Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Try This On For Size


"Kim's gotten too big for her...britches." -- Barbara Nichols on Kim Novak


10 comments:

  1. Going out on a limb with a potentially inflamatory opinion: I've never understood the appeal of Kim Novak. She was not a great actress and she had no personality. She's just always come across as "flat" to me.
    Anyone want to take counterpoint?

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    1. Even though she was originally manufactured and marketed specifically as Columbia's threat to Fox's Monroe, I always think of Novak as "Dietrich lite." She didn't (in my opinion) have MM's luscious, wet-lipped sexuality -- one critic compared seeing MM on the big screen as "being smothered in Baked Alaska," and I don't think you could ever apply that to watching Novak -- but she DID have a measure of Dietrich's remote, enigmatic eroticism. Of course, she was MUCH more limited as an actress than either Monroe OR Dietrich (and THEY were limited, to begin with), but I do believe that she came across well on film.

      A big part of the problem with judging Novak's appeal is that she wasn't given many good movies. Or, rather, she was put in quite a few acknowledged classic films, but she wasn't given many roles which capitalized thoroughly on her icy/hot persona. She co-starred in at least three acknowledged classics ("Vertigo," "Picnic," and to a lesser degree, "The Man with the Golden Arm"), but in the first and third, she played purposely drab, down-on-their-heels characters, and in the second, a small town beauty.

      The films which best demonstrate Novak's appeal are the ones where she's all cool, sleek lines, a breathing embodiment of the mid-century modern objets d'art on conspicuous display in the eye-popping art direction of "Bell, Book and Candle" and "Strangers When We Meet." THOSE are the ultimate love letters to Kim Novak, Movie Star, and films like that should have been built around her. Unfortunately, Harry Cohn of Columbia was more interested in a "pissing contest" to prove that she could turn a nobody into a genuine superstar, which he proceeded to do with Novak; but once he made his point, he could have cared less about the films she was put into. It was enough that the public seemed to like her, and he did, indeed, "manufacture" his own star.

      For all that Marilyn Monroe complained about the typecasting that Fox subjected her to, it cannot be denied that properties they specifically built around her "image" (such as "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes," "How to Marry a Millionaire," and "The Seven Year Itch") went a long way toward cementing the idea of her persona into the collective consciousness. When MM deviated from the formula -- the Western "River of No Return," the heavier drama of "Bus Stop," the brittle British comedy "The Prince and the Showgirl" -- the profits were drastically smaller. To my knowledge, Kim Novak never really had properties specifically bought or written for her -- even "Bell, Book and Candle," which I believe to be her ultimate role, was originally conceived with Jayne Mansfield (!) borrowed from Fox for the Novak part, but pregnancy ultimately forced Mansfield to bow out. Novak's films are wildly erratic, not only in quality, but in content -- everything from Paddy Chayefsky downers ("Middle of the Night") to broad, vulgar comedy ("Kiss Me Stupid") -- which seems less a virtuoso burst of versatility, than a complete lack of understanding of how to properly showcase her.

      This was long winded, but my original point was, yes, I understand why someone would take a dim view of Kim Novak's appeal, but I think that's due in large part to her ineffectual casting in many of her films, even the ones historically considered to be her "best." If you haven't seen "Bell, Book and Candle" or "Strangers When We Meet," I do heartily suggest seeking them out.

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  2. Thank you for that very interesting overview. You make a lot of very good points, especially about her movies and Harry Cohn. I had never thought about that before, but you may be right that once he "won," he then lost interest. And one does not really remember her performances even when one remembers her movies. I adore "Bell, Book and Candle," as does my partner. When we once showed it to a friend, she liked it, but said that Kim was more of a "poser" than an actress. Maybe. But her coolness often worked to great advantage for her.

    I never before heard that Jayne Mansfield was considered for "Bell, Book and Candle!" It certainly would have been a very different movie, although Jayne could do low-key when the role required it. (Of course, maybe they would not have wanted low-key.) Do you know if negotiations were well underway when she became pregnant, or was it more of a passing idea that may have never gone beyond that point?

    I think Kim looks kind of like Zsa Zsa in the photo that accompanies this post.

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    1. I doubt that anything was set in stone, but from what I've been able to piece together from various bios and sources is that the columns were strongly tapping Jayne as the main contender for the role, when the film adaptation was announced. How much truth there was in that, and how much was a press agent's spin, I have no clue. That may be a good idea for a future series of posts: the stars who were rumored to have been first offered certain roles. The problem is, there's very little you can do to verify them! One biography of the British blonde bombshell, Diana Dors, claims that she was the original choice for "The Girl Can't Help It" -- which seems odd, considering that TGCHI was a Fox picture, and Dors was imported from England by RKO. Still another old press clipping suggests that TGCHI was originally proposed as a vehicle for Fox's would-be Monroe successor, Sheree North, under the working title of "Do-Re-Mi." A particularly amusing rumor is that Mae West was in the running for the role of Belle Watling in "Gone with the Wind"! And Bette Davis fueled the (untrue) rumor that she "turned down" the role of Scarlett O'Hara for YEARS.

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    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    3. Ack! Your comment's gone! Email me privately, if you prefer. :)

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  3. As always, a well thought out and expressed position. You've given me plenty to (re)consider about Kim Novak!

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    1. As a sidenote: a few evenings ago, I attended a fun program at Lincoln Center, where the NY Philharmonic played various Hitchcock scores with accompanying film clips, all projected in beautiful HD digital. "Vertigo" looked particularly beautiful, and Kim Novak's eyes were absolutely hypnotic.

      Also, apropos of nothing, as far as Columbia's blonde bombshells go, I secretly prefer that B-film hothouse flower, Cleo Moore, to Kim! She was a fun, ballsy dame, and in her handful of sleazy programmers, she projects a ton of charisma. Several of her films have been made available at long last on DVD, via a series of film noir box sets.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XDE1UsFyu7E

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dHzJcAd_Cs0

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  4. Kim Novak is a wonderful actress and the most beautiful woman I´ve ever seen on a movie screen !!!

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  5. Kim Novak is a wonderful actress and the most beautiful woman I´ve ever seen on a movie screen !!!

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