Bell Book and Candle (1958)
Directed by Richard Quine
Friday, August 31, at BAM, part of its American Gagsters series.
Charm. Mesmerize. Ensnare. Beguile. What is it about witches that has always made them the perfect metaphor for the power of seduction, the fear of feminine wiles, and the temptation to burn scary bitches at the stake? “A witch?'” responds Jimmy Stewart’s jilted fiance about his new lover, Kim Novak, in this enchanted mid-century Christmas romance. “Shep, you just never learned to spell.”
Made the same year as Vertigo, this is a mirror image sorta-sequel with the same stars, with light-hearted, kooky occult explanations for the unexplainable instead of Vertigo‘s vortex of cynicism.Stewart’s and Novak’s chemistry continues uninterrupted from Hitchcock’s spinning kiss. Director Quine flailed at comedy, but few have done romance so well. Notable especially are scenes of entwined bare-feet on a coffee table, the way the hypnotic draw of a new lover’s place is depicted as a form of summoning, and also the elliptical editing of a first evening spent together, when only the intruding dawn can interrupt time that’s been frozen since the moment of first touch.
Most ingenious is the way Quine used sound, amplifying a hum mixed with an extra-loud purr at the moment Stewart becomes hooked. It is a delight to see Stewart’s passion gently satiated here: he’s (literally) pussy-whipped instead of twisted into rankled obsession. This movie is also of historical note for inventing the basic sound effects for magic, used later in Bewitched and countless cartoons: “a low frequency organ tone which is sped up after five seconds, a piano chord apparently played back at double speed, and chimes or bells that go into a fast feedback echo loop.”