Monday, 1 December 2014

Kim Novak: A Tribute in Movie Stills

I have always had a huge crush on Kim Novak. But this is beside the point. The attempt of this modest tribute is to remind those who have forgotten, or to inform those who don’t know, that she was a great deal more than an alluring beauty. She was a terrific actress, too. In those hectic sixteen years between 1954 and 1969, she made nineteen movies in which she covered the whole range from slapstick comedy to existential tragedy. Among her leading men were William Holden, Frank Sinatra, Tyrone Power, Jimmy Stewart, Fredric March, Jack Lemmon, Dean Martin, Kirk Douglas, Laurence Harvey, Peter Finch and Richard Johnson. Basically who’s who of those glorious times for movie history. The situation is no different director-wise: Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder, Otto Preminger, Delbert Mann, George Sidney. Here’s looking at you, Kim!

Cast: Judy Holliday (Nina Tracey nee Chapman), Jack Lemmon (Robert Tracey), Jack Carson (Charlie Nelson), Kim Novak (Janis).
Screenplay: George Axelrod.
Director: Mark Robson.
Notes. Stupidly titled but utterly charming divorce comedy. Kim’s role as Jack’s goofy blind date is small but memorable. It reveals her considerable comic talent. Jack and Judy are at the height of their powers; it’s their show and they know it. Great supporting role by Jack Carson (remember him as Gooper in Cat?).

Cast: Fred MacMurray (Paul Sheridan), Kim Novak (Lona McLane), Dorothy Malone (Ann Stewart), Philip Carey (Rick McAllister).
Screenplay: Roy Huggins, based on the novels The Night Watch by Thomas Walsh and Rafferty by Bill S. Ballinger.
Director: Richard Quine.
Notes. Unjustly neglected noir thriller. It is usually dismissed as "the poor man's Double Indemnity". This is stupid. Both movies have a hot blonde and Fred MacMurray in them, but that's just about all they share. The plot and the characters are completely different. Kim and Fred steal the show, as the screenwriters no doubt intended. Their joint scenes are swift-paced and well-written, and they lack neither romance nor drama. To Kim belongs one of the not so many truly immortal lines in movie history: “Money isn’t dirty. Just people.” Nice supporting role by Dorothy Malone, although she is not as gorgeous as she was eight years earlier as the bookshop gal in The Big Sleep. The supporting cast may also boast excellent performances by Phil Carrey and E. G. Marshall.

Cast: William Holden (Hal Carter), Kim Novak (Madge Owens), Susan Strasberg (Millie Owens), Betty Field (Flo Owens), Cliff Robertson (Alan Benson), Rosalind Russell (Rosemary Sidney), Arthur O’Connell (Howard Bevans).
Screenplay: Daniel Taradash, based on the play by William Inge.
Director: Joshua Logan.
Notes. Preposterously melodramatic and rather disappointing romance on a picnic day. The famous dance scene is beautiful, Kim is lovely in her blooming youth and fully convincing as a girl imprisoned by her beauty, and William Holden does his best with every line (nobody plays good-natured bums better than him). But they can’t save what is a poor script in the first place. Rosalind Russell steals the show with her role as a priggish old maid who is both ridiculous and tragic. The movie has its moments (the steamy and stylish dance scene is justly famous), but overall it feels like a missed opportunity.

Cast: Frank Sinatra (Frankie Machine), Eleanor Parker (Zosch Machine), Kim Novak (Molly), Darren McGavin (Louie).
Screenplay: Walter Newman & Lewis Meltzer, based on the novel by Nelson Algren.
Director: Otto Preminger.
Notes. Harrowing and haunting drama about drug addiction and human weakness, this is a daring movie for 1955. It must have been quite a shock back then. Brilliant lead performance by Frank Sinatra as the ex-dealer, future drummer and current junkie. Kim also gives one of her most moving performances. Her role is supporting but with ample amount of screen time and critical for the plot. Best line: “All my life has been “one day”. On and on and on!” The joint scenes with Frank are a joy to watch! Subtle and nuanced acting doesn’t get better than this!

Cast: Tyrone Power (Eddy Duchin), Kim Novak (Marjorie Oelrichs), Victoria Shaw (Chiquita Wynn), James Whitmore (Lou Sherwood).
Screenplay: Samuel A. Taylor, based on the story by Leo Katcher.
Director: George Sidney.
Notes. Fascinating tearjerker with lots of nice piano music. The only trouble, Novak-wise, is that Kim disappears in the middle of the movie. But in the first part she looks ravishing and has some very effective scenes with Tyrone Power (terrific throughout the movie). Victoria Shaw makes an excellent supporting role that almost amounts to a lead one. And it was a pleasure to see the great James Whitmore, much better known as Brooksie from The Shawshank Redemption, so young.

Cast: Rita Hayworth (Vera Prentice-Simpson), Frank Sinatra (Joey Evans), Kim Novak (Linda English), Barbara Nichols (Gladys).
Screenplay: Dorothy Kingsley, based on the musical playbook by John O’Hara.
Director: George Sidney.
Notes. The chemistry between Frank and Kim is just as great as two years earlier, but the movie, a light love-triangle music-romance about a cocky bum who happens to be a singer and fancies himself club owner, is a very far cry from the intensity The Man with the Golden Arm. Rita Hayworth adds a touch of her unique class, but she can’t save the indifferent material either. The major virtues of this trifle are the glorious colour that only movies from the 50s and the 60s can have (you’ll know right away why one of Frankie’s nicknames was “Blue Eyes”), Kim’s performance of “My Funny Valentine” that features some of the most gorgeous close-ups of her ever, and a great supporting role by an unnamed dog who has bagels with coffee for breakfast. 

Cast: James Stewart (John “Scottie” Ferguson), Kim Novak (Madeleine Elster / Judy Barton), Barbara Bel Geddes (Midge Wood), Tom Helmore (Gavin Elster).
Screenplay: Alec Coppel and Samuel A. Taylor, based on the novel D’Entre Les Morts by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac.
Director: Alfred Hitchcock.
Notes. This is a well-deserved classic with but two flaws. Two very serious flaws! The first is that an essential part of the mystery is revealed, in a flashback, full half an hour before the end. This is a fundamental dramatic mistake. I don’t know why Hitchcock allowed it (if he could prevent it). I don’t understand why the screenwriters wrote it in the first place (if they did). Maybe a third party unfortunately interfered? You tell me. That flashback would surely have worked so much better in the end. The other flaw is the very end itself. It is as contrived and lurid as they come. It is much too sudden and it feels like something put there just for the sake of increasing the body count. It is thoroughly unconvincing. The tragic outcome is implied in the dialogue. We don’t need another corpse to confirm it. These flaws aside, this is as intense, atmospheric and gripping a mystery as you would expect from Hitchcock, beautifully shot in glorious colour, and with outstanding performances by the great Jimmy Stewart and the ravishing Kim Novak.

Cast: James Stewart (Shepherd “Shep” Henderson), Kim Novak (Gillian “Gil” Holroyd), Jack Lemmon (Jacky Holroyd), Ernie Kovacs (Sydney Redlitch), Elsa Lanchester (Aunt Queenie Holroyd).
Screenplay: Daniel Taradash, based on the play by John Van Druten.
Director: Richard Quine
Notes. A bizarre story of modern witchcraft with the obligatory romantic subplot. Rather heavy-handed and lacklustre. Were it not for the charismatic presence of Jimmy, Jack and Kim, it would not have been worth seeing. I find it strange that this movie was reportedly more successful at the time than the released half a year earlier Vertigo. By the way, great supporting role by an uncredited Siamese cat.

Cast: Fredric March (Jerry Kingsley), Kim Novak (Betty Preisser), Albert Dekker (Walter Lockman), Edith Meisser (Evelyn Kingsley), Lee Grant (Marylin), Martin Balsam (Jack).
Screenplay: Paddy Chayevsky, based on his play.
Director: Delbert Mann.
Notes. This is a remarkably powerful cocktail of drama, melodrama and tragedy. A disillusioned old man’s passionate relationship with an immature woman more than twice younger is hardly the most original subject for a movie, but that doesn’t make it less relevant – and timeless. Kim reportedly claimed this as her favourite role, and if so I can well see why. It’s a tour de force. Fredric March is also outstanding: “What the hell is wrong with everybody? All they want is peace, comfort, security, no problems. But life is problems, heartache, passion, a woman. Listen, sonny boy, love, no matter how shabby it may be, is still a beautiful thing. Everything else is nothing… I’m sick to death, George; running with a young woman myself. The last couple of months have been torture to me, such a sweet and wonderful torture. I was living...

Cast: Kirk Douglas (Larry Coe), Kim Novak (Margaret “Maggie” Gault), Ernie Kovacs (Roger Altar), Barbara Rush (Eve Coe), Walther Matthau (Felix Anders).
Screenplay: Evan Hunter, based on his novel.
Director: Richard Quine.
Notes. Wonderful and very unjustly neglected movie. Moving melodrama true to life. No sickly sentimentality à la Picnic. No farcical situations à la Pal Joey. No soap-operish characters à la Bell Book and Candle. Just real people coping with real dilemmas in a mature way. Kim delivers one of the strongest performances in her career. As a general rule, few actresses excelled at playing dissatisfied housewives trapped in passionless marriages better than Kim did. Kirk Douglas is also fantastic, revealing subtlety and sensitivity he is seldom given credit for. The supporting cast boasts superb performances by Ernie Kovacs as the bohemian writer, Barbara Rush as another pretty but unhappy wife, and Walter Matthau as the nasty neighbour.

Cast: Kim Novak (Mrs. Carlyle “Carly” Hardwicke), Jack Lemmon (William “Bill” Gridley), Fred Astaire (Franklyn Ambruster), Lionel Jeffries (Inspector Oliphant), Estelle Winwood (Mrs Dunhill).
Screenplay: Larry Gelbart and Blake Edwards, based on the story “The Notorious Tenant” by Margery Sharp.
Director: Richard Quine.
Notes. This is a strange, but effective, mixture of comedy, farce, drama, thriller, mystery and anything else, with quite a few twists on the way. Certainly, it doesn’t deserve the complete oblivion it has fallen into. The title sounds like a third-rate eighteenth-century opera, but the movie is much better than this. Jack and Kim steal the show in their joint scenes, but Fred Astaire as Jack’s boss in the US embassy in London and Lionel Jeffries as the oh-so-British police inspector are also hilarious.

Cast: Kim Novak (Mildred Rogers), Laurence Harvey (Philip Carey), Roger Livesey (Thorpe Athelny), Nanette Newman (Sally Athelny), Jack Hedley (Griffiths).
Screenplay: Bryan Forbes, based on the novel by Somerset Maugham.
Director: Kenneth Hughes and Henry Hathaway.
Notes. Not much of Maugham’s novel is left, of course; the childhood and the Paris episode are compressed into a few minutes in the beginning and are never heard of again later. But Philip’s destructive obsession with Mildred is beautifully portrayed. The dialogue is bold, with words like “whore” or “syphilis” and phrases like “crippled bastard”, and the acting is uniformly top-notch. Kim steals the show with one of her finest performances. She nails Mildred with mathematical precision. The script retains the flighty and vacuous nature of the character, but adds more coyness, vulnerability, flirtatiousness and poignancy than Maugham originally did. All this, together with Kim’s sex appeal, makes Philip’s attraction more comprehensible. Some reviewers have complained, I suppose justly, of Kim’s accent not being British or cockney enough, but I think this is a small price to pay. On the whole, she is at least as fine as, if very different from, Bette Davis (1934) and Eleanor Parker (1946).

Cast: Dean Martin (Dino), Kim Novak (Polly the Pistol), Ray Walston (Orville), Felicia Farr (Zelda), Cliff Osmond (Barney).
Screenplay: Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, based on the play L’Ora della Fantasia by Anna Bonacci.
Director: Billy Wilder.
Notes. Very charming comedy of the “two couples cross-fertilised” type. Polly the Pistol is perhaps Kim’s best comic role. She is more than a match for Dean Martin at his debonair best and Ray Walston as the hilariously jealous piano teacher. Despite a fine performance by Felicia Farr as well, the picture on the whole is very much a male show, including the jolly nice Cliff Osmond singing the super-hit “I’m a poached egg”. Not Billy Wilder’s best movie, to be sure, but a sweet comedy that has aged well.




Cast: Kim Novak (Moll Flanders), Richard Johnson (Jemmy), Angela Lansbury (Lady Blystone), Leo McKern (Stone), Vittorio de Sica (the Count), George Sanders (the Banker), Lilly Palmer (Dutchy).
Screenplay: Denis Cannan and Roland Kibbee, based on the novel by Daniel Defoe.
Director: Terence Young.

Cast: Kim Novak (Lylah Clare / Elsa Brinkmann / Elsa Campbell), Peter Finch (Lewis Zarken / Louie Flack), Ernest Borgnine (Barney Sheean)
Screenplay: Hugo Butler and Jean Rouverol, based on the teleplay by Robern Thom and Edward DeBlasio.
Director: Robert Aldrich.

Cast: Zero Mostel (Rev. Pious Blue), Kim Novak (Sister Lyda Kebanov), Clint Walker (Ranger Ben Quick), Claude Akins (Slade), Elisha Cook (Jeb), Ruth Warrick (Mrs. Aplebee).
Screenplay: William Peter Blatty, based on the novel by Frank O’Rourke.
Director: Hy Averback.

Cast: Charles Bronson (Wild Bill Hickok), Jack Warren (Charlie Zane), Will Sampson (Crazy Horse), Kim Novak (Pocker Jenny).
Screenplay: Screenplay by Richard Sale based on his novel.
Director: J. Lee Thompson.
Notes. Kim appears for about five minutes in this tedious Western horror.

Cast: David Bowie (Paul Ambrosius von Przygodski), Sydne Rome (Cilly), Kim Novak (Helga von Kaiserling), David Hemmings (Captain Hermann Kraft), Maria Schell (Pauls Mutti Frau von Przygodski), Marlene Dietrich (Baroness von Semering).
Screenplay: Julius Brammer, Irving Caesar, Enio De Concini and Joshua Sinclair, based on the story by Ted Rose.
Director: David Hemmings.

Notes. Bizarre black comedy with an absurdly young David Bowie. Difficult to sit through. Small and not terribly memorable role for Kim.

Cast: Angela Lansbury (Miss Marple), Elizabeth Taylor (Marina Rudd), Rock Hudson (Jason Rudd), Kim Novak (Lola Brewster), Tony Curtis (Martin N. Fenn), Geraldine Chaplin (Elia Zielinsky), Edward Fox (Inspector Craddock), Charles Gray (Bates, the butler).
Screenplay: Jonathan Hales and Barry Sandler, based on the novel by Agatha Christie The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side.
Director: Guy Hamilton.

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