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Kim Novak

A five-film box set from Sony pays homage to Kim Novak, Columbia Pictures’ last great star and one of the last to be manufactured — with some resistance from Ms. Novak — by the studio system at the height of its industrial efficiency.

The three most familiar titles — Joshua Logan’s “Picnic” (1955), Richard Quine’s “Bell, Book and Candle” (1958) and George Sidney’s “Pal Joey” (1957) — have been remastered, though a blotchiness remains in both “Picnic” and “Candle” that suggests the original negatives may have been in particularly bad condition.

The one surprise is Sidney’s “Jeanne Eagels,” a misguided 1957 attempt to cast Novak in a Susan Hayward-style showbiz breakdown story, which doesn’t rise to the morbidly romantic heights of the Sidney-Novak “Eddie Duchin Story” but does develop some intriguing parallels with Novak’s own career. In typical Novak fashion, her Eagels becomes more closed-off and self-consciously theatrical just as she is supposed to be revealing her inner vulnerability. For cinephiles, the film’s highlight is an extended cameo by Frank Borzage, playing himself (with great warmth and presence) in an otherwise condescending sequence in which Eagels makes a silent movie. (Presumably, Borzage was drafted by the screenwriter Sonya Levien, who wrote a number of Borzage’s pre-code Fox films, including the great “Lucky Star.”)

My New York Times review is here.

154 comments to Kim Novak

  • Blake Lucas

    “Watching Whit Stillman’s THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO again the other night, I kept whishing that he had Allen’s and Bergman’s obsessiveness or whatever it is that gave them their large filmographies.”

    But maybe he has tried. We just don’t know how hard he may have tried to keep getting up films since then. THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO was my favorite American film of the 1990s so I have a lot of sympathy for what you say. This is one reason I’m going to less and less American movies as time goes on. They are not interested in making films like this or in a director like this, it seems.

    D.K. Holm is right that this conversation bears interestingly on Sternberg too–and here is a case that I believe both supports my point before but also supports the contrary notion that a director can be defeated. Dave said in his piece that Sternberg had a period of creative control from 1927-1935 and most would agree, but I believe that as this waned, his greatness as a director does remain evident in CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, SERGEANT MADDEN and especially (a gem–I don’t know why its reputation is not better) THE KING STEPS OUT, while the 1941 THE SHANGHAI GESTURE, so in line with his earlier works, is for me a masterpiece and one of his greatest films.

    But then it gets really tough. What’s a director to do? He will want to work–and sometimes make a deal with the devil. I’ll say without mincing words that I think Howard Hughes was just terrible for movies–for RKO, for directors, for female stars he was obsessed with, just about anything except for the strange affection he seemed to have for Nicholas Ray that apparently saved Ray from the blacklist. His treatment of Sternberg was just terrible–and while I don’t believe it’s likely MACAO or JET PILOT would ever have been on a level of MOROCCO or THE DOCKS OF NEW YORK, my impression is that Sternberg did what he could and that at least there were coherent works there at one time, and even some Sternbergian virtues (at least one actor, Brad Dexter, gives an impressive Sternbergian interpretation in MACAO for example). But these two movies were so mauled over by Hughes (like a fair number of others he produced) that one does want to absolve Sternberg here at least to an extent (and the presence of another great director, Ray, in reshooting of MACAO, was no help at all here–even though his scenes are individually good they can’t help but take the film in a somewhat different direction). I still hold Sternberg responsible–his name is on them as director; but I know the production histories too, and to the extent they are a negative in his filmography it’s only to the extent that they are the only two Sternberg films I’d be glad to live without and are last on the list for me. But they don’t change at all my impression of the extent of his directorial gifts and artistic individuality, in truth shown to be undiminished in one of the most moving of all last films, THE SAGA OF ANATAHAN, made after this unhappy interval and in very different circumstances.

    I know this should probably go in the Sternberg thread. Frustratingly, though my Sternberg set is here, I have been unable to play and am waiting for a DVD technician even as I write this (and he’s three hours late now). I don’t want to try to say anything meaningful about Sternberg when I’ve been away from those three silents for so long, but I’m pretty confident with my impression of the Hughes films, and in fact rewatched MACAO just last year and also saw ANATAHAN again fairly recently as well.

  • Brian Dauth

    Random thoughts/responses:

    Blake: “You rarely hear a cinematographer, costume designer, art director, or composer described as inadequate.” This comment stuck in my mind, and it suddenly struck me that while a film usually has one cinematographer, etc., it normally has multiple actors. Also, I wonder if a viewer’s responses/expectations differ between non-human and human filmic elements.

    Blake is also correct about the director having to shoulder the responsibility for the final shape of the film. It will sometimes be true that an actor will just not be able to play a role, and the director cannot change that reality. He may try to shape the film around a particular actor’s limitations/inadequacies, but sometimes even that is impossible. For example, Mankiewicz worked well with Jeanne Crain in A LETTER TO THREE WIVES and PEOPLE WILL TALK, but her performances still fall short (luckily Mankiewicz prevailed on EVE and got Anne Baxter, who was supposed to do PWT, but her pregnancy intervened).

    On the other hand, Sirk and Cukor both worked with Lana Turner (an actor of definite limitations) and shaped films that (to my eyes) fit her like a glove. Her performances are just what the films need. In many ways, it is a crapshoot.

    Now to circle back to Blake’s quesion about noticing an actor’s limitations: one of the strengths of Cukor’s HOLIDAY (for instance) is the rich level of performance from the leads on down through the secondary characters. All the individual performance are fine on their own terms, but additionally, together they create a performance tapestry that has a rich texture beyond the level achieved by any individual contribution. In his most successful films, Cukor always achieves such a performance tapestry — even when he lets the performances and styles run riot (admittedly not often) as in SYLVIA SCARLETT where he seems to change modes every reel or so.

    There is also the case (much rarer) where acting styles creatively clash and form an interesting texture, e.g., GUYS AND DOLLS which boasts a method actor, a crooner, a Broadway belter, and an English stage-trained thespian. Also, the performances of Malkovich, Close, and Pfieffer in DANGEROUS LIAISONS are out of sync with the time period of the film, but I think the approach works in this case.

  • Oliver_C

    Another thumbs-up for Stillman’s ‘Last Days of Disco’, which also has (courtesy of Criterion) one of the best-looking DVD images I’ve seen. Of particular note is the use of pop culture, neither condescending nor indulgent, with the characters’ fondness for Disney’s Scrooge McDuck and ‘Lady and the Trump’ being gently echoed in the narrative, much like the prophetic issue of The Fantastic Four comicbook which bookends Ang Lee’s ‘The Ice Storm’.

  • Kim Novak was born on Monday February 13th 1933 in Chicago and she becoming an American Actress appearing in Hollywood & British Films including The Notorious Landlady,Picnic,
    Strangers When We Meet,In The Middle of The Night,Pal Joey,Jeanne Eagels,Bell,Book & Candle
    Boys’Night Out,The Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Crack’d,Malibu,The Legend of Lylah Clare,
    The Great Bank Robbery also Kim’s outstanding performance in the classic thriller in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo with the late James Stewart and my favourite film from the all greats is W.Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage as Mildred Rogers,a cockney waitress meets and falls in love with Philip Carey played by the late Laurence Harvey in 1964.

    Kim retired from acting in 1991 after 37 years in showbusiness also becoming a Oil painting
    with watercolours from the portraits of world famous stars such as Frank Sinatra,
    Jack Lemmon,Fred MacMurray,Zsa Zsa Gabor,Angela Lansbury,Tony Curtis,Elizabeth Taylor,
    Kirk Douglas,Sharon Stone & Jeff Chandler.

    I Won’t forget the beautiful American Actress & The Oil Painter icon for a long time,the one & only,the lovely Kim Novak.

    Terry Christie
    A Great Kim Novak fan
    from Sunderland
    Tyne & Wear