things turn decidedly Doris Day-ish, but it's only a few minutes of screen time, and I've trained myself to re-imagine it aesthetically. I'm sure that moment, which I personally refer to as the "big cop-out", was intended to appeal to mainstream audiences of the day. No doubt, Bell, Book and Candle's subculture of beatnik witches and Gillian's avant-garde lifestyle would have seemed comically confronting and weird in the fifties, but I'm guessing that most people who love this movie the way I do, dig it for precisely that delightfully dark fringe factor.

The illustration (left) of Gillian and Pyewacket is by artist, Pete Emslie of The Cartoon Cave.

30 comments:

  1. I was interested enough by the post already, but as soon as I saw the that this was "the inspiration behind Bewitched", that got me REALLY interested! haha!

    Decidedly Doris Day-ish? As someone who's seen Pillow Talk (Err. on...TV! Yes, on TV! I absolutely did not buy a Doris Day four movie pack, of course not!) I can imagine the kind of cop-out this movie has!

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    1. Hi Chris,

      Yes, I believe both 'Bell, Book and Candle' and 'I Married a Witch' were inspirations for 'Bewitched' creator, Sol Saks.

      I'm sure that back in the day, audiences probably considered the bit that I find a cop-out to be the perfect ending... and Doris Day fans probably still do! ;)

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  2. I had no idea either that this was where "Bewitched" came from. It was in re-run by the time I started watching it, but it was still entertaining.

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    1. Hi Ali,

      'Bewitched' reruns have been airing on Aussie TV for as long as I can remember. I was obsessed with that show as a kid. I planned to be a witch like Samantha when I grew up and have a little girl called Tabitha. That never eventuated, but I did name two of my childhood cats Samantha and Tabitha instead. ;D

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  3. I absolutely 'Bell, Book and Candle'. One of my favorite movies of all time. I have always wanted an apartment like Gillian's. I did not know that the movie was inspiration for 'Bewitched', another of my favorite show. Thanks for sharing that information!

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    1. Hi Vivienne,

      So glad to see you back in Blogland! :) Yes, I adore Gillian's apartment, with its little shop at the front, too. My husband and I actually painted our first apartment to look like the one in 'Bell, Book and Candle'. I was always obsessed with The Zodiac Club as well. I loved the idea of a secret, little hangout for like-minded friends. I'm a daydreamer! ;)

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  4. I remember this movie - and the thing I remember most is Pyewacket! I haven't seen it in a long time. Thanks so much for putting up all the stills from the movie. They're wonderful! :-)

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    1. Hi Lexa,

      Yes, Pyewacket is such a character! My cat, Phoebe, is like a smaller, female version of Pye! She's got exactly the same raucous meow and always has to have the last word. :D

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  5. Never saw this one but maybe I should check it out.

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    1. Hi Nightwind,

      It's a fun, stylish movie. It's not gothic-y, but it has a dark and witchy, mid-century cool, which I find very appealing. There are also fabulous supporting actors like Elsa Lanchester, Jack Lemmon, Ernie Kovacs and Hermoine Gingold, who play endearingly eccentric characters.

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  6. I love this movie! I saw it on the big screen at an independant film house years ago. Love the feel and the look of the film, but Pyewacket really steals the show. Speaking of Bewitched, I named my first cat, "Tabitha", and then when I would go out and someone (usually a creeper)would ask my name, I'd say, "Samantha". I still watch it on reruns. I can't stand Mrs. Cravitz, so I have to mute the tv when she's on. That voice!

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    1. Hi Creepy Glowbugg,

      Yes, Pyewacket definitely steals the show! As a kid, I had a long-haired, white cat called Samantha, and later, we had a long-haired tabby called Tabitha. I've always loved the name Tabitha!

      I still watch the 'Bewitched' reruns when I see them on too. I love Serena and Uncle Arthur! :D

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  7. I love her red and black outfits... and the look on the face of her cat ;-D

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    1. Hi Magaly,

      Yes, her red and black outfits are gorgeous! That's why the "cop-out" moment is so disappointing for me. *sigh*

      The cat was really blissing out during that scene in the movie. You can tell that Kim Novak is really comfortable handling kitties. :)

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  8. You really make me want to see this movie! I never saw it. I tried to watch the remake from a few years ago, but I couldn't get through it.

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    1. Hi Ms Misantropia,

      Oh, I was horrified to hear that there was an Alicia Keys remake of 'Bell, Book and Candle'. I'm pretty sure it wasn't released theatrically in Australia.... thank goodness! The original is so much a part of its beatnik-y era that it seems criminal to redo it. Kim Novak will always be the ONLY Gillian Holroyd for me! :D

      I think the "cop-out" bit will annoy you like it annoys me, but the rest of the movie is so wonderful that it's worth overlooking that little fault... or re-imagining it... like I do! ;)

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  9. I have to admit I haven't heard of this movie. I love the old classics. Also, I love Pete's illustration.

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    1. The film is set during Christmas, Julie, and if you get the chance, that's a great time to watch it and inject a little fun, Halloween-style spirit into the Yuletide season. :)

      Yes, I agree, Pete's illustration is fabulous!

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  10. I haven't seen this one in years! I barely remember it, other than Hermoine Gingold. I seem to vaguely remember her being quite funny in the movie. I'll have to see if I can't find the movie somewhere - without having to buy it. ;o)

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    1. Oh, Hermoine Gingold is fabulous, Insomniac's Attic! She's so hilariously eccentric as Bianca de Passe, the grande dame of the Manhattan witch community. Elsa Lanchester is adorable as Aunt Queenie too! Then there's the always fabulous Jack Lemmon! And Ernie Kovacs as a drunken author... love it all! :D

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  11. Until I read this post I didn't really think about it but, yeah, I can absolutely relate to this steady re-run TV diet of the magical, beatnik 60s sitcoms...Surreal. This may be why I prefer my horror supernatural and funny. Oh, our formative years! :-)
    Some Dark Romantic

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    1. Hi Mina,

      Yes, my favourite horror tends to be supernatural with elements of humour, too! The very early childhood influences that made me what I am were, without doubt, sixties sitcom reruns, watching Hammer Horrors and Sebastian Cabot's, 'Ghost Story', series on TV with my dad, and devouring my dad's paperback collections of Charles Addams and Ronald Searle cartoons. My fate was sealed! ;)

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  12. Haven't seen or heard of it, at least not that title. The German title is pretty silly:

    "Meine Braut ist übersinnlich" = which translates to 'My Bride is extrasensory', but also works as wordplay as the German word "sinnlich" means sultry, so you could say, it could also mean 'My bride is over-sultry' =)

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    1. Hi Maynard,

      I've seen quite a few European posters for 'Bell, Book and Candle'. I quite like the German poster, although I didn't know the translation. The Italian poster, 'Una Strega in Paradiso', is cool too! James Stewart looks VERY strange in the French poster though, which is titled, 'Adorable Voisine'. :D

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  13. Haha omg, Adorable Voisine looks really weird :)

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  14. I saw this as a random midday tv rerun a couple of years ago and was surprised at how good it was. I really enjoyed it and want to see it again. What was the Doris Day moment? You can leave me a message on my blog if you don't want to spoil it for anyone, I just don't know much about Doris Day and it will drive me crazy wondering!

    I seem to remember she had a really cool house/shop!

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    1. Yes, she had a really cool house/shop, Laura! When I first saw the movie, as a teenager, I wanted to live in that idealized Greenwich Village. I loved her apartment, shop, cat, the Zodiac Club... everything! :D

      I'll email you about the Doris Day moment. ;)

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  15. I was on an Ebay search for 50s/60s teapots of the ilk that Kim Novak uses in her socks-less tea date with James Stewart in Bell, Book & Candle. That search eventually led me here somehow, and this is such a charming blog! I love your style and I feel exactly the same about all the inspirations you list - even Arsenic & Old Lace! As you so articulately put it, the "cocktail chic" of Bell, Book & Candle mixed with the spooky elements made it so memorable. I want to be Gillian Holroyd! I've promised my boyfriend that the next cats we are getting will be named Pandora (if a girl) and Pyewacket if a boy XD Love your Phoebe in the side pic there! That little witch's hat is precious!!!

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    1. Thank you for your lovely comment, revolutionforbreakfast! You're clearly a girl after my own heart! :)

      I adore the 'Bell, Book and Candle' tea set too! The same tea set was also used in the television series 'Bewitched'. Here's a link with more information that I think might interest you:

      http://www.harpiesbizarre.com/housewares.htm

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