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
Elsa's (Kim Novak's) voice during her tirade against Molly Luther is clearly not hers. It is the guttural deep voice of an older heavy smoker, something that cannot be imitated. And if you look closely you can see that the words are slightly out of sync with Elsa's mouth. See more »
[Upon nearing a large greenhouse, while giving Elsa a walking tour of his estate]
You might say that that greenhouse is something of a memorial to her. We had a Japanese gardener that used to look after it. Nice little fellow - quiet as a cherry blossom. Worked out here the best part of ten years, then suddenly one day we were at war. And the Government - who know a dangerous man when they see one - gave him a few hours to pack up before they shipped him off to some god-forsaken concentration ...
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It's flawed, yes. It's too long, too slow, and some of the lines and situations are just incomprehensible. On the other hand, its daring in a way most films are not. It dares you to think, imagine, and just relish in the glory if this fictionally great old star. The character of Lylah Clare is based on what seems to be an amalgamation of 1930s icons, not the least of which may include Crawford, Bankhead, Dietrich, Garbo, and Harlow. Then again, she is her own creation. A great subplot concerns the battle of the studio for money-making films and the battle of the director for art. As Ernest Borgnine as the studio head says in one scene, "I don't want to make films. I want to make movies. What do you think we're making here, art?" Kim Novak is well cast and turns in a surprising star turn in a double role, as Lylah Clare and the actress who plays her in a biopic helmed by her late director and husband. The story behind Lylah's death is mysterious and the stuff of legend. Only the director, eager to make a comeback after a 20 year absence from films, seems to know the truth about what happened to Lylah, and he is silent. There are two other superb subplots to the film: one concerns the actress and her possession by the spirit of the late Lylah Clare, and the other subplot concerns the romance between the actress and the director.
The end is shocking. You might not see the eventual conclusion coming. There is terrific symbolism in the dog food advertisement at the end of the film, and the score by DeVol is appropriately lush and atmospheric.
Some of the performances are a bit stilted, as is some of the camera work. The costumes are not always historically correct, but are fetching just the same. The direction is hit-or-miss. The film is way too slow. What holds the film together is the fascinating story and Aldrich's ambition in telling it. He doesn't stop with Lylah's death, but goes on to make a broad and cynical statement about the whole movie industry as a whole. Notice how, when the Lylah's director finally has something deep and heartfelt to say to the reporter, he is cut off. And for what? A dog food commercial. Get it?
Aldrich excelled at dark Hollywood portraits, and this is one of the most intriguing and controversial. No wonder it's so hard to find.
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