Wednesday, September 11, 2019

The Notorious Landlady Wastes a Sterling Cast

Kim Novak as the title character.
With such a prestigious pedigree, I expected more from The Notorious Landlady (1962). Here's a British comedy headlined by Kim Novak, Jack Lemmon, and Fred Astaire with a screenplay penned by the writers who were responsible for The Pink Panther movies (Blake Edwards) and the M*A*S*H TV series (Larry Gelbert). We're talking about some talented people! But, making movies is a joint endeavor in which all the pieces need to be carefully shaped to fit together--and that doesn't happen in The Notorious Landlady.

Lemmon plays Bill Gridley, a U.S. diplomat recently assigned to London and in need of an apartment close to the embassy. He thinks he has found the ideal location, but the flat's housekeeper (Kim Novak) works very hard to dissuade him from taking it. She turns out to be the owner, who was posing as a housekeeper solely to screen potential renters.

Jack Lemmon looks worrried.
Gridley insists on moving in partially because of the proximity to the embassy, but mostly because he is smitten with his new landlady. It's not until later that he learns she is suspected of murdering her husband--whose body has never been found. Believing her incapable of such a crime, Bill sets out to prove her innocence.

It's shaky plot for a movie that runs a full two hours. However, the film's biggest problem is it doesn't know whether it is a sophisticated comedy, a light mystery, or a farce. At times, it could fit into any of those categories. The climax, which involves Lemmon chasing an wheelchair-bound woman shoved down a rocky path, is a manic, farcical scene (obviously written by Edwards). It doesn't belong in the same movie with sweet, flirtatious scenes between Lemmon and Novak.

Fred looks concerned!
The actors try their best, though we've seen Lemmon and Novak in these kinds of roles before. Fred Astaire comes off best as Lemmon's boss, who is deeply troubled about his employee's involvement with a potential murderess--until he meets her and also succumbs to her charms.

Sadly, Astaire wouldn't appear in another movie for six years until he was convinced to appear in Finian's Rainbow (although he appeared several times on television in the mid-1960s). Jack Lemmon and Kim Novak remained in demand, though Lemmon had a much longer silver screen career ahead of him. Larry Gelbert and Blake Edwards survived The Notorious Landlady to experience their biggest career successes.

The Notorious Landlady isn't a dreadful film, but neither is it a good one. And it should have been a great movie with all the talent that was involved!

Here's a clip, courtesy of the Cafe's YouTube channel, in which Jack and Kim flirt over dinner. The stranger who wants to talk with Kim in the fog is played by Henry Daniell, who played some great villains earlier in his career.


  1. Of course Lemmon's aside in this clip, that he's "too old to be president," is a jab at the new and youngish JFK.

    I find Novak fascinating, especially in this scene, but ultimately her acting and personnas are so cool as to be cold. Yet I like her still. In this and especially "Bell, Book and Candle."

    It would be hard to decide which three actors were more emotionally "open" and vulnerable: Lemmon, Jimmy Stewart, or Harrison Ford. Lemon didn't quite have the hard edge underneath the other two could call up, but all three are obviously among the greats.

  2. Lemmon and Stewart are among my favorite actors. Their versatility and ability to connect with the audience puts them in rare company in their profession.

  3. I would see this one just for Fred Astaire, whom I love in comedy or drama.