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FDL Movie Night: Bell, Book and Candle

Tonight’s movie, Bell, Book and Candle, based on the play by John Van Druten, addresses aspects of love and power, as well as magic and romance. It’s really a tragedy rather than a comedy, as it reinforces stereotypical roles about men, women and witches.

In BB&C–which was directed by an old family friend Richard Quine, who I thought was soooo cool as I was growing up–Greenwich gallery owner/witch Gillian’s attention is drawn to new neighbor Shep Henderson (Jimmy Stewart) so her aunt, also a witch, does a spell to draw them together. The implication is that it’s lust, as opposed to falling in love–according to the plot, not real life–will cause a witch to loose her powers.

Gillian (Kim Novak) discovers that her potential lover is engaged to Merle, a woman she knew and disliked in college. Thanks to spell work, they all run into each other at the Zodiac Club, a wonderful occult themed nightclub/hangout for witches.  Gillian gives the snooty woman what-for with the help of her brother Nicky (Jack Lemmon), a warlock. (In real life, male witches are still witches, not warlocks!)

Shep falls more and more in love with Gillian. He also agrees, much to her chagrin, to publish a book on Greenwich Village witches, which her brother will help write.

When the book is ready for publication, Gillian does a spell to make Shep lose interest in it.  She confesses all to Shep, who becomes furious, accusing her of casting a spell on him to get even with Merle. He then dumps her, and Gillian realizes she has lost her powers because she is in fact in love with him. Eventually Shep comes back and there’s Gillian still in her art gallery. Only now it’s a shop selling ugly seashell bouquets, and instead of being dressed in a gorgeous Jean Louis black gown or a sleek cat suit, she’s wearing a drab yellow dress. It dawns on Shep maybe he is really in love with her after all and they live happily every after. They kiss. The End.

This movie implies a man would only love a woman after her power and sexuality are gone. Of course it could also be implying that he loves her core and the spells aren’t necessary–but that core is a shown as a drab little precursor to June Cleaver, reinforcing stereotypes of what a “wife” and mother of children should be.

BB&C presents that women lose their power when they fall in love, as do witches. I can attest to the latter being false. So does the TV show Bewitched; however Darrin Stephens did order his witchy wife Sam not use witchcraft. I think she picked the most dreadful mortal available to prove to her family that witches and mortals could in fact live happily ever after–though the subtext is “without either family butting in.” But again Bewitched shows a woman having to change for her husband, rather than him accepting her as she is, a contrary view to the Addams Family, in which Morticia Addams was even odder than Gomez, and that’s why he adored her!

Here’s to love and to being yourself! Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Lisa Derrick

Lisa Derrick

Los Angeles native, attended UC Berkeley and Loyola Marymount University before punk rock and logophilia overtook her life. Worked as nightclub columnist, pop culture journalist and was a Hollywood housewife before writing for and editing Sacred History Magazine. Then she discovered the thrill of politics. She also appears frequently on the Dave Fanning Show, one of Ireland's most popular radio broadcasts.