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Posts Tagged ‘Kim Novak’

The same year that James Stewart and Kim Novak starred together in Hitchcock’s classic ‘Vertigo’, they also starred in this romantic comedy.  Kim Novak is Gillian Holroyd, a beautiful young woman who hates her publisher neighbour Shepherd Henderson’s (James Stewart) fiancee, so casts a spell to split them up.  But then Shepherd falls for Gillian, unaware that she is a witch.  Jack Lemmon also stars, as Gillian’s adorable warlock brother Nicky.

Although the storyline might be considered a bit corny, the stellar cast of Novak, Stewart and Lemmon, who are ably supported by Ernie Kovacs, as an author of books about witches, who is a bit too fond of bourbon (or whisky, or whatever else is on offer) and Elsa Lanchester as Gillian’s aunt Queenie, who is also a witch, raise the standard of this film.  Let’s be clear – the witches are above all endearing and definitely not frightening (nor are they intended to be!)  Lemmon is just adorable – but when isn’t he? – as Nicky, and Novak is, if you’ll excuse the expression, completely bewitching.  It’s hard not to imagine Shepherd falling for her with or without the use of witchcraft to move things along.

James Stewart pretty much stopped playing the romantic lead type role after this film, feeling that he was too old for it.  He was indeed 25 years older than Novak, but somehow I hardly seemed to notice – they had great chemistry together.  The story was amusing, if not laugh-out-loud funny (the funniest parts were courtesy of Lemmon and Lanchester), and very sweet.  Special mention for Gillian’s familiar, the lovely cat Pyewacket (Novak ended up adopting the cat after filming was completed).  The ending is fairly predictable, but there are a few surprises in store along the way.

All in all, I would say that this is not the best film in the back catalogue of any of these actors, but it is an enjoyable and heartwarming story, and a lovely way to spend a couple of hours.

Year of release: 1958

Director: Richard Quine

Producer: Julian Blaustein

Writers: John Van Druten (play ‘Bell, Book and Candle), Daniel Taradash

Main cast: James Stewart, Kim Novak, Jack Lemmon, Elsa Lanchester, Ernie Kovacs, Janice Rule

 

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This adaptation of William Inge’s play, was brought to the big screen in 1955. It stars William Holden (swoon) as Hal Carter, an aimless drifter, who comes to a small Kansas town on the day of the Labor Day Picnic, to seek out his old schoolfriend Alan Benson. Alan is now rich, successful and going out with the prettiest girl in town, Madge Owens (Kim Novak). Madge’s pushy mother is anxious for Madge to marry Alan, so that she will have money and a luxurious lifestyle, but Madge is fed up of only being admired and wanted for her looks. And when she meets Hal, there is an undeniable attraction between them, which could threaten everyone’s plans.

I was in two minds about this film, because there are so many flaws in it, and yet it is still enjoyable in its own way. First, William Holden was a beautiful looking man, and a greatly under-rated actor, but the sad truth is that he was just too old to play Hal. The character is supposed to be a young man in his early/mid 20s – and Cliff Robertson, who played Alan, did look about the right age – but William Holden was 37 when this film was made. He himself was reluctant to take the part initially, as he felt he was too old for it, and he was right. Nonetheless, he does look great, and there are a couple of shirt-off scenes, which serve no real purpose other than to show off Holden’s physique (which is fine by me!) Kim Novak was fine as Madge, but looks slightly older than the 19 years she is supposed to be. Not really a problem to be honest, except that Susan Strasberg, who played Madge’s 16 year old sister Millie, looked young and tiny for her age (and certainly the scenes where Hal escorts Millie to the picnic looked ‘off’ somehow, as he looked like an adult man and she looked like a young girl). Also, the music in certain moments was far too dramatic, and made it all look rather silly. A specific example was when a character ripped Hal’s shirt. The music in that scene would have been more appropriate for a sudden murder scene!

BUT, for all that, I still quite enjoyed the film. The things that weren’t quite right with it, were all too obvious, but I still found myself wanting to keep watching and see how things turned out, and if it came on television I would probably watch it again, although I wouldn’t specifically seek it out. I think it was quite obvios that the fil is adapted from a play, as it did feel quite ‘stagey’ and possibly the story is better suited to a stage than a screen. This film did make it onto the American Film Institute’s Top 100 Romantic Films, and I suspect that one certain dance scene – and if you see the film, you will certainly know which scene I’m referring to – may have helped it to get onto the list! Certainly the sexual tension and atmosphere in that scene crackles, and is almost tangible.

Overall, not brilliant, but certainly not bad.

Year of release: 1955

Director: Joshua Logan

Producer: Fred Kohlmar

Writers: William Inge (play), Daniel Taradash

Main cast: William Holden, Kim Novak, Cliff Robertson, Susan Strasberg, Betty Field

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This 1958 movie was the final of four collaborations between Alfred Hitchcock and James Stewart. The film performed modestly in cinemas, and Hitchcock apparently blamed Stewart for this, saying that at 50, Stewart was too old to draw in large audiences anymore. (Hitchcock also made a few less than complimentary comments about female star Kim Novak.) Regardless of it’s initial viewing figures, it has since become regarded as one of Hitchcock’s best films, and a classic of the genre.

I find Hitchcock’s movie’s somewhat hit-and-miss. To Catch A Thief and North by Northwest are both superb (maybe it’s the Cary Grant effect) and if you haven’t seen them, you definitely should! This is the third Hitchcock/Stewart I’ve seen, and is my favourite of all three, although it’s not perfect by any means.

Stewart plays John ‘Scottie’ Ferguson, a detective who leaves the police force, due to suffering from acrophobia. An old friend named Gavin Elster asks Scottie to tail his wife Madeleine, as Gavin is concerned about Madeleine’s unusual behaviour and fears that she will end up hurting herself. Scottie accepts the job, but quickly becomes obsessed with Madeleine…

There was a lot to enjoy about this film – Stewart (whatever Hitchcock thought) was perfect in the role of Scottie, a man who finds his equilibrium disturbed by the elusive and beautiful Madeleine. Personally, I thought this was one of the best roles I had ever seen Stewart play. I also really liked the dynamic between Scottie and his friend Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes). Kim Novak looked stunning as Madeleine, and she gets the chance to really demonstrate her acting chops in this film. There was real chemistry between Stewart and Novak.

The story itself is pretty straightforward, but there is a big twist, which I absolutely refuse to disclose here. Had I known about it before viewing the film, it would certainly have spoiled it for me, so I won’t spoil it for anyone else.

However, the film raises as many questions as it answers. There is an air of implausibility about the whole thing – a common thing with Hitchcock films – and one scene in particular, while intruiging enough, seems to serve no real purpose. I also find the use of highly dramatic music at moments of tension to be unnecessary, although I appreciate that at the time that the film was made, it was probably a very effective technique. (I always just feel that I don’t need dramatic moments to be signposted; I can spot them for myself).

In the hands of less capable actors, this film could have fallen flat. However, the talents of the two main stars keep things tense and interesting, and fans of the genre, and I would recommend watching it at least once.

Year of release: 1958

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Writers: Alec Coppel, Samuel A. Taylor, Pierre Boileau, Thomas Narcejac, Maxwell Anderson

Main cast: James Stewart, Kim Novak, Barbara Bel Geddes, Tom Helmore

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