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A sexy starlet resembles Lylah Clare, a flamboyant star of the thirties, who died mysteriously and tragically on her wedding night gets a chance to play her in a biographical film directed by Lylah's real-life husband (Peter Finch) and history repeats itself as he falls for her reincarnation. Written by
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The awfulness becomes riveting - one of the great worst movies
Robert Aldrich had a solid career which includes some extremely fine work such as "Kiss Me Deadly" and "The Big Knife" from his early period. He handled large action movies ("The Dirty Dozen") with the same craftsmanship as small .intimate pieces, ("The Killing of Sister George"). In both "Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte" and perhaps his most famous movie "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane", there is a definite camp touch which is carefully controlled in that it never derails the proceedings but only adds much to the general enjoyment of these films as a whole.
"The Legend of Lylah Clare" is a film that cannot be derailed, since from the very first frame it's clearly out of control. What proceeds is a very bumpy ride indeed. The question that remains is just how much of this was intentional. Can one consciously make actors perform so ludicrously, and if so, just what is the point ? It's seems totally unfeasible that a director with Aldrich's record should allow these poor actors to humiliate themselves in having to deliver the most preposterous dialog imaginable. Perhaps it's his hate letter to Hollywood. Aldrich who steered clear of the tyranny of Hollywood by establishing his own production company, paints a truly crass portrait of the movie industry. The point is that this is not an intelligent, witty or biting take on the industry, it's simply a grotesque movie which really has to be seen to be believed. Actors with vast experience such as Peter Finch and Ernest Borgnine are made to look like total amateurs in the business. And then there's Kim Novak. (One can only wonder what Tuesday Weld made of the role in the original television version.) Perhaps one should not be too surprised that this was her last American movie, and the signal of the beginning of the end of her somewhat shaky career.
Novak was apparently thrust into stardom far too fast. Her radiant screen presence may have been captivating but there was little real talent behind the looks. What she did exude was a vulnerability which seems to be founded on her justified lack of confidence as an actress. Columbia groomed her as a potential new Marilyn Monroe. But no matter what dark complexes were lurking beneath Monroe's screen presence, she always made us believe she was having a ball. That was her genius. Novak always seems uncomfortable and decidedly awkward. It's something that at times may have worked in her favor, but ultimately her lack of having what it really takes could not be disguised. Lylah Clare is a role that many a Hollywood actress of the time could really have sunk their teeth into. Novak simply does not have a clue what to do with it and director Aldrich leaves her stranded.
The awfulness of this movie becomes riveting in itself. You'll probably want to see it through to the end. One of the greatest worst movies of all time.
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