The Nightmare Before Christmas isn’t the only Christmas/Halloween crossover movie ever made. There’s also Bell, Book and Candle, a smart and surprisingly twisted romantic comedy starring Kim Novak and James Stewart. It opened on Christmas Day 1958 and takes place at Christmas–the climax happens at midnight on Christmas Eve. And while one big plot point gives me serious indigestion, it’s one of my absolute favorites.
Kim Novak is Gillian Holroyd, a witch who runs an art gallery in New York–this is one of those New York movies where all the people, sets, and costumes are gloriously glamorous. James Stewart is Shepherd Henderson, a publisher who lives in the apartment upstairs. (We know he’s a classy guy because he’s got two last names.) Our girl Gillian isn’t looking for romance, far from it. She’s very happy living single with her familiar, a gorgeous Siamese cat named Pyewacket. Besides, any witch who falls in love for real risks losing all her powers. (That’s the part that makes my stomach gurgle just a bit.) She’s much too sensible and kind-hearted to vamp some poor sap with her supernatural charms (including but not limited to looking just Kim Novak) for the sake of a cheap thrill. But Shep’s just asking for it. First he annoys her Aunt Queenie, another witch played by Elsa Lancaster of Bride of Frankenstein fame. Then he has the audacity to be engaged to the bullying pill who tortured Gillian in college. How could any witch resist?
The whole “a witch can’t love and still do magic” thing sticks in my craw, of course, along with Gillian’s many lamentations about wanting to be “normal.” But watching Novak and Stewart banter and succumb is worth the allowances to be made. These are the same two who had steamed up the screen earlier that year as the doomed lovers in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, and it’s lovely to see them in something with laughs. And while the paranormal angle is a little watered-down by modern urban fantasy standards, it still has a pretty delicious bite, particularly for 1958.
Turner Classic Movies is showing Bell, Book and Candle at 8 pm EDT on Thursday, October 3, 2019 (today if you’re reading this on posting day), and I highly recommend it. And if you want six versions of my own take on witchy girls in love, check out Eat the Peach: And Other Wicked Tales, available now from Falstaff Crush.