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The Kim Novak Collection: (Picnic / Jeanne Eagels / Bell, Book and Candle / Middle of the Night / Pal Joey)
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It's Labor Day weekend, and fresh off a freight train is Hal Carter (William Holden), a happy-go-lucky drifter who's looking for a brand new start in life. A robust, handsome show-off, Hal has come to Kansas to seek gainful employment in his old fraternity brother Alan's family granary. But despite his high hopes and expectations, Hal's ambitious plans soon go away when his sexual magnetism attracts every woman in town, including 19-year-old Madge Owens (Kim Novak) -- the alluring young beauty queen who also happens to be Alan's girlfriend.
The short and tortured life of Broadway actress and silent screen star Jeanne Eagels was a perfect vehicle for Miss Novak. As a small-town beauty whose ambition for the legitimate stage drove her to self-destruction, the film showcased Novak’s dramatic talents in one of her favorite roles. Richly photographed in Black and White, and directed by George Sidney (Kiss Me Kate, Viva Las Vegas), with strong support from the legendary Agnes Moorehead and Jeff Chandler.
Bell, Book, and Candle
Meet Gillan Holroyd (Kim Novak), Greenwich Village's most seductive sorceress. Powerful, glamorous, and a wee bit bored, Gillian knows that witches can't fall in love. But they can have fun... especially if their lover belongs to another woman! So when Gillian discovers handsome new neighbor Shep Henderson (James Stewart) is the fiance of an old college nemesis (Janice Rule), she promptly puts the befuddled publisher under her spell. But while her sex hex may have heated up Shep's heart, it has also unthawed her own, leading to a romantic complication that not even Pyewacket, Gillian's mind-reading cat, could have foreseen. Presented in eye popping Technicolor transfer that beautifully captures James Wong Howe's stunning cinematography, Bell, Book and Candle co-starring Jack Lemmon, Ernie Kovacs, Hermione Gingold, and Elsa Lanchester is "a delightful spoof on witchcraft with the cast members at their very best." THE MOTION PICTURE GUIDE!
Middle of the Night
Paddy Chayefsky’s story, pairing her with actor Frederick March, allowed Novak to again display the richness of her talent. Novak is a young divorcee who falls into an uneasy romantic relationship with her clothing manufacturer boss (March), who is more than twice her age. The anxieties and opinions of family and friends press on the couple and strain the fragile relationship. Directed by Delbert Mann on location in New York, the terrific supporting cast includes Martin Balsam and Lee Grant.
Pal Joey stars Rita Hayworth, Frank Sinatra, and Kim Novak in a sophisticated musical comedy. Sinatra plays Joey Evans, a cabaret singer who romances wealthy socialite Hayworth into financing his own nightclub, but then falls for voluptuous chorine Novak. Pal Joey took 17 years to get to the screen. Based on a series of stories written as letters by John O'Hara for THE NEW YORKER, the letters were all signed "Your Pal Joey" by a mythical dancer. O'Hara later adapted the stories as a book for the Broadway musical which starred Gene Kelly. When Columbia bought the film rights, studio chief Harry Cohn wanted Kelly for the lead and Hayworth for the younger role of Linda. But Kelly was already contracted to MGM and the project was shelved. At one time, Billy Wilder was interested in doing the picture with Marlon Brando and Mae West-but the studio passed. It finally took the combined talents of Hayworth, Sinatra, and newcomer Kim Novak to bring Pal Joey to the screen. The gossip columns were filled with stories of an impending battle over credits. Sinatra was at the height of his film popularity, but Hayworth's contract stipulated she receive top billing. The battle however, was never fought. Sinatra gladly took the second slot-"I don't mind being in the middle of that sandwich," he quipped. Pal Joey contains some of Rogers and Hart's best songs including "My Funny Valentine," and one of Sinatra's biggest hits, "The Lady Is A Tramp." Hayworth's vocals were dubbed by Jo Ann Greer, Novak's by Trudi Erwin. Pal Joey was nominated for four Academy Awards(r) (1957) for Art Direction-Set Decoration, Sound Recording, Costume Design (by Jean Louis) and Film Editing. Although Pal Joey was a huge commercial success, it would be Rita Hayworth's swan song for Columbia. The studio machine that had turned Margarita Cansino into the glamorous Rita Hayworth, would now turn its attentions to Chicago-born Kim Novak, the last in a long line of studio-made stars.
The Kim Novak moment in Hollywood--1955 to 1960--is amply represented by the five movies in The Kim Novak Collection, a vivid portrait of an ingénue at the top. Novak's rise, under the forceful tutelage of Columbia boss Harry Cohn, was incredibly rapid; but then, nobody could miss her movie-star aura after seeing her performance as the small-town beauty in Picnic, in only her second year in movies. Picnic, the first film directed by stage veteran Joshua Logan, is a special experience, a Kansas summertime daydream invaded by a rail-riding wayfarer (William Holden); Novak's pretty homecoming queen is the film's key source of poignancy. ("I was Madge. I was that girl in the Midwest," Novak says in an interview here.) Her starring role in Jeanne Eagels (1957) looks like an attempt to establish Novak as a serious actress, which is one reason it doesn't work. In portraying the addictions and irresponsibility of a famed silent-era actress, Novak's limitations are on display, and the film's overripe melodrama has aged badly.
While Pal Joey (1957) is not a masterpiece, it does have a brilliant song score (the Rodgers and Hart classics include "Bewitched" and "I Could Write a Book") and glorious star power: Frank Sinatra is the breezy bad-boy singer caught between older San Francisco aristocrat Rita Hayworth and chorus girl Novak. As she reveals in an interview included in this boxed set, Novak did not do her own vocals on the sultry "My Funny Valentine"--yet her winsome performance makes the song her own anyway. As for Sinatra's take on "The Lady Is a Tramp," well, there's no question whose for-the-ages vocal that is. After making Vertigo with James Stewart, Novak reunited with him for the fun Bell Book and Candle (1958), director Richard Quine's cocktail-era version of a hit play by John Van Druten. Talk about "bewitched": Stewart's a straight-arrow drawn into the world of Greenwich Village witchcraft, of which Novak, Jack Lemmon, and Elsa Lanchester are key practitioners. Middle of the Night (1959) was a project Novak fought for, a serious Paddy Chayefsky script about a 56-year-old garment exec (Fredric March) falling for a 24-year-old receptionist. The rueful tone, full of mortality and regret, is pure Chayefsky, and a de-glamorized Novak is very touching as a lost soul.
The handsome prints are accompanied by 10- to 20-minute interview segments between Novak and writer Stephen Rebello; she is not seen, except in long shots during a 10-minute backgrounder called "Backstage and at Home with Kim Novak." Some good anecdotes emerge during the interviews (including why she disdained brassieres and why she's "very much a fatalist"), and the low-voiced actress comes across as much feistier and franker than her screen image usually suggested. That image is neatly summed up in this iconic set. --Robert Horton
Reflections In The Middle of The Night
Backstage and At Home with Kim Novak
Select Scenes Commentary with Kim Novak and Author Stephen Rebello
Bewitched, Bothered and Beautiful
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This five-movie set showcases Novak in some of her best work at Columbia. Three of the five movies have been released on stand-alone DVDs in the past ("Picnic", "Bell, Book and Candle"; and "Pal Joey"), but the prints in this set are newly remastered, and markedly superior to the earlier disc transfers ("Bell, Book and Candle" especially pops with bold colours that seemed quite muted by comparison with the older DVD).
PICNIC - William Inge's searing portrait of small-town America, with William Holden as penniless drifter Hal Carter, who rolls back into his hometown just long enough to charm the fiancé of his best friend. On the eve of being crowned the queen of a local festival, Madge Owens (Novak, already playing against her "platinum" Columbia image by sporting a red wig) sees in Hal the possibilities of a big, wide world outside that she's never tasted. Rosalind Russell also impresses as the local schoolteacher desperate to escape her own small town "prison" by finagling a long-time boyfriend down the aisle.
BELL, BOOK AND CANDLE - A bewitching good time is had by all in this delightful romantic comedy, based on the hit Broadway play by John Van Druten. Bored Greenwich Village witch Gillian Holroyd (Novak) casts a love spell on her dishy downstairs neighbour Shep Henderson (Jimmy Stewart) on Christmas Eve. In one of his first major film roles, Jack Lemmon is Gil's bongo-playing warlock brother, with Elsa Lanchester, Hermione Gingold, Janice Rule and Ernie Kovacs all in top comic form. Novak and Stewart filmed this delight right after "Vertigo", and what a contrast! James Wong Howes' cinematography is lush.
JEANNE EAGELS - The Fifties was undoubtedly THE decade for film biographies of some of the great ladies of the early American stage. Doris Day had one of her great personal successes as Ruth Etting in "Love Me or Leave Me", Susan Hayward was superb as Lillian Roth in "I'll Cry Tomorrow", Ann Blyth dazzled in "The Helen Morgan Story"; and Kim Novak essayed the tragic JEANNE EAGELS. Making it's long-overdue home video debut in this set, Novak fans will adore her performance as the troubled Eagels who, despite acclaimed turns on stage and in the silent cinema, struggled with drug addiction and alcoholism. Jeff Chandler, Agnes Moorehead and Virginia Grey co-star.
MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT - One film that Novak fought long and hard to be a part of was this rough-edged romantic drama from Paddy Chayevsky ("Marty"), in which she co-stars with Fredric March.
PAL JOEY - Novak competes with Rita Hayworth for the affections of the caddish character of the title in this film version of the groundbreaking Rodgers & Hart Broadway musical. With raincoat and fedora in hand, Frank Sinatra is Joey, the womanising cabaret singer who sees the chance to break out with his own nightclub when he romances millionairess Vera Simpson (Hayworth in her final role at Columbia) but conflicted by his interest in sweet, simple showgirl Linda English (Novak). Novak's singing was beautifully dubbed by Trudy Erwin, one of the most satisfying, seamless meldings of star and ghost singer.
Extra features are relatively slim but fascinating. Novak is interviewed by author/film historian Stephen Rebello on her memories from each film in the set; and there are selective-scene audio commentaries for both JEANNE EAGELS and PAL JOEY. Finally, "Backstage and At Home with Kim Novak" takes us on a visit to the notoriously-private Novak's Utah estate, where she talks about her love for painting and animals, and the reasons why she decided to retire from the screen at the apex of her fame.
Hopefully this and the TCM interview will get her some of the accolades that she didn't get when she was younger.
Always a beautiful woman, it was sometimes hard for Hollywood to accept the fact that she was a "born" actress too.
Luckily she got out intact and hopefully she and her husband Bob and her animal "crew" are happy.
Thanks for the memories, Kim