Bell Book and Candle (Richard Quine / U.S., 1958):

Witches in New York, "right here, all around us, a whole community of them," just the endearing midpoint between The Seventh Victim and Rosemary's Baby. A fine pagan eye on Holy Night kicks off the fun, the camera strolls through the primitive art boutique and finds the barefoot sorceress (Kim Novak) pining for something new. The humdrum has its charm to the bored occultist, upstairs is the publisher (James Stewart) who merely needs a trip to the Zodiac Club and an infatuation spell. (As the catty fiancée scared of thunder, Janice Rule is sent packing by a jazzy rendition of "Stormy Weather.") Blue lights and green flames, the incantation of romance and the gift of unhappiness, "un-American activities or something." "I'd say very American. Early American." The air of wistful enchantment is a Richard Quine specialty, the feline beauty contemplating her identity is a Novak signature. (The Vertigo side theme has Stewart on a library ladder, plus a marvelous documentary shot looking down from the Flatiron Building on a misty morning.) Witchcraft like beatnik quirk, coven meetings held beneath the herb shop, the square can't quite grasp it and yet "there's a market for the supernatural." The bushy literary fraud (Ernie Kovacs) already has his eyes set on his next opus ("Voodoo Among the Virgins"), the gallery of mellow zanies includes the prankish warlock (Jack Lemmon) blissfully tapping on bongos, the aunt (Elsa Lanchester) giggling at her own mischief, and the Brooklyn harpy (Hermione Gingold) ready with exorcism and potion. Una furtiva lagrima brings the heroine to the mortals—the "little world of separateness" left behind, or simply conjured up as normalcy? Rivette gladly receives it all in Histoire de Marie et Julien. Cinematography by James Wong Howe.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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