Boy meets girl. Girl is actually a witch. Boy dumps fiancee. Boy and girl fall in love. Boy finds out that girl put a spell on him. Let the fireworks begin.
That's the basic plot of "Bell Book and Candle," which tackled the funny witchy-romance story long before Samantha or Sabrina existed, and with more humour and polish than either. It's just a cute romance with a unique twist, a cute cat, and meddling sorcery.
It's Christmastime, and Manhattan witch Gillian Holroyd (Kim Novak) is in a rut. Then she meets hunky publisher Shepherd (James Stewart), who is engaged to her old college nemesis. So with the assistance of her cat Pyewacket, she casts a spell to make Shep fall madly in love with her, and drop backstabbing Merle (Janice Rule). Itr works like a... well, like a charm.
But things start to go wrong when Gil's aunt Queenie (Elsa Lanchester) and her pal Nicky (Jack Lemmon) start talking to a bestselling author on witchcraft -- who decides to write a book on the Manhattan witches. What's worse, Gil is falling in love with Shep -- which means her powers will vanish -- and decides to tell him the truth about the love spell.
"Bell Book and Candle" is not really a romantic comedy, so much as a romance movie with some funny characters. And of course there's a low-key fantasy angle -- basically all the witches and warlocks do is cast a few spells, honk car horns, and occasionally boil something in a cauldron. (Hermione Gingold as a showy old witch)
James Stewart tried out whimsy in the delightful "Harvey," where he's a man who claims to have a companion pooka. He plays the opposite side in "Bell Book and Candle" -- he's the victim of magic weirdness rather than the source. Kim Novak gives a chilly, otherworldly performance as a sophisticated witch. Expect weird romantic sparks to fly.
The plot does come slightly unwound in the last act, after Shep takes his love spell cure (his face as he drinks the potion is the funniest scene of the movie) and leaves the building. But it winds itself back up for a satisfactory finale. It also benefits from snappy dialogue that lasts from the first to the last scene ("That girl you know, Gillian Holroyd -- she's one." "A witch? Shep, you just never learned to spell")
All this "Bell Book and Candle" business creates a charming romance, with solid acting, great script, a dash of humor and newt's liver. Enchanting.