Today is the amazing Jimmy Stewart’s birthday. Since TCM so thoughtfully decided to play a marathon of Stewart’s movies (and I have the day off!) I decided to watch one of his movies I have never seen before. The fact that the movie also stars Kim Novak and Jack Lemmon is an added bonus!

I have actually never even heard of this film: Bell, Book, and Candle. The central plot revolves around two witches, warlock, and an unsuspecting book publisher (Stewart).

The scene opens on Christmas Eve as Gillian (Novak) laments her loneliness. She is an art dealer and also, a witch. She is clearly interested in her upstairs neighbor Shep Henderson (Stewart) but he is already engaged. When Gillian meets Shep’s fiancee, she recognizes her as an old school chum who she disliked in the past.

Gillian wonders if she could make him love her without any tricks. But when Shep tells her he is getting married the next day, she decides to cast a spell on Shep to make him quickly fall in love with her. Shep is spellbound!

As most romantic comedies play out, Gillian and Shep fall in love for real. But Gillian is torn between her love and having to hide her powers from him if they are married. But she decides to take the risk and marry Shep. And she takes a bigger risk in telling him that she is a witch. He is angry at first and tries to get rid of Gillian’s love spell. But since a condition of the undoing spell is to confront Gillian, Shep and she are able to talk and realize they are still in love despite what they have been through.

Lemmon stars as Gillian’s warlock brother Nicky and Elsa Lancaster stars as their Aunt Queenie who is also a witch (she is much like the character of Endora from the TV series Bewitched).

Lemmon’s character is great, but I wish he had been given more material. He is known for his comedies, but his character is a bit limited in this film. Lancaster is great her portrayal of the busybody aunt. Novak’s performance is also good; she is clearly torn by wanting to give up her powers and live normally and also wanting to make Shep love her.

Bell was made the same year as Novak and Stewart’s widely popular film Vertigo directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Though this film never gained the notoriety or acclaim as Vertigo, Bell is a cute funny film worth watching.

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Happy Birthday to one of the greatest of all times- Audrey!

Bette Davis and the great French actor Charles Boyer co-star in this 1940 film about a virtuous governess and a lonely Duke who is the father of four children.

Henriette (Davis) comes to work for the Duke and Duchess de Praslin and is immediately a success with their four children. But as the Duchess’ emotional outbursts estrange her children and husband, she becomes suspicious of the new governess. As the Duchess pushes her husband away, she pushes him right into the arms of the devoted governess. The two dance around the feelings of mutual attraction, but both are too proper to act on their feelings.

Nevertheless, the Duchess imagines a scandal between the Duke and governess and fires Henriette. She promises her a letter of recommendation so that she can find another job, but then never comes through on her promise.

Henriette’s name has been soiled by the air of scandal and she is unable to find work without the letter. The Duke visits her with the children and sees her current living conditions, which are dreadful. He immediately goes home and confronts his wife. She reveals her true feelings and in a rage, the Duke kills her.

This movie is somewhat slow in pace, but the performances overall are great. There are several familiar faces in the film. Virginia Weidler, who portrays one of the Duke’s four children, costars alongside Katherine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story as the younger sister of Tracy Lord (Hepburn). Barbara O’Neil from Gone with the Wind (she played the matriarch of the O’Hara family) played the Duchess de Praslin. The other child actors are a highlight of the film and are quite adorable.

It was very different to see Bette Davis in a role in which her character is more reserved. Usually she is taking command of every scene by force, but in this film she quietly, but not too meekly, stands up for herself against the paranoid wife of the Duke. She is fiercely protective of the children whom she grows to love as she cares for them.

Boyer is also great as the father who is struggling to balance his duties to the king and his children. It is evident how much he loves his children, but cannot see how much his wife loves and needs him.

All This and Heaven Too is a great story about a typical family of the time period that struggled with balancing family, social obligations and work.

A New Kind of Love starring the real-life couple of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward tells the story of a man and woman who hate each other at first sight, but, as in almost all romantic comedies, end up loving each other in the end.

Samantha “Sam” Blake (Woodward) is a dowdy fashion designer who meets the playboy newspaper columnist Steve Sherman (Newman) on a plane to Paris. Sherman has been exiled to Paris by his boss to keep him away from his wife. Blake and her boss are in Paris to steal designer fashions and reproduce them in the States.

It is most certainly not love at first sight. Blake has yet t0 embrace her femininity (she covers her boyish hairstyle with a hat and wears dark glasses) and Sherman mistakenly calls her “mister” when they first meet. She does not disguise her contempt and, thinking he is drunk, tells him to call AA.

They happen to bump into each other a few more times while in Paris. After Blake decides to give herself a makeover, she goes out on the town to celebrate. Sherman sees her again but does not recognize her as the same woman from the plane.

Blake decides to play a trick on him to get even. She pretends to be a French call girl named Mimi and gives Sherman stories about her profession that he cannot resist writing about. The trick goes on for longer than Blake originally wants, and in the process, Sherman realizes he has been duped.

The truth about Blake’s real identity comes out and so does the fact that they have fallen for each other.

Thelma Ritter co-stars as Blake’s older confidant who is romantically challenged as well. She steals almost every scene she is in with her quick wit. Eva Gabor and Maurice Chevalier also co-star.

This film reminds me of Paris When it Sizzles with Audrey Hepburn and William Holden. There are some funny moments, but there are also a few strange scenes. Overall this was a cute film, but both of the leads made much better films together and separately. The chemistry is there but could have been better with a better script.

The opening credits do boast Frank Sinatra singing “A New Kind of Love”.

Bette Davis and James Stephenson star in William Wyler’s 1940 drama The Letter.

Howard Joyce (Stephenson) must defend his friend’s wife, Leslie Crosbie (Davis), in her self-defense trial. Leslie supposedly shot a man, several times in fact, in self-defense after he tried to assault her in her home. As the case develops, it turns out Leslie had written the man a letter although she had stated that she had had no recent contact with him. The letter begged him to come and see her, specifically stating that her husband would be out. The dead man’s wife found the letter and blackmails Leslie.

Joyce knows he should not give in to the woman’s demand, but he also wants to win the case. Leslie claimed the letter was innocent, a simple invitation to discuss a birthday gift for her husband. But after reading a copy of the letter, Joyce knows there was something more. But he goes ahead and uses Leslie’s husband’s own money to buy the letter and save his case and Leslie’s neck.

After the trial. Leslie’s husband finds out about the high price of the letter and demands to see it’s contents. Leslie finally confesses her affair and the murder to Joyce and her husband. She became angry at her lover for marrying another woman, a Chinese woman at that, and killed him in a rage.

For a short time, the Crosbie’s go on with their lives as normally as possible. Finally Leslie breaks down and confesses that she still loves with all her heart the man she killed. I do not want to give away the complete ending, but I certainly did not see it coming!

Only Bette Davis can still look proud and dignified even when kneeling at another woman’s feet to pick up a purposefully dropped letter. Later in the film, she is calmly restrained as she tells her husband and lawyer the truth about her affair. But you can sense her anger when she recounts how and why she killed her lover.

Stephenson is great as the ethically conflicted lawyer and friend of the Crosbie’s.

It is interesting to me the way the letter itself was shot. Viewers never get a chance to read the letter for themselves as in most films. They only see the back of the letter as a character reads it. The contents are only read aloud once.

The Letter is a great story that was filmed and acting excellently. I would recommend it as I would most other Bette Davis films.

Below is an old poster from TCM advertising The Letter in their lineup for the summer of 2009. The link (http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/article/tcms-summer-under-the-stars-posters-are-phenomenal) has several other awesome posters. Which is your favorite?

Dial M for Murder is one of my favorite Hitchcock’s movies. With a great cast consisting Grace Kelley, Ray Milland, and Robert Cummings. John Williams also stars as the chief inspector who

The opening credit music lulls you into a false sense of security. But it does not take long for a dark thread to become visible.

The scene is quite chilling as Tony tells his friend, Lesgate, one evening about how he found out about the affair and how he thought about killing her.  When Margot and Mark seemed to break it off, Tony gives the marriage another chance. But when the couple make out their wills and leave their possessions to each other, he changes his mind. He then reveals his plan to Lesgate and subsequently talks him into murdering Margot. The fact that he is blackmailing Lesgate makes the task easy.

There is no music during the scene in which Lesgate and Tony discuss their plans, but the music kicks in the moment Lesgate picks up the money Tony offered him and in essence commits to his part in the murderous plot.

Hitch inserts a little comedy into the following scene. Tony, Margot, and Mark are sitting around drinking before the men are to go out to a stag party. They are discussing if the “perfect murder” is possible. Soon after, Tony asks Margot for her key and sets his plan into motion.

But the night of the planned murder, things do not go as Tony had intended. Margot kills her attacker (Lesgate) instead. Tony at first scrambles, but then quickly sees a way to still get what he wants. He sets up Margot, making her look like she had a motive to kill Lesgate.

Tony evolves with his plan, but has a big slip-up in the end. The Chief Inspector is just as clever as Tony. He catches Tony red-handed and proves Margot’s innocence all in the same moment.

Hitch does a great job in playing out the key scenes. Each has the right amount of feeling, whether the scene needed suspense, chill, or uneasy laughter, such as the end of the Tony/Lesgate scene. Tony is almost comical in the way he calmly goes about the room wiping off Lesgate’s fingerprints while Lesgate looks on bewildered.

The way the camera zooms in on key props such as the house keys and even the telephone dialer is classic Hitch.

Milland gives a great performance as the diabolical husband. This Hitch thriller is a classic that can be enjoyed today even in comparison to many of today’s great mysteries.

From the year of many great films, 1939, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex stars Bette Davis and Errol Flynn in the title roles. The plot revolves around the ill-fated love of the Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex, and Queen Elizabeth. She is middle-aged at this point in her reign and Essex is the up-and-coming young military hero whom the people of England admire.

Elizabeth is torn between her many duties as queen and her love for the earl. She is frustrated and wishes she could stop loving Essex. They constantly quarrel because Essex is one of the few people who isn’t afraid to stand up to the queen. He questions her authority as queen and feels a  man would be better suited to rule England.

In the backdrop of their love affair is the war with Spain. Elizabeth appoints Essex to a position that would keep him away from the battlefield and with her in London. But Essex is tricked by his court enemies into asking to be allowed to go to Ireland to fight. Even knowing he may die, she lets him go.

While he is away, their letters to each other are intercepted and Essex believes she had abandoned him and his army. She believes he is purposefully ignoring her and becomes angry once again. After disobeying her orders once again, Essex takes the remainder of his army and marches on England.

When he arrives in court, Elizabeth tries to remind him of her love, but Essex still wants to marry her and take part of her throne. After realizing his desire for power has not changed, she orders his executed.

Davis is positively fearsome as Queen Elizabeth. She portrays every emotion excellently as she goes from smashing mirrors to comforting to a lady-in-waiting whose lover is away in the army. She portrays the inner turmoil the Queen feels as she makes difficult decisions. She was rumored to receive an Oscar nod for Private Lives, but instead she received one for Dark Victory that same year.

Flynn is perfect in the role of the brash, young Essex. At one point, while in counsel with the queen and other advisors, Essex even winks at the queen.

Olivia de Havilland is also great in the smaller role of Lady Penelope. Penelope also loves Essex and schemes to drive a wedge between Elizabeth and him. This role is quite different than the other famous role she had also in 1939. De Havilland is convincing as both the sneaky lady-in-waiting and the sweet Melanie from Gone with the Wind.

For lovers of classic film and period dramas, this fantastic Technicolor achievement is one of the best.