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Category:    Home > Reviews > Comedy > Fantasy > Magic > Witches > TV Situation Comedy > Urban > Clothing > Writing > Family > Bell, Book & Candle (1958/Columbia/Twilight Time Limited Edition Blu-ray)/Car 54, Where Are You?: The Complete Second Season (1962 – 1963/Shanachie DVD Set)/Designing Women: The Complete Sixth Season

Bell, Book & Candle (1958/Columbia/Twilight Time Limited Edition Blu-ray)/Car 54, Where Are You?: The Complete Second Season (1962 – 1963/Shanachie DVD Set)/Designing Women: The Complete Sixth Season (1991 – 1992/Shout! Factory DVD Set)/Dick Van Dyke Show: Carl Reiner’s Favorites (1962/Image DVD Set)


Picture: B/C+/C/C+     Sound: B-/C+/C+/C+     Extras: B-/C/D/D     Main Programs: B-/B/C/B



PLEASE NOTE:  The Bell, Book & Candle Blu-ray is limited to 3,000 copies and is available exclusively at the Screen Archives website which can be reached at the link at the end of this review.



Comedy is always popular, even some bad ones, but there was a point where the comedy in feature films and radio series suddenly found itself manifest in what became known as the TV situation comedy.  During this transition, the sense of what is truly funny and a spirit of upbeat energy informed the work, creating many classics.  Here are four of them.



Our one feature film here is the 1958 Columbia Picture by Richard Quine called Bell, Book & Candle with Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak; a film that sometimes gets lost in the shuffle since the same year, they made the all-time classic Alfred Hitchcock thriller Vertigo.  The other reason is that the film is underestimated and inspired two comedies for Columbia’s TV division in the 1960s that are all-time classics themselves: I Dream Of Jeannie and especially Bewitched (and not that horrid Will Ferrell film that helped partly ruin Nicole Kidman’s career).


Issued by Twilight Time as a Limited Edition Blu-ray, Stewart is a new neighbor in a nice apartment building, but unbeknownst to him, most of the tenants practice white magic, including Novak as a witch who becomes interested in him, Hermione Gingold as a fellow witch (a roll she would have fun with later inner-textually in the fun Bionic Woman episode Black Magic), Elsa Lanchester as another witch (the original Bride Of Frankenstein having more fun with her genre legacy) and an underrated Jack Lemmon appearance as a friend also with powers, like Novak’s cat.


However, part of the humor is actually about sex between Stewart and Novak, will they make such contact, will she have to “give up her powers” to be with “that mere mortal” he and will he find out about the secret powers they all share?  Because of the TV influence, the film has aged in some obvious ways, almost playing like a big budget TV pilot for the other hit shows, but removing those common denominators, you can see just how much fun and original this was being and we get chemistry all over the place because this is an amazing cast that also includes Ernie Kovacs and Janice Rule.


Because he did so many Westerns, Dramas and Thrillers, it also reminds us what a great comic Stewart was and everybody (especially Novak with her seeming endless wardrobe) is in prime form, which is why it is great this is finally coming out in HD on Blu-ray.  The whole family could watch this one, but I enjoyed it for its adult subtext, the idea that the apartment building does not turn out like the in Rosemary’s Baby for a change (especially in the lame torture porn era we live in) and reminds us of the classic product Hollywood used to make all the time as well as how Columbia used films like this to become a permanent major studio.


Extras include yet another fine illustrated booklet on the film with yet another solid essay by Julie Kirgo, Original Theatrical Trailer, isolated music score by George Duning and two recently produced featurettes with Novak’s participation: Reflections In The Middle Of The Night and Bewitched, Bothered & Blonde.



Many great talents were established by TV without radio and feature film experience and others worked in all the mediums.  Like some feature film gems we have not heard enough about in recent years or even decades, Car 54, Where Are You? Is one of them, but I have been particularly thrilled that Shanachie has been issuing the show after all this time and The Complete Second Season (1962 – 1963) is even funnier than the first.  You can read more about the show in my coverage of the first season at this link:




This time, the amazing group of talents got more into their characters and the world around them resulting in a classic middle season for the underrated show.  Joe E. Ross and Ed Gwynne continue their lead roles and we start to see more of the supporting cast, especially Al Lewis and Charlotte Rae, whose work especially pays off in the Lucille Turns 40 episode.  Being made in New York all the way I think makes this even stronger and more unique and we get 30 solid half-hours over four DVDS this time.


Guest cast includes Tom Bosley, some uncredited work by David Doyle (later of Charlie’s Angels) in a few shows, a few shows with Charles Nelson Reilly, Sugar Ray Robinson, a few turns by the real Jake LaMotta, Margaret Hamilton, Dana Eclar, Michael Conrad, Larry Storch, Mitch Miller as himself, Shari Lewis, Molly Picon, Barnard Hughes, Joe De Santis, Kenneth Mars, Rocky Graziano, Kenny Delmar as an executive who wants to make Rae’s Sylvia into a cookie spokeswoman and an ironic season opener where Toody and Muldoon have to protect President and Mrs. Kennedy in an open car appearance.  It is a fine episode, including the great Simon Oakland as the federal agent who is not certain about them, but is also sad.


We get one vintage extra in a stand-up clip by Ross in a second audition for the role he would eventually win.  I hope we get more on the final set, but this is a series worth going out of your way for and is highly recommended.



The role of women was slowly changing in comedies, though independent women would not really start surfacing until the late 1960s, there were still great characters and the success of the likes of I Love Lucy helped.  Post All In The Family, far more empowered women were turning up and it was so far into being so with Designing Women: The Complete Sixth Season (1991 – 1992) that they had a cast change, losing two of the four leads.  Unlike Charlie’s Angels, this did not work out as well, affecting the shows feel and chemistry.  Jan Hooks of Saturday Night Live and Julia Duffy from the 1980s Newhart played new characters n the place of Jean Smart and the controversial Delta Burke.


From the new opening with the late great Ray Charles singing Georgia On My Mind to pedestrian explanations that the two characters just left, the show feels different and plays that way.  Hooks and Duffy are talented, but the arc and chemistry that made the show work when it did was too altered and it gets worse as 22 half-hours over these four DVDs progress.  The show lost its grove and upping Meshach Taylor to the opening credits is also an odd move.


Alice Ghostley being here helps to some extent, but not being a fan to begin with, it often seems like a different show or even an imitator.  There are no extras, but it would have been nice to hear how the makers felt about the changes and compare them to how they hold up and do not hold up now.


Of course, one show that did quit while it was on top, ahead and with all of its original cast is The Dick Van Dyke Show which at least had separate season DVD sets issued a while ago.  Carl Reiner’s Favorites is a new 3-DVD set that contains what the title suggests and they are all really good, even ahead of their time, reflecting the Kennedy aesthetic and future of a young America that did exist and was optimistic.


So successful like I Love Lucy, it is easy to underestimate or forget how good the show really was and still is.  We have even covered lesser budget DVD sets, but nothing like seeing the shows with all their original music in good copies enjoying Rob, Laura (Mary Tyler Moore), Rose Marie and Morey Amsterdam.  I hope Blu-ray sets are not far behind.  There are no extras.



Despite offering most TV series content, all these releases were shot on 35mm film, but the 1080p 1.85 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Bell is easily the visual winner with exceptional color at times, some grain for the age of the film and an overall solid print that sometimes shows how great the more-valuable-than-ever dye-transfer, three-strip Technicolor prints of the film must have been.  Director of Photography James Wong Howe is usually known for his great black and white work (Seconds, Hud), but he was also amazing with color (Funny Lady, Last Of The Mobile Hot Shots, Picnic, another Novak film just issued in another fine Blu-ray by Twilight Time reviewed elsewhere on this site) to bright effect and even when he was toning it down a bit (The Molly Maguires, Hombre, The Horsemen).  This could not be much better.


The rest are 1.33 X 1 presentations with Car and Dyke in black and white and looking fine for their age in the format, plus only minor print damage in both cases.  Women should look the best of the three, but (and not because of color) it was finished on analog professional videotape and these copies are just too soft and have too many aliasing errors along with detail issues.


The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mix on Bell can be towards the front speakers, but this was originally a stereo sound release and that include some traveling dialogue and sound effects.  I like the upgrade which utilizes the score well, but that also sounds fine in its DTS-MA 2.0 Stereo lossless isolated track presentation.  The lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono on Car is better than the last set overall, equaling the same sound on Dyke and lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo on Women which may be down a generation here.



As noted above, Bell, Book & Candle can be ordered while supplies last at:





-   Nicholas Sheffo


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