A note about The Cuddlywumps Chronicles

This blog is written and maintained by Miss Cuddlywumps, a fluffy-tailed calico cat who is both classically educated and familiar with mysteries. She receives creative input from the Real Cats and clerical assistance from She of Little Talent (old SoLT, a.k.a. Roby Sweet). Comments or complaints should be addressed to Miss C rather than to old SoLt (Ms. Sweet). Ms. Sweet accepts no responsibility for Miss C's opinions.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Cat Classics on Film: Bell, Book and Candle (1958)

Cat Classics on Film

Bell, Book and Candle is yet another example of a movie in which everyone makes a big deal out of the human cast (notably James Stewart and Kim Novak in this case), while saying almost nothing about the real star: the cat. By the way, we found a copy of the Playbill for the 1950–51 production at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, and it doesn’t mention the cat either. Today we’ll be setting the record straight.

Bell Book and Candle, starring James Stewart, Kim Novak, and Pyewacket the catA witch, her cat, and their neighbor

Gillian Holroyd (Kim Novak) is an above-average New York witch who owns a cool shop featuring tribal masks and art and such things. She has her familiar, a Siamese cat named Pyewacket, and her slightly loony aunt Queenie to keep her company, as well as her brother, Nick (Jack Lemmon). But her world gets turned upside down when she gets a new neighbor, publisher Shepherd Henderson (James Stewart). It’s Christmas Eve, and Gil is in her shop alone at closing time when Shep walks in asking if he can use the phone (this because Queenie has cast a little spell on his phone). Of course Gil … well, she doesn’t fall in love with him, because according to this story, witches aren’t able to do that. They also can’t cry or blush. But she does decide she wants him, and she wants him even more when she finds out that his fiancée is her old college enemy, Merle. Gil and Pyewacket cast a little spell on Shep to make him fall in love with her, and the next thing he knows, he’s on top of the Flatiron Building on Christmas morning with Gil in his arms. All he wants is to be with Gil, so obviously he’s got to give his fiancée the old heave-ho. Which he does.

The witch-hunting author and the annoying brother

Kim Novak, 1964. Public domain.
Kim Novak in a 1964 publicity photo.
Photographer unknown.
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
Earlier, Shep had mentioned that he would love to publish the next book of an author, Redlitch (Ernie Kovacs), whose current book on magic is making loads of money. So, Gil and Pyewacket cast a little spell to summon Redlitch to Shep’s office. Turns out his next book will be on witchcraft in New York. This, of course, is a problem, since now Gil is in danger of being exposed as a witch, so she (somewhat foolishly, we thought) sends her brother, Nick, to occupy Redlitch and steer him down the wrong path. Only Nick is sort of an idiot, and so he does just the opposite: he begins revealing the real world of witches in the city.

We won’t reveal all the ups and downs of Gil and Shep’s relationship after that, but let’s just say that there are some.

The important stuff: Pyewacket the cat

And now, finally, let’s move on to our main reason for being here: Pyewacket the rather extraordinary Siamese cat. He is (of course) uncredited, even though, as Gil’s familiar, he plays a major part in the film. His trainer, Robert E. Blair, is also uncredited, which we thought was equally unfair.

Playbill for 1950-51 production of Bell, Book and Candle
The cover of the Playbill for the 1950-51
production of Bell, Book and Candle. Yes, a cat
appears on the cover, but no cat is listed in the credits.
Via Performing Arts Archive.
Pyewacket’s “real” name appears to be unknown. The Deseret News reported on January 7, 1957, that the movie’s producers were doing a talent search for a Siamese cat to take on the role. Orangey, who had previously starred in Rhubarb, was reportedly considered, but the producers decided they really wanted a Siamese. Orangey “has a [Bo]gart personality and we [want] a cat with an Ava Gardner [per]sonality,” they said. A Siamese named Lady Grenadier Sarah had starred in the hit Broadway play that the movie was based on, but at 14 years old, Sarah was too old to take on the movie part. Producer Julian Blaustein said that Sarah the cat also “talks constantly” (although we don’t see the problem with that). This report also reveals how the producers planned to give Pyewacket a more active role in the movie. While in the Broadway version, the cat “mostly ambled about, perched on his mistress’ shoulder or snoozed in laps,” the movie would require him to jump about, dodge traffic, and walk on a window ledge.

 The cat who eventually played Pyewacket came from trainer Frank Inn, and he did such an outstanding job, he was awarded a PATSY (Performing Animal Television Star of the Year) in 1959. (Of course, as is usual in these situations, several cats were actually used in the filming.) Reportedly, Kim Novak loved cats and formed a bond with Pyewacket, whom she adopted as her own when filming was finished. How could you not bond with a cat who had helped you cast spells?

Throughout the movie, we see Pyewacket often perched on someone’s shoulder, jumping about, snuggling with Gil, and of course doing that mesmerizing spell-casting thing. In the scene where he runs away, he dodges cars as he runs across the street. There is also a scene where Gil shoos him down from a shelf by swatting at him, which we thought was kind of mean. Throughout, the cat actor lays down a masterful performance. You can get a glimpse of it in this clip:

Our verdict—contains spoilers!

Bell Book and Candle is an excellent film with an excellent cat. We enjoyed the story right up until the end. Of course Gil and Shep end up together (it is a romantic comedy, after all). This is great, but it requires Gil to not be a witch anymore. She falls in love and loses her powers. Her formerly cool shop becomes filled with a new, flowery type of art, and her manner of dress turns from classy modern woman to something more June Cleaver-ish. She also gains the ability to cry and blush—and loses Pyewacket, because he is no pet cat; he is a familiar, and he needs a witch. We thought this was all rather sad. Yes, Gil gets the man she loves, but she loses her whole identity in the process. She doesn’t just give up a bad habit; she gives up her whole self. Is that really love? At least we can admire Pyewacket for knowing who he is.
  

Two Paws Up--A Great Movie!

A note on the "Paws Up" system: Miss C gives either one or two paws up. One paw is for a good movie; two paws is for a great movie. She never gives three or four paws because that would require her to lie on her back...and Miss C does not do that!

The link below is an Amazon Associates link. If you purchase the movie through this link, old SoLT and I could get some coin for our kibble account. Thank you!



Sources

Cinema Catshttp://www.cinemacats.com/?p=4405.
IMDbhttp://www.imdb.com/title/tt0051406/?ref_=nv_sr_1.
Wikipediahttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bell,_Book_and_Candle.

8 comments:

  1. Momma always luved Pyewacket in dat movie - and she'd keep the cat and be a witch instead of choose the guy (which might explain why she's still single - MOL!)

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  2. I have this DVD but haven't watched it yet! How wonderful that Kim Novak adopted Pyewacket, but the ending does sound sad :( Not the choice I would make!

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  3. And Jimmy Stewart was a bit long-in-the-tooth for Kim Novak, doncha think? Jack Lemon was very good in this movie, and I agree that it's a shame that she lost her vocation AND her cat. In fact, a co-worker told me that her boyfriend is allergic to cats, and she loves cats...and I told her to dump that guy!

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  4. I like Jimmy Stewart, I will have to get this from the library.

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  5. Hmmm, I know my Mommy would have kept the cat and the cool art shop and dumped Jimmy Stewart. She is very happy that she grew up later and even though there still was loads of pressure to "settle down and be a good wife". She resisted!!!
    She remembers that movie because of Pyewacket!
    Purrs
    Marv

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  6. Ooooh! Another kitty movie!!! My favorites!

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  7. We agree....that is a lousy ending! Humans are too obsessed with romance!

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