Monday, May 11, 2009


This Hollywood biopic is about a popular stage actress of the 20's (played by Kim Novak) who was just beginning a career in sound films when she died at 35, due to years of alcohol and drug abuse. The film opens with Novak as a teenager, having entered a traveling carnival beauty contest thinking it's been rigged for her to win. When she loses, the carnival boss (Jeff Chandler) gives her a job and falls in love with her. They head to New York where he goes into business with his brother at Coney Island and she works her way up the acting ladder, getting befriended by acting teacher Agnes Moorehead. To secure a starring role in a production of "Rain," she tricks an alcoholic has-been actress (Virginia Grey) out of the part; when the play is a hit, Grey kills herself. Novak begins a dalliance with Charles Drake, a former Princeton golden-boy athlete. The two marry and she goes on tour with "Rain," but she develops a drinking problem and starts missing shows. Years pass and her various antics get her trouble with Actors' Equity. Her husband, also a drunk and upset over being called Mr. Eagels, leaves her. Chandler comes back into her life but she soon turns to drugs to get on stage, and in the grand Hollywood melodrama fashion, it's all downhill from there.

Novak isn't bad in the first part, but she overdoes the conniving bitch stuff, and soon it feels like she's doing a bad Norma Desmond imitation (in a patently artificial gruff voice, perhaps as a way to physicalize her years of drug abuse). I've always found Chandler a little too weird looking for a leading man, though he's just passable here. Drake is good, and Grey is even better. Gene Lockhart and Murray Hamilton have small roles. The script takes the usual liberties with Eagels' real story, collapsing some ten years into no time at all, and the production code of the time wouldn't let the filmmakers be more candid about the actress's drug use, which the viewer must more or less dope out for himself. Not one of Novak's finer moments, though it's interesting to see a 50's take on a 20's tragedy. [TCM]

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