I became a Kim Novak admirer when I was about 10 or so, after seeing her in three films on television: Picnic, The Eddy Duchin Story, and Satan’s Triangle. At the time, I thought her the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen. Quite a bit has changed since then, but as far as I’m concerned Kim Novak remains one of film’s greatest – and most underappreciated – beauties.
Most of Novak’s better – and better-known – features will be shown on TCM next Tuesday, including the aforementioned The Eddy Duchin Story, which was one my favorite films of all time. Well, that is, until time passed, I became an adult, and watched it again.
Now, in all fairness The Eddy Duchin Story isn’t bad as far as (highly fictitious) biopics go. It has great music, great color cinematography (Harry Stradling), and perfectly appropriate (melodramatic) acting. Novak has what amounts to a supporting role, as Victoria Shaw becomes the female interest in the film’s second half. Its flawed screenplay notwithstanding, I’d highly recommend The Eddy Duchin Story.
I’d also recommend Phffft!, even if I’ve never been able to pronounce its title. This Mark Robson-directed comedy about a divorced couple who remain enmeshed in one another’s lives has several funny moments courtesy of star Judy Holliday. However, the film’s big surprise is Kim Novak, who, as a dumb blonde, turns out to be a surprisingly effective comedienne. It’s too bad that Columbia’s Harry Cohn, like most movie moguls, was too short-sighted to understand his contract player’s acting abilities.
Vertigo is one of those Greatest Films Ever Made whose greatness eludes me. James Stewart’s failure to impart his character with psychological insight is only part of the problem. Novak, on the other hand, is remarkably effective as the women (yes, two – well, sort of) in Stewart’s obsessive life.
Directed by Richard Quine, Novak’s lover for several years, Strangers When We Meet is marred by a badly miscast Kirk Douglas. Novak, however, does well as an adulteress, while Barbara Rush is nothing short of superb as Douglas’ cuckolded wife. Walter Matthau, for his part, should have continued playing villains for the rest of his career.
“Quine had many dalliances with his actresses (including Judy Holliday and Natalie Wood),” writes journalist Philippe Garnier in this past week’s LA Weekly, “before and after, but the affectionate way he still spoke about Novak three decades later suggests she meant a bit more. In 1959, when they were shooting Strangers When We Meet around Bel Air and Malibu, their romance was so public that the brass at Columbia took the unusual decision to build a real house instead of a set. They bought - not leased - the plot in Bel Air where Kirk Douglas’ architect is building client Ernie Kovacs’ house in the movie. The studio planned to give the house to Quine and Novak as a wedding present, as Quine was to marry his star right after the shoot - the wrap party to end all wrap parties. But Novak panicked, bolted and left him at the altar, with only the key to happiness (he got the house).”
Three Novak vehicles that I haven’t seen but that I’d recommend, anyways: Pushover, a minor but well-respected thriller (inspired by Double Indemnity) directed by Quine; Delbert Mann’s Middle of the Night, in which Novak is paired with the much older (by 36 years) Fredric March; and Robert Aldrich’s not all that well regarded (but still most likely interesting) The Legend of Lylah Clare (right), which some have called a poor man’s Sunset Blvd. (Though, as far as I know, the film has nothing to do with a silent era has-been.)
Tuesday, August 12, highlights on Turner Classic Movies:
3:00 AM The Eddy Duchin Story (1956)
The famed pianist loses the love of his life and almost loses his son’s love as well. Cast: Tyrone Power, Kim Novak, James Whitmore. Dir.: George Sidney. Black and white. 123 mins. Letterbox Format
7:30 AM Phffft! (1954)
A couple divorce but can’t stop getting mixed up in each other’s lives. Cast: Judy Holliday, Jack Lemmon, Kim Novak. Dir.: Mark Robson. Black and white. 88 min.
9:00 AM Kiss Me Stupid (1965)
A small-town songwriter tries to sell his work to a stranded singing star. Cast: Dean Martin, Kim Novak, Ray Walston. Dir.: Billy Wilder. Black and white. 124 mins. Letterbox Format
11:00 AM The Notorious Landlady (1962)
A junior diplomat in London falls in love with his landlady even though she’s a murder suspect. Cast: Jack Lemmon, Kim Novak, Fred Astaire. Dir.: Richard Quine. Black and white. 123 mins. Letterbox Format
1:15 PM Of Human Bondage (1964)
A medical student risks his future when he falls for a low-class waitress. Cast: Kim Novak, Laurence Harvey, Siobhan McKenna. Dir.: Ken Hughes. Color. 100 mins. Letterbox Format
3:00 PM Middle of the Night (1959)
A widowed businessman courts a younger woman who works for him. Cast: Fredric March, Kim Novak, Lee Grant. Dir.: Delbert Mann. Black and white. 117 mins. Letterbox Format
5:00 PM Pushover (1954)
A police detective falls for the bank robber’s girlfriend he is supposed to be tailing. Cast: Fred MacMurray, Kim Novak, Philip Carey. Dir.: Richard Quine. Black and white. 88 mins. Letterbox Format
6:45 PM Five Against the House (1955)
Four college buddies plot to rob a Reno casino. Cast: Guy Madison, Kim Novak, Brian Keith. Dir.: Phil Karlson. Black and white. 83 min.
8:15 PM Vertigo (1958)
A detective falls for the mysterious woman he’s been hired to tail. Cast: James Stewart, Kim Novak, Barbara Bel Geddes. Dir.: Alfred Hitchcock. Color. 130 mins. Letterbox Format
10:30 PM The Legend of Lylah Clare (1968)
An obsessed movie director grooms an unknown to play his deceased movie-star wife. Cast: Kim Novak, Peter Finch, Ernest Borgnine. Dir.: Robert Aldrich. Color. 130 mins. Letterbox Format
1:00 AM Strangers When We Meet (1960)
An extramarital affair threatens the fortunes of two families. Cast: Kirk Douglas, Kim Novak, Ernie Kovacs. Dir.: Richard Quine. Black and white. 117 mins. Letterbox Format
Schedule (Pacific Time) and synopses from the TCM website.