Bell, Book and Candle ★★★½

A Halloween story set at Christmas, a kind of Disney film for adults that is suitable for kids but might not engage them, Bell, Book and Candle is good but not great.

I assumed, after the way things started, that the film would chart Greenwich Village witch Gil (Kim Novak)’s wooing of straight-laced publisher Shep (Jimmy Stewart), who lives in the apartment above the shop in which she sells various occult items. Instead, the story cuts to the chase by having Gill put a spell on Shep – with the aid of her familiar, Pyewacket, a Siamese cat.

Of course, this isn’t really playing fair but since Shep is supernaturally diverted from an intended marriage to Merle (Janice Rule), a bête noire of Gil’s when at college, it’s just about permissible (sort of).

Bell isn’t terribly funny but it’s engaging enough and it’s hard not to enjoy a cast that features Stewart, Novak, Elsa Lanchester (great fun), Jack Lemmon (c’mon, it’s Jack Lemmon!) and Hermione Gingold (a hoot). I particularly enjoyed Ernie Kovac’s perma-dazed writer, who dabbles in the world of the dark arts with having any real knowledge of it. His performance is simply wonderful.

Naturally, after one or two missteps, things turn out just the way you’d expect but it’s a shame that – in order for Shep to truly love her – Gil must dress and act like a ‘regular’ person (which means selling ‘normal’ items in her shop, too.). Still, things are wrapped up quite nicely.

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