It’s not a Christmas classic of anything like the calibre of It’s a Wonderful Life or Miracle on 34th Street, but Bell, Book and Candle – the 1958 romantic comedy about a Manhattan witch who falls in love on December 25th – is one of my favourite festive season films. It may have been James Stewart who attracted me to the movie in the first place, but nowadays I love it not just for his performance as the publisher who falls under the spell of a sultry sorceress – but also for the stylish, beatnik wardrobe slinkily worn by Kim Novak – and designed by Jean Louis. Here’s how she looks when we first see her, in her character Gill’s primitive art shop – wearing her black polo neck and trousers and red tunic.
The film begins on Christmas Eve when Gill tells her cat Pyewacket how she yearns for a man – before she knows it she’s falling in love with new neighbour Shep Henderson (James Stewart). Later that evening, at the Zodiac Club where she and the rest of the Greenwich Village chapter of the sorceress sisterhood hang out, she discovers that Shep is about to marry her old school nemesis – and suddenly, using witchcraft to get the guy doesn’t seem like a bad idea. Here she is coming home in her velvet hooded cloak, scarlet muffler and bright red gloves which match the red satin shoes she showed off in the club.
Later that evening, as if by magic, Shep stops by Gill’s place – and they get to know each other.. The romance begins on the settee where Shep gets an eyeful of Gill, whose slashed-neck, long-sleeved maroon evening gown looks fairly conservative – until she turns round to reveal that, like many of the dresses that Kim Novak was photographed in during this period, it has no back.
After the spell has been cast, the couple spend an enchanted night which climaxes with a swoonsome love scene at the top of the Flatiron Building on a snowy Christmas morning. Admittedly, some of the colours in the film are a little dreary (including Kim Novak’s hair which looks slightly pinkish on my DVD) but the simplicity of the clothes and the fact that they all work together makes it super-stylish. Easily the best outfit in Gill’s wardrobe of blacks, maroons and reds is the one which features a tomato-red snood and matching gloves, plus a show-stopping leopard-print cape which is just as fashionable now as in 1958.
Snoods, hoods and cowl necks are Gill’s signature shapes and when she visits Shep at work , she ditches the sexy leopard-print cape in favour of a black one. Or does she? Look closely at the outfit she’s wearing as she enters his office ..
The leopard print is the most obvious example of why this film is so very now, and such a treasure trove for those of us who like to pinch ideas from the past. There’s also the matter of the make-up: red lips and nails (see the first picture) are the height of chic this Christmas. If you’ve never seen the movie and feel like some festive romance, check it out – there’s lots to enjoy.