Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, January 17, 2013


THE LEGEND OF LYLAH CLARE (1968). Director: Robert Aldrich.

"I make movies -- not films!"

Apparently this movie was based on an old TV drama, with the script rewritten and turned into a theatrical feature. Dying agent Bert Langner (Milton Selzer) has discovered another young woman, Elsa (Kim Novak), who resembles the late, great [Garbo-like?] movie star Lylah Clare (also Novak). He takes her to Lylah's old producer, Lewis Zarken (Peter Finch), who lives with Lylah's old dialect coach Rossella (Rossella Falk), and they concoct a scheme to have Elsa play Lylah in a filmic biography of her life. But what to do about Lylah's death scene? Apparently she fell off of a balcony after discovering that the man she was about to go to bed with was actually a woman, but that's too scandalous to ever tell the truth about. Making matters worse, Elsa seems to be possessed by the spirit of Lylah at inopportune moments. There's a lot of intriguing material in Lylah Clare, but it's all junked up by a very trashy and utterly superficial screenplay. The sexual ambiguity of many of the characters makes the film seem dated instead of hip. Lewis and Rossella, both of whom seem to have been in love with Lylah, make disparaging remarks about each other's sexuality. [When it comes to the subject of homosexuality, this movie is definitely of the "sick, sad, ashamed and repressed" variety.] Another problem with Lylah Clare is that it says cynical things about Hollywood that have been said many times before even by 1968.

Kim Novak is not bad as Elsa/Lylah -- she appears to have been dubbed as Elsa -- but she's saddled with the fact that both characters are one-dimensional. Peter Finch has just a little more to work with as Lewis, and he's fine, as is Milton Selzer, who was probably given one of his best movie roles in this. Ernest Borgnine as a hollering producer is excellent, and Rossella Falk is equally vivid, but the actor who makes the best impression is Coral Browne, who plays venomous entertainment/gossip columnist Molly Luther (modeled on The Hollywood Reporter's Radie Harris, who also had a leg brace).The scene when Elsa/Lylah tells off Molly at a party is the best one in the movie, but, sadly, Legend of Lylah Clare is generally not even as entertaining as it should be.

Verdict: More a freak show than a serious drama. **.

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