Archive for the Movies Category

Bell, Book and Candle, 1958

Posted in 50s, Movies, SFW on 7 September 2011 by redwitch1

I was asked four years ago (!) why I hadn’t already done a post on Bell, Book and Candle (1958). I said then that I hadn’t managed to get any press-photos, that screen-caps were difficult to manage and that magazine images were always course-screened: some of which still applies, but I now have a mass of screen-caps, a full set of lobby cards, one press photo and a trailer. I have also just re-watched it so I thought it was time to do a post on this famous film. (However, I will do it in two parts: this one with the lobby cards, the next one the screen caps.)

Since there are numerous online reviews of the film, I really don’t need to go into any great detail about the plot. In a nut-shell: a bored witch (above, right) casts a love-spell, compelling a man (centre) to jilt his bride (left)—who the witch knows—to hook up with her instead; by the time he discovers the deception, breaks the spell and leaves her, she has fallen in love with him and—as a consequence—has lost her powers; later, when he discovers this, they get back together and live happily ever after. Some people would describe it as “a charming romantic comedy.”

Witches will be intrigued and amused by the representation of witchcraft and magic in the film, and delighted to see the stunning Kim Novak as the lead witch (more of which, anon), but the film’s message is ghastly. Novak’s character (Gilliam Holroyd) is young, cool, strong-willed beautiful, rich and independent (she owns the building, and her own business, and travels widely and at will), she is powerful and respected (as a witch), intelligent and knowledgeable in Art and Anthropology, is well-versed in witchcraft—African, South American and Asian. She is also a free-spirit, sexually independent, with exotic and avant-garde tastes and unconventional behaviour. And she has a great Siamese cat/familiar, Pyewackett.

By the end of the film, Gilliam has lost her hip and exotic charm, along with her familiar her powers and the respect of other witches, she gives up her avant-garde tastes, unconventional behaviour and clothes. African masks and statues are replaced by pretty shells and flowers; and her bare feet and simple and stark black and blood-red velvets and silks give way to heels, frilly and fussy pinks and white gauze. And the marker of her transformation from unmarriageable witch to bride is that her husband-to-be (Shep Henderson) makes her cry: and is over-joyed when he sees her cry! It is difficult not to see this as a transparent representation of what society demanded of women in the 50s.


When it is laid out as starkly as this you might expect some indication from the film (or the play it is based on) that this is a horror-story for women, that the only way this morality-tale could be any more bleak is if it went the direction of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1962; 1975) or Sucker Punch (2011) by having James Stewart hold Novak down and perform a lobotomy on her with a drill and then stitch her into a chastity belt. (The fact that she performs the metaphoric lobotomy on herself—for “love”—only makes it harder to watch.) But no, the audience is encouraged to rejoice in Novak’s transformation—her romantic comedy make-over—and to see the story as an example of the triumph of unlikely love or of love in adversity. The feisty, naughty witch perishes at the end and the reviewers rejoiced—and rejoice still to judge by the reviews I have seen.


Of course, most of the film is dominated by the feisty, naughty witch, in a variety of stunning costumes and locations, and this hugely-appealing representation of Novak as a young witch is not erased by her anodyne transformation at the end of the film. The viewer goes away remembering how they were mesmerized by Novak humming a spell to her cat in a blood-red and backless velvet gown, or by the sight of her slinking around in a sheer black silk outfit. They don’t remember her crying and defeated, looking like a meringue.

But to return to the witchy-ness: the blurb on the play-script by John Van Druten reads, in part: “He thinks she loves him. How does she explain that while sex is encouraged among her ‘people,’ love is forbidden?” It is hard to know whether the constant circumlocutions in the play/film about “our people” are used to heighten the suspense and comedy, or whether they are representative of some sort of squeamishness about witches and witchcraft. But it is fun to see urban witches represented as a large and diverse (albeit hidden) group.

The action occurs in New York, in Jazz clubs, and in lounge rooms furnished at the acme of 50s taste. The denizens of the Zodiac Club—which offers beatnik Jazz and avant-garde theatre—are a mix of finger-snapping hipsters, elegant young women, suave city-men and formally-attired middle-aged (and older) couples.** We discover that witches “come into their power” at different ages, suggesting both that their powers are natural and that witches—as a group—are just as diverse as non-witches. Also, allthough the witches cast spells there is no hint of diabolism or demonism (though the African masks and totems do suggest a bit of this). We see a city herbalist, who has some distinctly odd-ingredients for sale, but both this and Gillian’s African sculptures smack more of cosmopolitanism than an anti-Christian conspiracy. In other words, the witchcraft in Bell, Book and Candle has been both naturalized and neutralised. Witches are shown to be caring (Gillian looks after her aunt), and non-witches, like Merle Kittridge (jilted by Shep) are shown to be petty-minded and uncaring (Merle made Gillian’s life very unpleasant at school, makes fun of her brother etc).

Although Gillian’s familiar is named “Pyewacket”—a name reported by Matthew Hopkins in The Discovery of Witches (1647)—that is the extent of the genuine or historical witchcraft in the play or film: the incantations and rituals are invented, and have only the most tenuous connections with traditional witchcraft and no connection with emergent Wicca. In fact, the influence all runs the other way: Bell, Book and Candle offered many hints to the writers of Bewitched (troublesome Aunt Queenie for instance became Aunt Clara), which brought the wonderful Samantha into the lounge-rooms of every television viewer of the 60s and 70s, convincing a generation that “sexy witch” was not a contradiction in terms.

* * * * *

Apparently Stewart was self-conscious about the age gap between himself and Novak (he was 50, she was 25), and after this film gave up on romantic roles all together. The large number of men and women in the film who are clearly even older than Stewart seem to have been included in the cast to contrast with romantic lead—to make him appear younger by comparison. And you have to wonder whether Novak’s hair colour—which is closer to grey than blonde—was tinted for the same reason. Van Druten specified that Gillian must be “twenty-seven—small, alert, direct, very attractive” while Shep “anywhere from thirty-five up, masculine and attractive”.

Daring Dorothy Dix, Sexy Witch, 1928

Posted in 20s, Halloween, Movies, Photograph on 16 April 2011 by redwitch1

This is one of two press photos I have of Dorothy Dix (1908–2000), who was a “Hal Roach comedy player.” I know this because blind stamped on this photo is “Hal Roach * Studios Photo *” and typed on the back is the shout:

Dorothy Dix, Hal Roach comedy player, is the personification of the Spirit of Halloween. Starr, Sept 18, ’28

Penciled on the back of the second photo is “Dorothy Dix, Hal Roach M. S. M. Comedies.” I haven’t been able to discover who or what “M. S. M. Comedies” is, but I am assuming MSM does not stand for M[ust] S[ee] M[ovies]!

Dix’s first appearance in film was in a short, silent western, called A Fighting Tenderfoot, which was released on 29 December 1928. This photo is dated 18 September 1928, a month before the release of Dix’s first film. I said last week that press photos were used to promote new talent and this is a perfect example, where the photos were released to drum up interest in someone new.

Dix appeared in another seventeen films, nine shorts and four without appearing in the credits. So, not exactly the stellar career that Colleen Moore enjoyed, but she did appear in Dante’s Inferno (1935), which is pretty cool. And this photo is pretty cool too. Like last week’s photo of Moore, the props and backdrop are less interesting than the costume and the model. The floor and wall are bare, Dix holds a large JOL in her right hand and a pole(?) with a cardboard cut-out scaredy cat attached to it, in her left (detail below). The pole only appears in this photo, so I can’t tell if this is actually a broomstick, with the brush out of frame.

Like Moore, Dix has a veil draped behind her, but it is billowing out beside her, as it would if she were flying. (Which, of course, makes no sense since she is standing upright and has nothing to fly on …). Dix’s outfit is a lot more daring than Moore’s. Rather than a neck-to-toe dress, Dix is bearing her arms, legs, and her top has a plunging v-shaped neckline with a separate silk collar. Her daring silk shorts are two-coloured, as is her top—like these outfits from 1949.

I am going to go out on a limb here and say that I think the outfit is probably orange and black, though the 1949 outfit worn by Penny Edward and Barbara Bates was coloured red and white when it was printed in V. (See below. The tone of the Dix photos looks closer to orange than white and I am not convinced the colouring of the Edward and Bates photo is original.)

I Married A Witch, Some Press Photos

Posted in 40s, Movies, Photograph, SFW on 30 September 2010 by redwitch1

You have seen the pre-film pictures of Veronica Lake (here), the pre-press promotions, including heralds (here), so now you are ready to see fifteen of the ca. one hundred and fifty Press Photos issued for I Married A Witch (1942).

[1 Jennifer is rescued from the hotel fire by Wooly. She is draped in his coat, not buck-naked as she is in the book (see the original illustration of this scene here)]
[2 Wooly takes Jennifer home]

As you can see from the codes written on many of them, some of these photos were re-issued in 1956. Since the 1942 issues are over a hundred a piece, and the 1956 issues are printed from the same negatives, I have bought either whenever I could, and whenever they were affordable. Which is not often. Still, I don’t want to think about what I have spent.

[3 Wooly isn't happy that Jennifer has appeared in his bed, in his PJs (what an idiot)]
[4 Jennifer slides down—and then up—the stair-rail in said PJs. This is the image that was used in promotional advertisements]

I have seen series numbers from 1956–1 to 1956–99 (stills from the film, some posed) and P2745–519 to P2745–554 (press photos, posed off set). I guess the P2745 off-set series actually contains about fifty or sixty photos (P2745–500 to P2745–560-ish).

[5 Jennifer is knocked out …]
[6 … and is given the love-potion she had prepared for Wooly]

So, like I said, about one hundred and fifty photos, which you might spend $100 each on (or about $15,000), and years trying to get them all.

[7 Wooly doesn't know what to do]

Why would you do it? Well, just look at them! Sensational costumes, very cute actor, add a bit of nostalgia for WWII-period films, and that would be enough. But, not only is this film fun to watch, it is probably one of the most important influences on the representation of the modern witch. As I have said before

According to Marion Gibson (see here), the influence of this novel can be seen in John van Druten’s Bell, Book and Candle (a play, written in 1948, performed and published 1950, filmed 1958), Bewitched (TV sitcom, 1964–1972), Sabrina the Teenage Witch (comic, 1971–83; TV animation, 1971–74; film, 1996; TV sitcom, 1996–2003) and Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic (novel, published 1995; film, 1998). Undoubtedly, this list could be extended.

[8 this is a posed photo, not a scene from the film]

All of which is enough reason for me to keep collecting; and for you to stay tuned. And next week, you get to see the big-ticket items!

[9 Ah. that dress]
[10 Posed photo, hag vs sexy witch]
[11 The loving couple; Lake in that dress again …]
[12 … in all it's glory (though Lake seems unhappy: perhaps she is tired of being posed?)]
[13 happier, and casual (perhaps she has finally been allowed to see herself in the mirror?)]
[14 Veronica Lake, Sultry Witch, OMG]
[15 Veronica Lake, Sexy Witch, with many a leering JOL. Who can blame them?]

Heralding I Married A Witch

Posted in 40s, Movies, SFW on 18 September 2010 by redwitch1

“She knows all about Love-potions and Lovely Motions!”

Above are two of the advertisements that ran in magazines in the US before the release of I Married A Witch (1942). Below are the heralds that were handed out in advance of screenings of the film in cinemas in France (Ma femme est une sorcière; 1944), Germany (Meine Frau, die Hexe; 1946), Yugoslavia (Ozenih se vesticom; 1947?) and in the States (1942 and 1948).

“No man can resist her! Young … beautiful … all a man could want—and a witch besides. She knows how to bother ‘em … bewilder ‘em … bewitch ‘em … and make ‘em love it!”

“She gets what she wants with Hex Appeal!” “Veronica knows all the tricks (natural and super-natural) on how to land a man. And, brother, she uses them! Wait’ll you see her get Freddie with hex appeal in the year’s different comedy-romance”

“Come Here You Witch!”

Here is one of the “Prepared Reviews” from the 1948 herald.

“I Married a Witch” is Thrilling, Exciting Drama, Full of Surprises. Superb Cast in Modern Streamlined Witch Tale by Rene Clair

Thrilling, exciting, enchanting, with a plot that’s fast-moving and packed with surprises. “I Married a Witch,” the Rene Clair drama, opened yesterday at the ……Theatre thru Masterpiece release. Frederic March and Veronica Lake are the starring team of this charming and different picture, and Robert Benchley, Susan Hayward, and Cecil Kelleway featured players.

The gifted Rene Clair has taken an honest-to-goodness witch-tale, brought it down to modern times, streamlined it, and left out the shuddering horrors.

Veronica Lake, first seen as a smoky spirit traveling through space with her sorcerer-father Cecil Kelleway, gets a body in order to perform some nasty witchcraft aimed against the hero Frederic March, and intending to keep him from becoming governor of the state—and from marrying his sweetheart Susan Hayward.

One of the films most thrilling scenes is the wedding of March and Hayward in which the two march to the altar three times, but don’t get married. It’s witchcraft at its peak!

The witch gets her man, but not before she drinks a love potion intended for him, which makes her fall terribly in love with the man she wanted to destroy. Its romance at its best between March and Lake, and the humor is beautifully taken care of by Benchley and Kellaway. Veronica’s magic ability to show up when and where she’s least expected is enough to provoke screams. There are suurprises aplenty in store for you when you see “I Married a Witch,” but this reviewer hesitates to tell more and spoil them.

Too much praise cannot be given to the superb cast headed by March and Lake, nor to Rene Clair for giving us one of the most unusual and delightful dramas seen on the screen for many a day.

Veronica Lake, The Sexiest Witch of the 40s?

Posted in 40s, Magazine, Movies, Photograph, Postcard, SFW on 11 September 2010 by redwitch1

James has suggested that I have “missed the sexiest witch of the 1940′s: Veronica Lake in I Married a Witch.” James, you are only half right. Four years ago (!), I did a very long entry on The Passionate Witch, 1942. Since then I have been collecting. And collecting. And collecting.

I now have Heralds and Press books in English, French, German and Yugoslavian! I have Lobby Cards from the US, Mexico and Italy, about a dozen Press Photos and some Magazine articles and postcards; I also have fourteen copies of the book.

So, I have been busy. The problem is that there is a lot that I still want, that I really want, because I agree, Veronica Lake is, probably, the sexiest witch of the 40s!

Unfortunately, original posters start at about USD1000 (here is one for USD7500—it was USD8500), lobby cards at USD250 and Press Photos at USD100, which is why I have no poster, and only one US lobby card.

This time last year I went crazy and bid USD750 on a 37×15 inch day bill poster, but was outbid. And there are at least 150 Press photos! What this means is that, given another four years, and a limitless budget I would need about USD20,000 to do the post that I have always wanted to do on this film.

But I guess after four years without a limitless budget it is time to admit to myself I am never going to be able to do the post I want to do, and to at least make a start based on what I have. So, James, here we go, here is a taster.

Here you have only two postcards—from before the film—and The Sunday News magazine cover of 6 April 1941—in an outfit from the film, but from before the film was released. All three are great images of the delightful Veronica Lake. During the week I will do a separate post on the film Heralds, and then another on the Press Photos. Stay tuned!

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