Thursday, February 03, 2011

cinema obscura: Peter Medak's "The Third Girl from the Left" (1973)

In 1973, Kim Novak was 40 and hadn't made a film in four years, not since the 1969 Zero Mostel vehicle, "The Great Train Robbery," directed by Hy Averback. Her last great film role had come the year before - in Robert Aldrich's deliciously campy (and very twisted) "The Legend of Lylah Clare." She had never made a TV film and, reportedly, was reluctant to but decided to take the leap with "The Third Girl from the Left," perhaps because she related to the material in a meaningful way. Its storyline - about an aging chorus girl with diminishing choices - approximately mirrored where Novak was at in her own career. It could also be viewed as a fataslistic update of Linda English, the character that Novak had played 16 years earlier in George Sidney's "Pal Joey."

"The Third Girl from the Left" came with an enticing pedigree - a script by the famed composer-lyricist Dory Previn (based on her own experiences) and direction by the estimable Hungarian-born filmmaker, Peter Medak, who had previously helmed "Negatives," "The Ruling Class" and "A Day in the Death of Joe Egg" and, later, "The Krays."

Previn's screenplay is an acute observation of a woman with dashed dreams and no more self-delusions, played moodily by the always introspective Novak. Like Linda English, her Gloria Joyce here also has her Joey. In the Sidney film, it was Frank Sinatra as Joey Evans, a n'er do well crooner; here, it's Tony Curtis as Joey Jordan, a n'er do well stand-up comic. Previn also carefully works in a role for Michael Brandon as a younger man - also all wrong from Gloria - who, thanks to the vagaries of timing, comes along when she is at her most vulnerable.

As its title suggests, "The Third Girl from the Left" is about a woman isolated.

Novak's last film appearance,in 1991, was in Mike Figgis' "Liebestraum," the end of an incredible filmography which included work with Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder, Richard Quine, Mark Robson, David Hemmings, Delbert Mann, Phil Karlson, Otto Preminger, Joshua Logan, J. Lee Thompson, Freddie Francis, Terrence Young, and Sidney and Aldrich.


Blake said...

Wow! I have a vague recollection seeing this and liking it. I don’t like films that tend to be emphatic about the ideas they want us to take out, something that this movie avoided, if I recall it correctly.

wwolfe said...

I've never even heard of this. I'd always thought "Lylah Clare" was Kim's last movie. (Although, now that you mention it, I do have a vague memory of when she was in "Liebestraum.") "Third Girl" definitely sounds like it's worth a look - and it certainly would make an interesting double-bill with "Pal Joey."

joe baltake said...

Actually, Bill, Novak made two TV movies – also “Satan’s Triangle,” in addition to “The Third Girl from the Left” - and after “The Great Train Robbery,” she did two theatrical films, David Hemmings’ “Just a Gigolo” with David Bowie and Tony Palmer’s “The Children” with Ben Kingsley, both art-house films, before "Liebestraum."

jbryant said...

Don't forget THE MIRROR CRACK'D!

joe baltake said...

Or "The White Buffalo"!