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Kim Novak Film Collection
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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
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According to Columbia Classics official website, all five of these great Kim Novak films will be digitally remastered in their original aspect ratios. It is about time that these great classics get the restored film treatment that they deserve.
Jump to 2010. The various color-fade processes used to boost color back into dozens of films in the earlier
part of the 2000's have disappeared, replaced by the digital intermediate workflows that have been adapted and adopted over the last few years for film restoration.
So, instead of the trial and error approach of the previous work, we can now scan the faded original negative at a 4K resolution and work to digitally rebuild the colors that are missing from the film. Such is the case with two films we are currently working on in preparation for a new box set of films starring Kim Novak, Picnic and Bell Book and Candle. Both films suffer from severe fading in the original camera negative. Attempts over the last decade to restore these films using traditional means were only moderately successful. The digital restoration of these films, both shot by the great cinematographer James Wong Howe, ASC, will allow them to be shown as close to their original color as possible, in their proper formats (2.55:1 widescreen original CinemaScope in the case of Picnic.)
Along with Picnic and Bell Book and Candle, the new set will include the George Sidney production of Jeanne Eagels (a personal favorite of Ms. Novak), Pal Joey and the Paddy Chayefsky-written Middle of the Night, also starring Frederic March. Some are new to DVD, but all five have been newly-restored and remastered for this new set
The real gem for me - and this is, of course, subjective - was Middle of the Night (1959). Written by Paddy Chayefsky, and Directed by Delbert Mann this film (adapted from a stage play), brings back memories of "the Golden Age of Television Drama". Chayefsky and Mann are both TV veterans and Mann's direction uses camera angles that were developed in the live TV dramas of the 1950s. The stark black and white images are crisp and add to the period of this story of the New York Garment District. Frederic March gets most of the screen time and dialogue though he and Novak share the top billing.
The bonus features include a 15-minute audio interview of Novak with writer Stephen Rebello, with scenes from the film and publicity stills shown. We learn from this interview that, unlike most films, there were full run rehearsals (like a Broadway show) for two weeks before filming. And it shows.
Jeanne Eagles (1957) - also in black and white - was the other highlight for me. It follows a track similar to A Star Is Born, with Novak in the Judy Garland role and Jeff Chandler doing the James Mason part as a producer who discovers - and then marries - a new young actress and how their relationship changes when she becomes a bigger success than he. It may surprise you to find that there is lots of alcohol and drug use as well as "questionable" medical practices mixed in this theatrical story.
The extras hers are three scene commentaries by Rebello and Novak. But they are not really "scene specific", and rather form a 22-minute audio interview, while various scenes play on the screen.
Picnic (1955) is the earliest of the films and was the breakthrough role for Novak. She holds her own against co-star William Holden and the sexual tension is obvious. The "bonus" here - besides the original trailer - is a 17 minute interview with Novak and Rebello over stills from the film with a long-view video shot of Novak from 2010. Her comments about studio head Harry Cohn are fascinating.
Pal Joey (1957) - gets its own disc and a few extra "bonuses". There are selected scene commentaries (total 11 minutes), and A 10 minute "Backstage and Home" featurette where we see Novak's house as she describes her life. This is the only place where we actually see the Novak in 2010 though much of her face is covered by a hat. She often refers to "we" when discussing buying her house but never discusses her personal life; just her film career.
The last of the five films is Bell Book and Candle, which is a comedy I just never got into. Unlike, Novak's comments on the brief featurette, I just don't find James Stewart as interesting in this film as his others. Seeing Ernie Kovacs in one of his few feature film roles was enjoyable though.
Its great that Fox put this nice package together - and a similar Collection of Rita Hayworth films is due by year-end. It will bring joy to Novak fans everywhere and may introduce her to a new generation.
NOTE AFTER PURCHASE: Pal Joey is on one disk, and the others are paired up on the remaining two disks. All are listed as 1.85:1 except Picnic at 2.55:1. However, I looked at Jeanne, Middle, and Bell, and they were all in 16:9 ratio, which is not 1.85:1. Bell looked identical to the previously released version, although the sound may have been improved (it seemed a bit less muffled to me). I watched about 20 minutes back to back and could see no difference. I really bought the set for Jeanne Eagels, one of her best performances, and the print is gorgeous. The scene where she disrobes at night on the beach, with the moon hidden behind her head, is a testament to how beautiful black and white photography can be. Oh yeah, the times and aspect ratios are inside the box. I'm going with indifference.
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.