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By the early sixties, Kim Novak's stardom was on the wane along with the once powerful studio system that had created her under the guidance of Columbia Pictures mogul Harry Cohn. Among the films she appeared in between 1960 and 1969, none matched the success of her work in the fifties with directors such as Joshua Logan (Picnic ), Otto Preminger (The Man with the Golden Arm ), Alfred Hitchcock (Vertigo ), and Delbert Mann (Middle of the Night ). Yet, the four films she made with director Richard Quine were solid entertainments and fine examples of their genres, from the underrated film noir Pushover  to their final movie together, The Notorious Landlady , a lightweight comedy-mystery in which Novak played an amusing variation of her mysterious siren in Vertigo.
Set in London, the film focuses on American diplomat William Gridley (Jack Lemmon) who rents a room in the townhouse of Carlyle Hardwicke (Kim Novak). When Carlyle's husband is reported missing, she becomes a murder suspect and a Scotland Yard inspector pressures Gridley to spy on Carlyle's activities. Events take a surprising turn when Miles Hardwicke (Maxwell Reed) shows up and is accidentally shot and killed in a struggle with his wife. Carlyle escapes prosecution due to the eyewitness testimony of her crippled neighbor's private nurse but a new mystery develops over a candelabra which Carlyle recently pawned and was the cause of the argument between the former married couple. It turns out the candelabra was stuffed with stolen jewels but the item disappears again when the pawnbroker is murdered and Gridley and Carlyle join forces to solve the crime, culminating in a confrontation with the real murderer at a lovely seaside resort.
The Notorious Landlady was filmed along the California coast of Carmel substituting for the English coastline near London. It was also Jack Lemmon's third film with Ms. Novak, having appeared with her in Phffft  and Bell, Book and Candle . According to Lemmon in Don Widener's biography of him, the actor thought The Notorious Landlady "had so many twists and turns I couldn't follow it. A couple of years ago it came on television and I sat through it again and still couldn't get a handle on it. I delivered lines in that picture with absolute conviction - and I haven't the faintest idea to this day what they meant."
The movie also marked the first time Lemmon had worked with Fred Astaire, even though they knew each other through the director Richard Quine, who at one time was rumored to have been romantically involved with Ms. Novak. Astaire recalled, "Both Jack and Dick liked to shoot pool...and they'd come up to the house for a game once in awhile. I thought Jack was the funniest man I'd ever seen, in private and on the screen. Yet I'd seen him do some really good heavy drama, too. He struck me as being very nervous - probably because he was trying to do so many things."
At the time of filming, Lemmon was helping his father cope with an advanced state of cancer and at one point, John Lemmon joined his son at the Carmel location for The Notorious Landlady. "He was pretty sick," said Jack, "but he still had his sense of humor. Quine gave him a small nonspeaking part in the film and he played it like a trouper." (from Lemmon: A Biography by Don Widener).
While Novak, Lemmon and Astaire all had fun making The Notorious Landlady, it was not a box office hit though it did receive a number of glowing reviews such as this one from The New Yorker which called it "a picture that is entertaining and exciting, often simultaneously. I don't see how anyone could help but have a good time watching it." Variety, on the other hand, found it uneven and "somewhat akin in essence and style to Arsenic and Old Lace...Although the mystery plot is completely contrived and doesn't hold together, and the comedy comes only in occasional clusters and is largely manufactured on the spot by the resourceful Lemmon, the screenplay does have some bright and witty lines." In fact, the Writers Guild nominated it in the category of Best Written American Comedy of 1962; the writers were Larry Gelbart and Blake Edwards, who began directing features in 1955 and scored his first box office success with Operation Petticoat in 1959.
Producers: Fred Kohlmar, Richard Quine
Director: Richard Quine
Screenplay: Blake Edwards, Larry Gelbart; Margery Sharp (story "The Notorious Tenant")
Cinematography: Arthur E. Arling
Art Direction: Cary Odell
Music: George Duning
Film Editing: Charles Nelson
Cast: Kim Novak (Carlyle Hardwicke), Jack Lemmon (William Gridley), Fred Astaire (Franklyn Ambruster), Lionel Jeffries (Inspector Oliphant), Estelle Winwood (Mrs. Dunhill), Maxwell Reed (Miles Hardwicke), Philippa Bevans (Mrs. Brown).
by Jeff Stafford
Lemmon: A Biography by Don Widener (MacMillian)
Astaire: The Man, The Dancer by Bob Thomas with comments by Fred Astaire (St. Martin's Press)
Fred Astaire: A Wonderful Life by Bill Adler (Carroll & Graf)