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Posted : 1 year ago on 25 September 2016 12:45 (A review of Satan's Triangle)

Perhaps I should be kinder and grade this hokum, C-list television movie for what it is, but I can’t muster up that sympathy. Satan’s Triangle is nothing you haven’t seen before, better, scarier, more believably played elsewhere, anywhere else, honestly. A little bit of the occult, a little bit supernatural, and large dose of religiosity for good measure, Satan’s Triangle can’t even manage itself as good camp.


For some odd reason, the myth of Bermuda Triangle’s supernatural occurrences was a large obsession in 70s horror, look no further than a host of other TV movies and specials with studio era stars slumming it in obscure parts. Well, here’s another one that several people, I guess with a heaping dose of nostalgia filters on, deem an underrated jewel in the sub-genre. I think they’re all misremembering what is an otherwise routine and predictably stale hour.


But praise be to Kim Novak for trying valiantly to make this all work. She said the material appealed to her for the way it dabbled in the supernatural, and her appearances in Vertigo and Bell Book and Candle already clue us into her interests in that particular subject. She’s the sole survivor of a shipwreck, and she spends the night with Doug McClure’s lieutenant who answered her ship’s SOS call recounting the horrors she’s witnessed. Then it all ends in a twist that you’ll see coming the moment a priest is introduced to the narrative.


Still, Novak’s sublime leading work makes Satan’s Triangle worth sitting through, even if nothing much else does. Her vacant stares and choked vocal deliveries in her earliest scenes work very well for a trauma survivor. Then her vacant, distant face transforming into a diabolic smile and husky laugh in the twist ending are potent and strong variations in her performance, enough to give the material a bite it otherwise lacks.

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The Third Girl from the Left

Posted : 1 year ago on 21 September 2016 04:13 (A review of The Third Girl from the Left)

After 1960, Kim Novak lost interest in being a movie star and her film appearances became sporadic. By 1973 she hadn’t made a movie in four years. Then she appeared in Tales That Witness Madness and this film, her television debut. While her performance was self-conscious and monotone (essentially banging on the same neurotic key of fluttering, hand waving, and anxious breathing) in Madness, she’s touchingly vulnerable and real in The Third Girl from the Left.


While the film is not great, undiscovered treasure, it’s easy to see Novak’s attraction to the material. Parts of the Third Girl feel ripped straight from her life. The story of an aging chorus girl who realizes her career and romantic life are going nowhere, life has passed her by, and her choices and chances are quickly diminishing. There’s a poignancy built into the part that Novak tears into with her cool, cerebral detachment.


The opening credits are played over a tight close-up of Novak’s face as she slowly transforms from a real person into an idealized sex symbol. The fetishistic quality of it is pronounced enough, but once you factor in Novak’s reputation as a screen goddess an extra layer is added. This Marilyn Novak openly demonstrating how she transforms into Kim Novak, completely wordless, her face a blank, withheld canvas that warms up and breaks into a sultry smile once she completes the transformation. The way we build up cinematic personas, and love goddesses in particular, is examined in a matter of minutes, and it is a damn knockout sequence.


Shame then that the screenplay frequently fails Novak’s work. Numerous sequences are populated by awful dialog that needed a few more edits to sound plausible, and story beats that needed more modifications to develop. The isolation of Novak’s showgirl is felt in a minor way from the scripting, with most of the major work done by Novak’s moody, introspective persona. The constant worrying about aging out, or fending off hungry up-and-coming talent, doesn’t get enough traction to really reverberate, but what is there is solid. The subplot involving the romance with Michael Brandon as a young delivery boy has a few moments, but several of the scenes just feel artificial.


Still, for all of these clichés and problems (including sticking Tony Curtis with too thin of a role), The Third Girl from the Left is worth a look. It’s an engrossing enough piece of work on its own, but it’s immeasurably aided by Kim Novak. She brings the weight and reality of the life lived as a projection of lustful thoughts, and I’d wager that this performance is one of her unsung greats. Granted, it’s not up there with essential works like Vertigo, Kiss Me, Stupid, or Bell Book and Candle, but as a fan of her work, it’s nice to see a late period performance this strong after a few missteps and obtuse choices.

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Tales That Witness Madness

Posted : 1 year ago on 21 September 2016 03:35 (A review of Tales That Witness Madness)

An anthology of horrors, Tales That Witness Madness is minor to the point of anemia with one-note, passive performances, predictable stories, and yet it’s still entertaining in its limited way. There’s a few moments of deadpan humor in here, but this strength is frustratingly underdeveloped, like so much of the film.


Telling four stories as flashbacks as the primary characters are stuck in a mental institution, Tales That Witness Madness gives them unhappy home and interior lives to explain their psychological and supernatural scarring. The first story is about a little boy with an imaginary friend named Mr. Tiger, who is maybe not so imaginary. The story culminates with Mr. Tiger, revealed as an actual tiger, killing the boy’s frigid mother and uninvolved father while he passively looks on playing his toy piano. The only strength of this section is its ending scene, which verges on a chilling/camp psycho-sexual payoff.


The second story, “Penny Farthing,” is the weakest of the lot with nothing distinguishing or memorable about it. An antique store owner is haunted by a portrait and a penny farthing bicycle, there’s some time travel, and a fiery climax. This is the most enthusiasm I can muster for it. Thankfully the final two sequences whip themselves into a hysterical frenzy.


The third story, and possibly the most bonkers of the four, “Mel,” is about a man who finds an oddly shaped dead tree, brings it into his house as a piece of “found art,” and becomes increasingly obsessed with it to the point where his wife (Joan Collins, the lone actor in the entire film to find the right tone of stuffy kitsch) ratchets up the jealousy and paranoia. It comes to a climax, quite literally, with the man replacing his wife with the dead tree, now shaved into a vaguely vaginal shaped face and a noticeable pair of breasts. Understated it is not, but the consistent tone of martial and filial jaundice throughout Tales That Witness Madness reaches an apex here, and “Mel” is reason enough to watch the entire thing.  


The final segment, “Luau,” features the top-billed Kim Novak, replacing Rita Hayworth who was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. “Luau” features Novak’s most monotone performance to date, as she begins on the edge of neurotic, hysterical neediness and never leaves that tone. She plays a literary agent involved in sexual jealousy with her teenage daughter. Into this cold war comes a Hawaiian client of Novak’s who must sacrifice a virgin to appease his god, and you can guess exactly where the story goes. Why exactly this story brought Novak out of a four year exile is anyone’s guess, perhaps it was a fat paycheck and some easy work but it feels beneath her.


It’s stupid but watchable, but where else can you find a film containing human sacrifice, a tree with smoothly shaped breasts, and two sex sirens doing bizarre work? Tales That Witness Madness is an uneven affair like any other anthology collection, but there’s some mileage to get out of the more ludicrous moments. Kim Novak may get top billing, but it’s Joan Collins who steals the movie.

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The Great Bank Robbery

Posted : 1 year ago on 19 September 2016 03:27 (A review of The Great Bank Robbery)

An alleged western comedy, well, that’s not an entirely fair description. It’s very much a western, but debatable as a comedy. An effective comedy requires a bit of energy, and The Great Bank Robbery is distinctly lacking. This is a shame since there’s an enviable roster of solid comedy actors, a few sexy movie stars, and a few solid smiles, but it never adds up to much of anything.


How do you cast Zero Mostel in a leading role and then muzzle his manic, scenery-chewing energy? Casting Mostel as a bank robber disguised as an evangelist is inspired, and one hopes that he’ll be allowed to run wild like he does in The Producers. No such luck here. The Great Bank Robbery keeps him oddly muted when it needed him to yell and bug his eyes out as much as possible. The choice of sacking him with a terrible musical number is just another unfunny bit they sink him with.


Even worse is populating the film with Sam Jaffe, Akim Tamiroff, Elisha Cook Jr., John Fiedler, and Ruth Warrick then leaving them with nothing to play. How do you stack the cast with so many wonderfully oddball career character actors and give them so anemic material? The Great Bank Robbery deserves a good thrashing for this cinematic sin alone.


Then there’s the sexy movie stars, Clint Walker and Kim Novak. They get some of the best bits to play, providing the few moments of half-hearted smiles from me. Novak gets to play her sexuality and screen siren persona for laughs, flashing her cleavage for laughs and feeding Walker peyote candy then seducing him. Walker plays the straight-talking, stuff-shirt good boy very well, and tries his best to keep it under control while drugged with Novak. Much like the solid supporting players and comedic actors, they don’t get too much else to play aside from these few moments.


Yet there’s nothing much to The Great Bank Robbery to inspire much passion either way. After the bizarre viewing experiences I’ve previously had in Kim Novak’s films, this one commits the cardinal sin of being merely boring and forgettable. I’ve felt far more passionate disdain (The Eddy Duchin Story) or camp appreciation (The Legend Lylah Clare) for several other films, and this one inspires a mere shrug from me.


It doesn’t matter much what it’s about, there’s too many players at work here, too much story to burn through in a short time, and no one gets any really golden bit. I suppose one could argue that sex symbols Walker and Novak stripping down could be that, but these moments feel more tacked on for salacious interest than for any humorous purposes. The New York Times review described this movie as “so casually inept it can’t support even negative superlatives,” and that’s a perfect summary of it, really. It’s there, but if you really want to watch a great western comedy, go watch Blazing Saddles.

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The Legend of Lylah Clare

Posted : 1 year ago on 19 September 2016 02:42 (A review of The Legend of Lylah Clare)

Can a movie be a must-see viewing experience without actually being good in any demonstrable level? Yes, and this phenomenon is practically the reason we have midnight movies and cult classics. I present you with The Legend of Lylah Clare, a hodge-podge narrative of corrosive Hollywood dreams.


Echoing Sunset Boulevard, Vertigo, and Rebecca most prominently, and lacking all of the wit, poetry, and warped beauty of those films, The Legend of Lylah Clare tells the story of a naïve starlet cast in a biographical film of a tragic actress, only to be possessed by her spirit. Or is she just bonkers? In the end, it doesn’t even matter as the film presents this as a possible major story beat only to forget about it halfway through.


Lylah Clare is consistently fascinating in its layers of terrible choices and confounding performances. Initially director Robert Aldrich was thrilled with casting Kim Novak in the title role, and on paper it seems like a perfect match for her. Once again, Novak gets to play a dual role, but unlike in prior films, she’s clearly unenthused with the material and commits the strangest performance of her career to this film.


Novak alternates between enjoying herself speaking with a ridiculous accent (is it supposed to be Italian? I’m not sure what it is, but it’s fascinating), and sleepwalking through the rest of the film. The Legend of Lylah Clare continues with subjecting Novak to scenes of undress and sexual objectification, and while she’s lovely to look at, she’s palpably uncomfortable in more sexually aggressive moments. Like the film around her, Novak is awful but completely fascinating.


Lylah Clare populates its supporting players with European chic players and sturdy character actors. Ernest Borgnine and Peter Finch chew the scenery as insider Hollywood types, while Carol Browne and Valentina Cortese radiate glamour and mystique but are asked for little else. The wildest supporting player is clearly Rossella Falk as the lesbian housekeeper who was in love with Lylah, addicted to heroin, and too eager to take care of the new starlet being remade in Lylah’s specter.


All of these various players are grotesque cartoons, with not a viable or believable person to be found among them. This grotesque, near burlesque tone continues throughout until it culminates in one of the more bizarre endings of any film I’ve ever seen. It takes the phrase “dog eat dog” quite literally, and feels like the perfect piece of “what the fuck” imagery to send us out on. I’m not sure it’s good in any conventional sense, but my god if Lylah Clare isn't absolutely worth a watch.

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The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders

Posted : 1 year, 1 month ago on 16 September 2016 03:43 (A review of The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders)

If you kept most of the individual elements of The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders and just tweaked the script, you’d have something. I’m not sure if it would be very good, but I know it would be better than this. Moll Flanders comes out with heaving bosoms and ribald humor, then quickly settles into a shapeless mess of odd pacing and a limp central performance.


Not that star Kim Novak is given much to play for a good chunk of the film mind you, but most of her performance here rests upon her ample cleavage and red wig. She’s positively lovely here, carnal and ample bodied, but once again clearly uncomfortable playing the sex pot for a majority of the movie. Her Moll Flanders is a bit of a limp noodle, managing only to show some personality in scenes where she argues with Richard Johnson, becomes a thief and adopts a series of ridiculous disguises, or fends off the lecherous advances of Vittorio de Sica. After the prior year’s career high, and something a caper as it turns out, her work here is frustratingly limited.


Much better are a series of British thespians hamming it up with relish. Angela Lansbury, George Sanders, Lilli Palmer, and glorified cameos by Hugh Griffith and Roger Livesey liven things up routinely. They get the exaggerated and cartoon-like parts where they can play the smutty humor for its all of its artifice and kitsch value. The best performance though belongs to the great neo-realist Italian director, Vittorio de Sica. He’s deliciously camp here, bringing a similar quality that Charles Laughton brought to his lesser roles, seemingly playing as broadly as possible with poor material in effort to amuse himself.


But that’s the major problem with Moll Flanders, at two hours long and with a romance that’s indifferent at best, just boring at worst, there’s not enough story to justify the bloated running time. The first thirty minutes or so is a romp, a trashy glimpse into one woman’s quest of upward mobility through her sexuality and a series of opportunistic marriages. Yet there’s not enough bite to make the jokes sting, the stakes aren’t played seriously enough, and it quickly loses any semblance of personality or spirit before winding up as a distaff Tom Jones without the healthy dose of cynicism.


For all of its myriad of problems, Moll Flanders is vibrantly colored and lovely to look at. The score is pleasant, and there’s glimpses of a much better film lurking underneath it all. Novak’s wishy-washy performance could have been shaped into something better if the script gave her more to play with, and when Moll Flanders becomes a robber the film flirts with high-spirited adventure and interest just before realizing it has provided her too much agency and quickly wrapping up the story by sending everyone on a boat to America. It’s an ending alright, but like the film that preceded it, it’s more of a shrug than anything else.

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Kiss Me, Stupid

Posted : 1 year, 1 month ago on 15 September 2016 07:46 (A review of Kiss Me, Stupid)

No one could ever incorrectly accuse Billy Wilder of being cynical, but given the jaundiced nature of his outlook and work, there’s still something bracing about Kiss Me, Stupid’s acerbic quality. Not only does Wilder put female exploitation and fragile masculinity through the wringer, but marriage and upward mobility. If you want to achieve your dreams, then you better be prepared to pay and pay and pay.


Kiss Me, Stupid is something of a stepchild in Wilder’s work, with many people ready to close the book on him post-The Apartment, there’s a flawed, but tremendously rewarding body of work that’s being forgotten about. I have a deep fondness for Kiss Me, Stupid, think One, Two, Three is overdue for critical reevaluation, and find Irma La Douce and The Fortune Cookie to be highly entertaining, if messy, pieces of work.


But why is Kiss Me, Stupid treated so poorly? It could be any of the following things, or a combination thereof: a troubled production, a muted release through a subsidiary after the distributor got clammy, condemnation by the Catholic Legion of Decency, and a sourness that’s shocking even by Wilder’s standards. Doesn’t mean Kiss Me, Stupid is without merits, or that it’s not entertaining, because it very much is, just that it’s commonly treaded as the thing that handicapped a career of one of the greatest writer/director/producers ever.


Looking back, the slow destruction of the studio system probably played a larger hand in the eventual awkward gait of Wilder’s career, not like he was alone, practically all of the great craftsmen and auteurs of the studio era had trouble adapting to the New Hollywood generation. Yet the troubled production would be a major blow to just about anyone.


Originally conceived with Marilyn Monroe in the sex pot role, her untimely death was but the first sea change. Jayne Mansfield was then considered for the role, but she had to bow out due to pregnancy. Wilder originally hired Peter Sellers as Orville, our neurotic, jealous husband with dreams of being a major songwriter. Six weeks into production and Sellers suffered a major heart attack, causing Wilder to scrap the entire production and start over.  Any of the replacements (Tony Randall, Tom Ewell, Bob Hope, Danny Kaye) would have been stellar in the role, but we got Ray Walston in the role.


His work is complicated for me, and the major hindrance towards my praising Kiss Me, Stupid as a slept-on masterpiece awaiting rediscovery. In the later scenes with Kim Novak, Walston manages a warmth and tenderness that is most pleasing, and he creates a believable partnership with Cliff Osmond, but these praises can’t distract from the first act’s volley of loud overacting. Walston projects his fragile masculinity so severely it’s like he’s playing to cheap seats in an auditorium three blocks away.


Thankfully to act as a counter balance Wilder brings in two movie stars and allows them to deconstruct (even outright parody) their familiar personas. Dean Martin does a daring, even bravely unself-conscious, piece of self-parody in the role of Dino, a popular singer with a penchant for booze and girls. Once Dino winds up in Climax, Neveda he deadpans, “The only way to go.” Yes, it’s an easy joke, but Martin delivers it with drunken swagger, landing the joke with more bite. Even better is a sight gag involving his hand getting stuck in an empty Kleenex box that verges on the pornographic for all the smuttiness he plays it up for, and god bless him for it. Martin’s star persona dominates everything in the sleepy hamlet, hammering home the predatory nature of the male ego as Dino happily exchanges sex for performing Orville’s song on a Bob Hope special.


Martin’s performance is one of his greatest, but Kim Novak is even better. Novak’s casting as a sex bomb is no stretch, and in other films that rested upon her character’s carnality, she displayed a strong discomfort in the role. Not so here. Novak plays Polly the Pistol (what a name!) with a deep melancholy, and once again finds herself in a role that fractures. There’s Polly, the waitress/prostitute, and then there’s “Zelda,” where Polly pretends to be Orville’s wife and seduce Dino as an indirect route to sell their song(s) on the pop star. Novak commits completely to the role, deploying a deep, husky voice (her character has a cold), and is at her best in a scene where she expertly avoids the grabby, greedy hands of the bar patrons. Novak gets to be both an object of desire and a knowing but undefeated welder of her sexuality, the role has echoes of her sublime work in Picnic and Vertigo, and it remains one of Novak’s essential roles.


In the end, Kiss Me, Stupid shutters around its two female characters into the roles of wife and whore, then they switch, then back again. For all of the toxic masculinity on display, which Wilder plays as burlesque cruelty and condemns, these two are several steps ahead of the bumbling idiots around them. That final stinger, a strong point for Wilder’s films of the era, gives the distinct impression that fucking around on your spouse can be as effective as marriage therapy. Hell, it may even improve your finances. Kiss Me, Stupid is an abrasive, corrosive and possessing a vulgar integrity, it’s like The Apartment’s more grown-up, bitter cousin.

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Of Human Bondage

Posted : 1 year, 1 month ago on 14 September 2016 04:00 (A review of Of Human Bondage)

Occasionally a remake will wind up as the superior version, look at Judy Garland’s A Star is Born or John Huston’s debut The Maltese Falcon, that particular property was the third go at Dashiell Hammett’s stellar novel. This 1964 version of M. Somerset Maugham’s tale does not join those exemplary works. No, this version of Of Human Bondage falls into the abyss of lackluster remakes, but one that is at least worth a cursory look.


Director changes and production strife are warning signs for any property as so few of them transcend these handicaps, and Of Human Bondage blew through three of them. Shame that none of them could liven up the proceedings, as this version is distinctly lacking in energy, memorable images, and many of the big moments are fumbled. It began life under Henry Hathaway’s direction, and he wanted Montgomery Clift and Marilyn Monroe in the leads. Clift would be a stellar choice for Philip Carey, but Monroe is a strange choice for Mildred. Hathaway got neither of them, instead winding up with Laurence Harvey and Kim Novak. After one day of shooting, during which he sparred with Novak, Hathaway quit the film, then the writer, Bryan Forbes, took over until a suitable replacement was found. Finally, Ken Hughes took over the production.


None of this drama backstage translated to the screen, as the entirety of the film is a muted affair. There’s no passion, no heat, no believable erotic torture and chemistry between the leads, and the main thrust of the narrative is flaccid as a result. Of Human Bondage is about sexual obsession, and treating it with corseted emotions is not the right approach. We need to invest in and believe that the siren’s call of Mildred is enough to drive Philip to distraction, and we just don’t feel it here.


Even worse is how indifferent Harvey is throughout, unless it’s a scene where he gets to rage against Novak. Their backstage feud enlivens only the scenes where they name call, bicker, and verbally abuse each other. Aside from these moments, Harvey seems distracted throughout, like he’s counting down the minutes until the end of filming. This is a role that requires an actor to dig deep and mine for layers of sensitivity, tenderness, and helplessness. No wonder Hathaway wanted Clift in the lead that was his entire métier as a leading man. Though it’s not like any of the supporting players are even trying, or if they are, they play several scenes like they got no direction or support behind-the-scenes.


Only Novak provides a reason to watch this movie. She’s not delivering a good performance per se, as she grossly mishandles the role (and accent), but she’s fascinating to watch. Mildred should not be sympathetic or kittenish, she’s a sociopath who uses her amorality and sexuality to steamroll over anyone in her way, like a WWI era version of Barbara Stanwyck’s character in Baby Face. Yet Novak is frequently playing her slatternly strumpet less as a cruelly manipulative person and far more as a kittenish Cockney girl. It’s all wrong, but engrossing in its wrongness.


Her looks do much of the work in making Mildred believable as a shore men are happy to crash upon, but Novak’s performance finally works, not ironically or as camp like the rest of the film, in the final act. When Mildred returns as a destitute prostitute, Novak takes obvious glee in burying her beauty under hideous makeup and unflattering clothing. She delivers a verbal tirade against Harvey, detailing all of the ways in which she’s hated and mocked him over the years, that’s astounding for the volcanic layers of ugly emotions exploding out after years of repression. When she returns afflicted with late-stage complications from syphilis, Novak looks like a hollowed out ghoul. I would almost deem this performance as essential if the rest of it was as striking and honest to god great as these final moments, but that Cockney accent of hers is truly appalling. (Ok, so it’s not as entertainingly bad as Dick Van Dyke’s in Mary Poppins, but it’s still bad.)


Movie star performances can make or break middling or bad movies, and Of Human Bondage is a prime example of this phenomenon. Pity nothing else is of much value here, as the solid structure of the story salvages a few floundering moments. It’s also mercifully brief, coming in at 95 minutes. Sure, that means several emotional beats are compromised and numerous characters blur or fade away, but it also means that you’re in and out relatively quickly. Once you’re done watching this, go back to Bette Davis’ star making performance in the Pre-Code version and see this material done right.

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Boys' Night Out

Posted : 1 year, 1 month ago on 14 September 2016 03:25 (A review of Boys' Night Out)

These cosmopolitan, chic 1960s sex farces/bedroom comedies are much harder to realize then their artifice would lead you to believe. Just because Doris Day and Rock Hudson flirting in Pillow Talk is a tart, tasty dessert doesn’t mean the whole genre is so wonderfully pretty. Boys’ Night Out is entertaining, if a little long and possessing an underwhelming ending, and chaste sex comedy, the kind that would feel far older than its 1962 release date if it didn’t have that thin veneer of libido spread across it.


Funny that I brought up Pillow Talk as Boys’ Night Out shares a director with that film, Michael Gordon. Maybe it was that Doris Day and Rock Hudson knew how to play all of this with a wink and a nudge, or maybe that film just had a better script, but this is clearly trying to ape that formula (even borrowing Tony Randall for another horny, manic performance) and only mildly succeeding.


On a surface level, everything about Boys’ Night Out is perfect. The penthouse apartment is a prime example of mid-century modern aesthetics, Kim Novak’s wardrobe is smart and enviable, many of the supporting players are scene-stealers, and leading man James Garner is perfection. Garner’s performance here, in his familiar lovable rascal persona, launched him into stardom, and of the four major male characters he comes across the best.


Yet this was intended as a career re-launch for Kim Novak after a two year absence from the screen. Novak comes across well in the scenes that require her to flirt with Garner, or act like the brainy grad student her character really is. Where she stumbles is in projecting sexual availability and eagerness. She was never comfortable in playing the “sex symbol” role, and much of the plot hinges on this quality. Other than a few moments of her becoming visibly guarded, Novak is actually in perfectly fine form for most of the film. Finally getting to let her braininess and intelligence come to the surface gives the actress a new texture to explore in her familiar screen persona.


A tighter edit would have helped Boys’ Night Out as nearly two hours to tell this story inevitably leads to moments of feeling padded out. Or perhaps if the wives had larger parts, more fully realized characters to play than mere archetypes things would have improved. As it is, the film wants to play it both ways, to both underscore why the men want to step out on their wives while also reestablishing order and landing firmly on the side of “traditional” family values. Part of me also wishes that the film had ended with the chaotic confrontation in the apartment by the wronged wives, led a hilariously sauced Jessie Royce Landis as Garner’s hectoring mother (a role she played exceptionally in several films), and not the coda that does feature an amusing Zsa Zsa Gabor cameo but little else.


I would place Boys’ Night Out on roughly even playing ground with Sex and the Single Girl, another entertaining blast of stale air of 60s sex farce in sophisticated clothing. The whole thing is handsome looking, there’s plenty of entertainment to be found, and a ton of mileage out of watching glamorous, beautiful movie stars at play, but an aftertaste of “is that all there is?” Yes, that is all there is. Your threshold for this stuff may vary, but it’s a perfectly fine lazy Sunday afternoon movie.

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The Notorious Landlady

Posted : 1 year, 1 month ago on 12 September 2016 03:50 (A review of The Notorious Landlady)

The pedigree is strong with The Notorious Landlady, but the final product doesn’t add up to much of anything. The pacing is lacking, the production values are strangely muted, and the star power is either miscast or gone to waste.


Director Richard Quine’s 1950s comedy output was never lacking in energy or imagination, with Operation Mad Ball and Bell Book and Candle being prime examples of his best work of the period. But the moment the 60s hit, something went off with his work. The Notorious Landlady is symptomatic of his later work, pacing issues abound, emphasis is placed in weird spots of the narrative and development, and the performances are just routine.


I wonder if Blake Edwards taking the directing chores would have produced something better. His Pink Panther films clearly take their outline from his script for this, and maybe he could have reassembled some of the odder choices into something more coherent. The final act change, where the pacing goes from deliberately slow to all out slapstick farce, feels too disjointed from the rest of the film to work. Maybe Edwards would have found the jokes throughout the film, as so much of the first 2/3 of the film is heavy on the talk, exposition, and light on laughs.


Jack Lemmon tries to make the laughs bubble up, but it’s all for not. Fred Astaire is wasted, but does what he can with the thinly written role. Estelle Winwood and Lionel Jeffries fare better in small roles, providing a few moments of dry British wit. Then there’s Kim Novak, who seems entirely sleepy here with the ambiguous role collapsing the longer the film goes on. It takes a stronger hand to get comedy out of her, but she wasn’t incapable of it, but she’s obviously uncomfortable with the sex siren scenarios at play here.


It’s not that The Notorious Landlady is a complete bore, but it teeters very close to that edge. Much better movies take a similar ground, so a blueprint was there, but I put much of the blame purely on Quine’s shoulders. He could better than this, and Lemmon, Astaire, and Novak deserved better than this.

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