Archive for The Notorious Landlady

The Secret of Kim

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on April 15, 2013 by dcairns


An arresting and unusual credit from THE NOTORIOUS LANDLADY.

The first thing one asks, I imagine, is how much is concealed within that simple phrase “executed by.” And of course we can’t know without seeing the drawings.

Let it be admitted, however, that many professional costume designers really ought to have similar sub-credits. Some famous names will scribble a few indecipherable lines on a bit of card, skim it at an underling, and say words to the effect of “Execute that.” The assistant must interpret, design and realize the squiggly  “concept” with no real credit at all. At least la Novak admits she had help.

(And in those days of costume department heads, somebody like Edith Head [the Head of heads] could get a credit and pick up an Oscar for something she might not have worked on at all, except possibly in some kind of abstract supervisory role. We’re also told that Head got her first movie job by walking into the studio with a portfolio full of her students’ drawings. Such versatility!)

The next question is, are the costumes designed for Kim Novak by Kim Novak as good as the ones designed for Kim Novak by, say, Adrian? The answer would have to be NO, they are not. But some of them are very good. They lack consistency, and that may be because the job was split between Novak and Courtney or because some are mainly KN and some are mainly EC, or because Novak lacks consistency.

So if they’re not as good as what you can get by employing Columbia’s regular man, what is the point, beyond a little ego-boost for a top box office star who ought to be getting all the flattery she needs?


I note with amusement that Courtney’s only non-Novak credit is for LADY SINGS THE BLUES, again with a star (Diana Ross this time) who liked knocking together her own frocks. Fiona actually remarked that the strange triangular sleeves sported by Novak reminded her of those disfiguring Diana Ross’s arms in MAHOGANY. My theory on this preference for isosceles sleeves: a triangle has one line less than a rectangle, and so is easier and quicker to draw. A valuable labour-saver if you also have a movie to act in.

On the other hand, it must be said — this is nice —


Am anxious to hear of any other cases of movie stars designing their own gowns.



Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 12, 2013 by dcairns


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…


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…


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.


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.


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.