Kim Novak is one of the most fascinating figures (no pun intended) in the world of classic movies. One of the last products of the "studio system", Columbia initially tried to mold her into their own Marilyn Monroe, but although Novak's platinum blonde looks did emulate the Fox siren, her overall screen career allowed for much more variety and scope. Right or wrong, Novak never played the Hollywood game, was attracted to roles that weren't exactly popular but carried prestige, and when the appropriate time came, walked away from the spotlight with incredible poise and dignity.
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.