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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Kim Novak: 12 Essential Films

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.


Unknown said...

A nice round up! While I'd personally argue for Psycho, Rear Window and maybe The Birds as my favourites of Hitchcock's films, I think it was Kim Novack's performance in Vertigo that really made that film so special, especially as she actually made me believe that she actually was two different women along with Scotty, unsure until the final revelation.

An interesting anecdote - in the casino scene in Run Lola Run the director asked for a portrait of Kim Novak to hang in the background - the artist painted Novak from the back in her grey suit and her hair in the distinctive chignon from the art gallery scene in Vertigo. It is still present in the background of Run Lola Run's casino scenes!

Kimberly Lindbergs said...

I've always loved Novak and she was my dad's favorite actress. As a matter of fact, my mother told me she wanted to name me Mary when I was born and my dad wanted to name me Kim because he loved the name due to his affection for the actress. A huge fight broke out in the hospital where I was born and they compromised and named me Kimberly (My dad always called me Kim). How funny is that? But I digress!

Very nice list, but I would have included Just a Gigolo and Liebstraum on my own list just because I love both films so much. It's funny, but I recently watched Just a Gigolo again and was thinking about writing something about it. As for Liebstraum, it's such a fantastic film in my opinion and really one of the most interesting films I can remember seeing in the early 1990s, but it's totally unappreciated which is really a shame. Even though it was Novak's last movie, she proved that she could still be brilliant if the material was good, but the film was basically ignored. Sadly, it seems her experiences on set with director Mike Figgis were not that great either, so I guess that's another reasons she stopped acting, which is a great loss to everyone.

I still haven't seen Middle of the Night and The Legend of Lylah Clare, but they sound great!

Nostalgia Kinky said...

Thanks Colin,
I love Run Lola Run!!! Franka is my girl...I really love the follow up film they did as well, Princess and The Warrior...thanks for teh comments.

Thanks so much Kimberly for the nice personal commets...what a cool story.
I almost include both Gigolo and Liebstraum but didn't at the last minute. You might remember taht I am a big Figgis fan, and Liebstraum is fascinating...Kim has had such a remarkable career...anyway, thanks again for the great comments...

Chris F. said...

I've been a fan of Kim's since the restoration of Vertigo in 1996. I also like her performance in Picnic. I've not seen the Legend of Lyle Clare, but I may finally get the chance when TCM airs her movies all day on August 12.

Nostalgia Kinky said...

Thanks Chris,
I appreciate the comments and will make a special post on TCMs Novak day. Thanks again...

Nostalgia Kinky said...

Thanks Chris,
I appreciate the comments and will make a special post on TCMs Novak day. Thanks again...

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