Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Legend of Lylah Clare (1968)

Kim Novack is one of my all time favorite actresses and I’m almost positive that I have seen this movie, but hardly recall it. Still, this is one movie that I’m willing to re-visit once again and recommend, if you do not mind seeing a movie by Robert Aldrich that also directed The Killing of Sister George (1968) and even when he’s not credited he also directed the drama/film-noir/sci-fi World for Ransom (1954) that also has a female bisexual character. Then he also has mainstream movies like The Dirty Dozen, Hustle, Whatever happened to Baby Jane? and many more.

The movie is also known as Le Demon Des Femmes.

Basic Information
Director: Robert Aldrich
Screenplay based on the teleplay of the same name by Robert Thom and Edward De Blasio aired on Dupont Show of the Week (NBC, May 19 1963).
Cast: Kim Novak, Peter Finch, Ernest Borgnine, Rossella Falk
Release date: January 1968
LA Opening: 21 August 1968
Running time: 127/130 minutes
Production Company: Associates & Aldrich Co., Inc.
Distribution Company: MGM
Country: USA

Elsa Brinkmann, an unknown actress from Chicago, is hired by talent agent Bart Langner to star in a film biography of the late, great Hollywood star, Lylah Clare. After reluctantly agreeing to meet the young unknown, Lewis Zarkan, Lylah's director-husband, who has been inactive in films since his wife fell to her death mysteriously on their wedding night, is stunned at Elsa's uncanny resemblance to Lylah. Zarkan agrees to direct the film, and studio head Barney Sheean provides the financing.

Although at first resentful of Zarkan's reworking her into an exact duplicate of the legendary Lylah, Elsa is soon drawn into recreating the old star, and even Lylah's personality begins to possess her. Eventually, Zarkan and Elsa become lovers, much to the irritation of Zarkan's housekeeper-confidante, Rossella, a drug-addicted lesbian who had been Lylah's dialogue coach. Once Elsa's transformation into Lylah is complete, she even dares to defy the powerful gossip columnist Molly Luther in a manner that would have done justice to the dead star. Elsa discovers that it is the memory of Lylah that Zarkan truly loves, and she retaliates by flagrantly carrying on a passionate affair with his handsome young gardener, Paolo.

Enraged by her infidelity, Zarkan revises the ending of the film and forces Elsa to perform a dangerous stunt on a trapeze, fully aware that Elsa suffers from vertigo, just as Lylah had. As Elsa is overcome by dizziness and plummets to her death, the last moments of Lylah's life are recalled: upon discovering on their wedding night that Lylah was a lesbian, Zarkan had viciously attacked her and then permitted her to fall down a long flight of stairs. Now filled with grief at the loss of the two women he loved but destroyed, Zarkan leaves the successful premiere of his film and returns home, unaware that Rossella is waiting with a loaded gun.

Rosella is the lesbian character that many critics and viewers comment that is the best character in the movie. Check an excerpt from Time Magazine article: And even the lesbian pass—made in this case by Italy's Rossella Falk, whose slinky version of a dope-shooting dyke is the best bit in the film. By the way some of you perhaps remember the actress as she was in Fellini’s 8 1/2.

This is an excerpt of the Senses of Cinema article about Robert Aldrich
In the few films that do focus entirely on them (women), The Killing of Sister George (1968), What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? (1962) or Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964), many of the women are deviate or psychotic. Notably, Baby Jane and Sister George are performers, personas behind which some women retreat in a male-dominated society. Even more notably, Frennessey (Marian Carr) in World for Ransom (1954) and the title character in The Legend of Lylah Clare are also performers and bisexuals. For both, Lesbianism is an alternative to the men who love them obsessively and want desperately to control their behavior. If you wish to read the complete article go here.

Browsing the net I found information that this movie was never released on VHS or DVD, but seems that is available in both formats from less known vendors. The TCM channel broadcasted the movie and here is the video with the presentation of the movie.

The first picture is the original poster and the second really looks like a VHS cover.

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