Wednesday, November 21, 2007
So much has been written about Kim Novak that it seems a little pointless to do a biography type piece on her. Instead, I thought I would just pay a short tribute to twelve of her most essential films. Kim has been one of my favorite actresses since I first discovered her in my early teens, and I don't think she has ever been granted the credit she deserves. As one of the last true studio stars of the fifties, Kim Novak might not have been among the great actors of her day, but she had a quality and a screen presence few have ever matched. At her best, she was able to project a touchingly awkward and unsure quality that few actors could ever even hope to touch. Here are twelve of her films, in chronological order, that I find particularly memorable, with several genuine classics in the bunch.
1. PICNIC (1955): Kim had appeared in a handful of films before this timeless Joshua Logan classic, but none had even hinted that she would have been capable of delivering the performance she does here. As the beautiful and insecure Madge, Kim gives one of the most memorable performances of the fifties, and few screen couples have generated more of an erotic charge than her and William Holden here. From its unforgettable George Duning score, to the beautiful photography of James Wonge Howe, PICNIC is one of the essential American films of the fifties, and Kim Novak is one of its biggest assets.
2. THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM (1955): Otto Preminger's harrowing tale of heroin addiction stills packs a wallop over fifty years after its release. Frank Sinatra delivers one of his great screen performances, and Kim is effective in a small but strong role as his girlfriend Molly. Kim would work again with Frank a few years later in PAL JOEY, but THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM remains their most memorable pairing.
3. VERTIGO (1958): What can possibly be said about this miraculous Alfred Hitchcock film that hasn't been said already? With all due respect to both Grace Kelly and Tippie Hedren, Kim Novak was the ultimate Hitchcockian heroine, and she delivers a powerfully strange and haunting performance in this, possibly the master's greatest film.
4. BELL, BOOK AND CANDLE (1958): My favorite Kim Novak film, and one I will be writing on in detail later this week.
5. MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT (1959): Oh, how I would like to see this film again. I caught it on television many years ago, and I remember it being a really effective version of Paddy Chayefsky's play. Kim was at her absolute peak, physically and artistically, in this period.
6. STRANGERS WHEN WE MEET (1960): Underrated Richard Quine film that would give Kim one of her best roles, and later inspire David Bowie to write one of his great songs. I wish I liked Kirk Douglas more, because his performance is probably the only thing keeping this from being one of my favorite American films from the early sixties.
7. BOY'S NIGHT OUT (1962): Silly but fun romp from director Michael Gordon that gave Kim a chance to show her comedic chops, and work with both James Garner and Tony Randall. Not currently available on DVD but it pops up on Turner Classic Movies quite a bit.
8. OF HUMAN BONDAGE (1964): Kim's most controversial film continues to divide people to this day, but count me in with the camp that greatly admires it. I find her work here to be incredibly strong, resonate, and it is probably her greatest performance. I love everything about the film, from the stark black and white photography Of Oswald Morris to the beautiful score of Ron Goodwin. This caused quite a stir back in 1964, with my favorite moment being Time Magazine's fiery and angry defense of her performance.
9. KISS ME STUPID (1964): Billy Wilder's unhinged, profane and fall down hilarious sex satire is among the great man's most underrated works. Working with a fantastic I.A.L. Diamond script, Kim stars in one her sexiest performances as Polly The Pistol opposite Dean Martin irrepressible Dino. Fast, funny, perverse and totally off the wall, KISS ME STUPID is one of the great American comedies of the mid sixties.
10. THE AMOROUS ADVENTURES OF MOLL FLANDERS (1965): Terence Young's bawdy answer to Tony Richardson's TOM JONES failed upon its initial release but it holds up quite well I think. Young's direction is adventurous, and Kim (as a redhead) is delightful in the title role. Becoming harder and harder to see, this film is really deserving of a quality DVD release.
11. THE LEGEND OF LYLAH CLARE (1968): Kim bids farewell to Hollywood with this crazed over the top Robert Aldrich film that really has to be seen to be believed. The film's current unavailability is extremely frustrating, and needs to be rectified soon.
12. TALES THAT WITNESS MADNESS (1973): While she has had a handful of notable roles after the sixties, THE LEGEND OF LYLAH CLARE pretty much works as Kim's last definitive performance. Still, I quite like her here in this Freddie Francis shot horror anthology. Kim reportedly replaced an ailing Rita Hayworth and, like all of her work, she is most memorable in the part.
There are several Kim Novak films that I haven't seen that I would really like to, most notably JEANNE EAGELS (1957), and THE NOTORIOUS LANDLADY (1962). However I think the above are her most essential works, although some might argue effectively for THE EDDY DUCHIN STORY (1956), PAL JOEY, and JUST A GIGOLO (1979). For me, her great period came between 1958 and 1964 with her work in VERTIGO, BELL BOOK AND CANDLE, OF HUMAN BONDAGE, and KISS ME STUPID being particularly great reminders at how good this undervalued icon could be. I have provided links above to the ones that are currently available on DVD, hopefully the rest will become available eventually.