Tag Archives: Hitchcock

Favorite Performers: Kim Novak

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Kim Novak is someone who I discovered when I saw Picnic (1955) for the first time.  I had heard of her and knew what she looked like, but I had never actually seen any of her films until I saw Picnic.  She wasn’t my original draw to the film either.  I originally recorded it because I was a fan of co-star William Holden and I also love the overwrought melodramas of the 1950s.  My initial impression of Novak was that she was very pretty but she seemed somewhat stiff.  I began wondering if it was all style and no substance when it came to Novak.  However, as I kept watching her in Picnic, I noticed that she didn’t seem as stiff as she had in the opening scene.  I found myself warming up to her.

In Picnic, the crux of Novak’s character, Madge, is that she feels that she is only wanted and appreciated for her looks.  Her mother insists that Madge seal the deal with her rich upper crust boyfriend Alan, before her looks begin to fade.  Madge is 19, by the way.  Alan talks about and treats Madge like she’s a trophy on his arm.  Madge begins to resent everyone only focusing on her looks and not showing any regard for her wants, needs and desires.  Novak was very skilled in bringing the conflicted Madge to life.  On one hand, Madge doesn’t want to disappoint her mother; but on the other hand, she wants to live her own life and not skate by on her looks, even if that path looks uncertain.  Madge spends much of the film battling with her own wants and needs, versus those of her mother, boyfriend and the hot, mysterious, and exciting drifter William Holden.

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Kim Novak and William Holden dance in “Picnic”

After Picnic, I remember making a point of seeing Novak in some of her other films.  I saw Bell, Book and Candle co-starring James Stewart.  This film allowed the audience to see Novak as another type of character–a beautiful woman afraid to fall in love.  In this film, Novak plays a beautiful witch who lives in Greenwich Village in New York City.  Novak develops a crush on Stewart and ends up casting a love spell on him when she discovers he’s engaged to marry another woman.  The love spell causes Stewart to fall in love with Novak instead.  Soon Novak finds herself falling in love with Stewart and she’s faced with a choice to make: Fall in love with Stewart and lose her magical powers or keep her powers and let Stewart go.  Novak plays it cool in this film and is very adept at showing the progression of her character falling in love.  Despite being very beautiful and being labeled as one of the 1950s sex symbols of Hollywood, Novak’s characters are never overt in their sexuality, unlike someone like Marilyn Monroe.

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Kim Novak as “Madeline” in “Vertigo”

One of Novak’s most famous films is her turn in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo.  Novak is cast as one of Hitchcock’s typical icy blondes, but she brings so much to her complicated, somewhat dual role.  In this film, Novak must portray the beautiful and tragic Madeline who Stewart meets and falls in love with.  Later, she portrays the small-town girl, Judy, who of course resembles Madeline, and agrees to allow Stewart to transform her into his lost love.  As Madeline, Novak plays the wispy blonde, who is so beautiful but with an underlying vulnerability.  As Judy, Novak plays a more average looking woman (more like a gorgeous woman wearing too much heavy makeup) from Kansas who is trying to make it in big city San Francisco.  She is brassier and more no-nonsense than Madeline. Of course there is more to the story than meets the eye and Novak was fascinating to watch.

Novak is a highly underrated actress who I believe wasn’t taken seriously because she was so beautiful.  In all her films, she brings charm and also an underlying vulnerability that makes her a joy to watch on screen.  Today, Kim Novak lives on a ranch in a small town in Southern Oregon.  It’s exciting to think that one of my favorite Classic Hollywood stars is still alive and thriving in a town only about 3.5 hours south of me.  Maybe someday, I’ll make it back down there and maybe run into Kim Novak on the street or something.  I can always hope!

My favorite Kim Novak films:

-Picnic (1955).  I already talked about this film above; but this film deals with a drifter (William Holden) who interrupts the tranquility in a small Kansas town.  Most of the action occurs at the town’s annual Labor Day picnic.  Novak portrays Madge, a beautiful nineteen year old woman who is dating Alan Benson (Cliff Robertson), one of the town’s most eligible bachelors.  Novak falls for Holden, much to the chagrin of Robertson and her mother (Betty Field).

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Kim Novak and her cat, Pyewacket in “Bell, Book and Candle.”

Bell, Book and Candle (1958).  Described above as well.  This film depicts the story of a beautiful witch (Novak) who casts a spell on a man (James Stewart) whom she’s been admiring from afar.  Soon, she must decide whether to fall in love with Stewart and give up her magical powers, or let Stewart go in order to retain her powers.

Vertigo (1958).  Mentioned briefly above.  This film is so complex that it would be hard to describe it and do it any justice.  This is a film that has to be watched and watched intently, not casually.  A couple weeks ago, I watched this film in the theater and was fascinated by how much of the film I had forgotten or hadn’t pieced together the pieces of the story.  Once I had the story figured out, I found it amazing and captivating.  In a nutshell, this film tells the story of a man, James Stewart, who falls in love with a mysterious blonde and loses her in a tragic accident.  He meets another woman, Kim Novak, who resembles his lost love.  Stewart goes to work transforming his new girl into the girl he lost.

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Howard Duff and Kim Novak in “Boys’ Night Out”

Boys’ Night Out (1962).  This 1962 comedy is silly and definitely not worthy of any sort of award, but I love it.  There’s just something about early 1960s comedies.  In this film, Novak plays a college student who rents an apartment from a group of men (James Garner, Tony Randall, Howard Morris and Howard Duff).  The men are all married, except for Garner.  The husbands are bored with their wives and their day-to-day routine and want to set up an apartment to have a fling.  They base their plan on the same tactics their boss uses to have his fling.  Novak rents the apartment not knowing of their plan to commit adultery and the men don’t know that Novak is pretending to romance them as a means to gather material for her college thesis on the sexual life of the middle class male. Hilarity ensues.

-Pushover (1954).  This is a really great noir and is Novak’s film debut.  Novak portrays the beautiful girlfriend of a man who robs a bank and both of them are now on the lam.  Fred MacMurray co-stars as an undercover cop who is tasked with setting up a stakeout in an apartment across the street from Novak’s.  While watching her, MacMurray ends up falling in love with Novak.  Soon Novak is trying to corrupt him to join her side and MacMurray is conflicted between his love for Novak and his duty to his job and the police department.

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Kim Novak and Fred MacMurray in “Pushover.”  She’s only 20 here!

Pal Joey (1957).  This is a musical starring Frank Sinatra, Rita Hayworth and Novak.  Sinatra portrays Joey, a singer and charmer who can make pretty much any woman fall for him.  The only problem is that he’s a complete cad.  Sinatra meets Novak, a chorus girl in one of his shows.  He genuinely seems to have real feelings for her. Sinatra dreams of opening his own nightclub but needs money.  He appeals to an old flame, Hayworth, who used to also work as a stripper.  She married a wealthy man and is now widowed.  Sinatra decides to romance Hayworth in order to convince her to give him money for his nightclub.  Throughout the film, Sinatra and Hayworth use each other and continues to romance Novak.  The love-triangle continues throughout the film until Sinatra is forced to make a decision.

 

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Cary Grant Blogathon–“To Catch a Thief” (1955)

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FRANCES: “Do you want a leg or a breast?”

JOHN: “You make the choice”

This exchange between Grace Kelly and Cary Grant’s characters is just one of many innuendo-laden scenes in one of Alfred Hitchcock’s sexiest films, To Catch a Thief.  Set in the picturesque French Riviera, To Catch a Thief depicts the story of a retired cat burglar, John Robie (Cary Grant) who finds himself back in the spotlight after a series of copy-cat jewel heists occur which threaten to implicate him as the culprit.  Reformed, he sets out to unveil the real jewel thief.  The jewel thief specifically targets the rich guests of a local ritzy resort.  One of these guests is Frances Stevens (Grace Kelly) whose mother, Jessie Stevens (Jessie Royce Landis) is on the hunt for a suitable beau for her daughter.  Of course, one look at John Robie, and mother and daughter are on his tail.  A Lloyd’s of London insurance agent (John Williams) is also chasing the cat burglar (as his clients are the ones who are being targeted).  He ends up enlisting the help of John Robie to catch the real cat burglar.  Things are complicated when Jessie is targeted by the jewel thief.

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One of the best things about this film is the chemistry between Cary Grant and Grace Kelly.  In many of Grant’s most popular roles, he plays the sophisticated, witty and charming romantic man.  Women can’t help but be taken in by his suave mannerisms and debonair good looks.  To Catch a Thief is no exception.  Grant and Kelly absolutely sizzle when they’re on screen.  One of their sexiest scenes is the famous fireworks scene in the hotel.  In this scene, Kelly invites Grant up to her hotel room “to watch the fireworks.”  At the beginning of the scene, she turns off the lights (saying that fireworks look better in the dark) and at another point, steps into the shadow which only hides her face but showcases her white strapless gown and diamond necklace (which conveniently points down to her cleavage).  At the end of the scene, Kelly invites Grant to sit next to her on the couch, while also ensuring that her necklace and decolletage are on display.  She asks him to “hold them. Diamonds.” After seductively kissing his fingers, Kelly asks Grant if he’s “ever had a better offer.”  After Grant calls out Kelly for trying to seduce him with imitation diamonds, she reassures him that she’s not imitation and they kiss.  Fireworks explode in the sky behind them.

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Grace Kelly tries to seduce Cary Grant

Prior to making To Catch a Thief, Cary Grant had announced his intention to retire after 1952’s Dream Wife.  He felt that at, 48, he was too old to continue acting.  Alfred Hitchcock had to personally coax him into accepting the John Robie role.  Even after filming was completed in summer of 1954, it was feared that Grant, at 50, was too old for 26-year old Grace Kelly.  However, in this film, like Grant’s other May-December romance films, nobody cared.  Grant is one of the few actors who can seem to get away with being a middle-aged man courting a twenty-something and it doesn’t seem strange or awkward.  Perhaps it’s his permanently tanned skin and black hair which gives him a youthful appearance.  Perhaps it’s his suave and charming persona which would be irresistible to almost any woman.  Perhaps it’s all of the above.  Whatever “it” is, Cary Grant is timeless. He makes To Catch a Thief what it is.  Without him, it would not be nearly as fun.

Cary Grant made three other films with Alfred Hitchcock–Suspicion (1941, with Joan Fontaine); Notorious (1946, with Ingrid Bergman); and North By Northwest (1959 with Eva Marie Saint), but To Catch a Thief is my favorite of these collaborations.  The combination of the sexy leading actors and provocative dialogue, the gorgeous color cinematography, the beautiful French Riviera and the fantastic costumes (especially Grace Kelly’s gold ballgown at the end of the film) sets this film apart from the others.

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Grace Kelly’s gorgeous gold ballgown.  I also really like the black mask costume, it’s so outrageous.