Notorious

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Really enjoyed Richard Quine’s THE NOTORIOUS LANDLADY, a mystery romance set in Hollywood England. Kim Novak starts off with the worst cockney accent on record — I think she may have been Dick Van Dyke’s dialect coach — but it turns out to be a phony anyway so that’s alright.  There are other compensations.

Basically Kim is the titular landlady who’s suspected of murder, Jack Lemmon is a junior diplomat who moves in, falls in love, and gets embroiled, and Fred Astaire is his boss. Quine is respectful of Fred’s very particular qualities, so that he grants him an entrance framed head-to-toe, as you would frame a great dancer, a shot he repeats twice with variations as the plot unfolds. Coppola couldn’t even manage that framing for ACTUAL DANCES in FINIAN’S RAINBOW…

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What’s very nice about this casting is it’s all off-the-nose, if I can create that expression for my purpose. Lemmon is written as a pushy, self-confident American male loverboy, as if someone was thinking of Tony Curtis. Lemmon’s lightness and diffidence makes the character MUCH more likable and surprising, and his efforts to seduce Novak are more fraught with suspense and sentiment as he’s inherently a more vulnerable and off-centre performer. Plus he has a way of twisting apologetically through a doorway, not even opening it wide enough for a direct approach, inserting a leg sideways like a bandy ballerina…

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Novak could well be playing a role written for Monroe — played with wide-eyed innocence, her character would have been an obvious naif and we’d have known she was victim of a frame-up. When two male characters become convinced of her innocence because she’s so charming, we’d have agreed wholeheartedly. But because the husky Novak has more of an edge, perhaps because nobody with Groucho Marx eyebrows can be wholly trustworthy, we laugh at them for being persuaded by feminine charms. Yet Novak has vulnerability aplenty and can be liked at the same time as suspected.

Fred is playing Lemmon’s hard-ass boss. While the elder Fred’s more deeply-lined face has suggestions of harshness, it’s also softly saggy, and as an actor he’s still the embodiment of the lighter-than-air. That steel we know he had as a dancer, pushing himself and his co-stars on to painful perfectionism, is rarely glimpsed in his performances. So again, the actor brings wafting gracefulness to a role that’s written as bolshy and probably fat.

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Honorable mention: Lionel Jeffries as Inspector Oliphant.

The movie is co-written by Blake Edwards and Larry Gelbart, and with some of Edwards’ characteristic visual gags: a BLUE VELVET moment with a suspicious Lemmon hiding in Novak’s closet is topped with a nice moment when she unknowingly hooks a coat hanger onto his ear.

A surprisingly menacing bit revolves around Maxwell Reed, Joan Collins’ unpleasant first husband, who proves much more effective as bad guy than he ever was as a leading man. He’s something of a precursor to Ross Martin’s psycho in Blake Edwards’ own EXPERIMENT IN TERROR, only here he’s arguably too dark and vicious for the movie. It has an interesting effect — not quite digestible into the overall tone, but certainly adding grit.

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Oh, the visual style — really exquisite camerawork. It’s zoomtastic, but the aggressive zoom-bar-yanking is combined with machine-tooled crane movements and a lot of “relay shots,” where the camera attaches itself to one character, then another, drawn in a series of smoothly-oiled tugs through a space by the unfolding story. Lots of really intricate work, and it again resembles a musical in its highly choreographed, elegant showiness.

7 Responses to “Notorious”

  1. I saw it when t came out and it is indeed quite entertaining.

    You seriously underrate Finian’s Rainbow however. Coppola has a real feel for musicals. And Pet Clark (who at 80 has just made a new album!) is truly lovely in it with Fred.

  2. All in favour of Petula. Agnostic re Tommy Steele.

    Coppola has a fetish for dismembering his dancers in the edit — The Cotton Club has some nice things, but his tendency to cut in on Gregory Hines’ feet shows a lack of sensitivity to dance, in my view.

  3. Randy Cook Says:

    Agreed Finian’s Rainbow is seriously underrated. Have loved it since seeing it at the SF premiere (with FFC in attendance; NOBODY applauded the appearance of his name on-screen because nobody knew who he was; I was too cowardly a boy to be the Lone Clapper, which I still regret). And Petula! Be still my heart!

  4. Randy Cook Says:

    Ah, Woody and Sharon.
    What fine chins their children would have!

  5. That whole scene’s positively alive with chins. Fittingly for a dancing man, Fred’s somewhat resembles an elegantly tapered male heel.

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