BELL, BOOK AND CANDLE
When I was a child, BELL, BOOK AND CANDLE ($25) was one of those movies that were always being shown on television. No matter how many times that I had seen it before, I was sure to be glued to the tube for each and every broadcast. Since my love of the film was genuine, I was eager to acquire BELL, BOOK AND CANDLE the first time it was released on Laserdisc. Unfortunately, that Image Entertainment Laserdisc seemed to have been created from a cropped broadcast master with atrocious color. As you might have guessed, I quickly got rid of that lousy Laserdisc. A few years later, Columbia TriStar Home Video released their own Laserdisc edition of BELL, BOOK AND CANDLE, again the movie was cropped, but the colors were significantly better. This brings us to Columbia TriStarís latest incarnation of BELL, BOOK AND CANDLE, a DVD release that sports a brand new transfer, that is not only wide screen, but enhanced for playback on 16:9 displays.
For those of you unfamiliar with BELL, BOOK AND CANDLE, this is the film that re-teams James Stewart and Kim Novak, who had starred together in Alfred Hitchcockís masterpiece VERTIGO. BELL, BOOK AND CANDLE was one of the films that Stewart was obligated to make at Columbia Pictures, after the studio had been gracious enough to lend out Novak to Paramount for VERTIGO. While this movie certainly canít hold a bell, a book or a candle to a cinematic masterpiece like VERTIGO, it is a pleasant romantic comedy that I like a whole heck of a lot.
The plot of BELL, BOOK AND CANDLE takes a playful look at witchcraft in 1950ís Manhattan. James Stewart portrays Shep Henderson, a book publisher who recently moved into an apartment above a shop that sells unusual art. Kim Novak plays Shepís downstairs neighbor Gillian Holroyd, the shopkeeper who also happens to be a practicing witch. Gillian immediately takes a liking to her new neighbor and wishes she had someone nice like that in her life. However, when Gillian discovers that Shep is about to marry her old college rival, Merle Kittridge (Janice Rule), she casts a spell on Shep to save him from another kind of witch- the kind that starts with the letter "B." Shep falls hard for Gillian, but eventually she realizes she has to tell him the truth about herself, as well as why he is so madly in love with her. BELL, BOOK AND CANDLE also stars Jack Lemmon as Gillianís bongo playing warlock brother Nicky, Elsa Lanchester is Gillianís dotty old aunt Queenie, Hermione Gingold plays powerful elder with Bianca De Pass and Ernie Kovacs is the somewhat clueless and inebriated supernatural author Sidney Redlitch.
Columbia TriStar Home Video has done a nice job with their DVD release of BELL, BOOK AND CANDLE. The dual layered DVD offers viewers a choice of watching BELL, BOOK AND CANDLE in either cropped or anamorphic wide screen presentations. BELL, BOOK AND CANDLE was shot in a hard 1.85:1 matte, so do yourself a favor and avoid the cropped television version. Although the wide screen DVD is the absolute best that BELL, BOOK AND CANDLE has ever looked at home, even I have to admit the presentation isnít perfect. BELL, BOOK AND CANDLE was shot by master cinematographer James Wong Howe, as well as being originally presented in IB Technicolor, so I really expected the colors on this DVD to be better. Unfortunately, the hues on this disc are inconsistent; appearing vibrant in some places and somewhat faded in others. Since BELL, BOOK AND CANDLE was made at roughly the same time as VERTIGO, I would imagine that the film elements for the former probably require the same kind of restorative work applied to the latter.
Other than the inconsistent color, the transfer itself looks relatively good. The image isnít as sharp or detailed as a new movie, but it looks good for a non-restored film from 1958. Film grain is noticeable intermittently throughout the presentation and there are a few age related imperfections in the print. As I stated above, colors vary in saturation, including the flesh tones, but I would never say that this particular flaw is distracting. Additionally, there are no problems with chroma noise or bleeding. While blacks appear accurate and the contrast is smooth, the level of shadow detail falls below what one normally sees in new movies.
The Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack has the sonic limitations one normally associates with films that pre-date the Dolby era by twenty years. However, the track is pretty clean sounding and the actorís voices always remain intelligible. A Spanish monaural soundtrack has also been encoded onto the DVD, as have English and Spanish subtitles. The interactive menus are standard, offering access to the expected scene selection and set up features. Also available through the menu system are three theatrical trailers, one of which is for BELL, BOOK AND CANDLE. Filling out the extras is a still gallery of vintage advertising materials and talent files for cast and crew.
As a fan of this movie, I am pretty happy with Columbia TriStar Home Videoís DVD edition of BELL, BOOK AND CANDLE. Unless somebody decides that BELL, BOOK AND CANDLE is a classic of the magnitude of VERTIGO, this is as good as this movie is going to look at home.
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