Thursday, September 19, 2013

Jack Lemmon and Kim Novak

Tonight is TCM's third night of Kim Novak movies in her turn as Star of the Month. They'll be showing three of the movies she did with Jack Lemmon, as well as another showing of the interview she did with Robert Osborne at the TCM Film Festival at 10:00 PM. The night begins with Bell, Book, and Candle at 8:00 PM, a movie that I've briefly mentioned in passing a few times and one that I've said doesn't quite tickle my fancy the way I'm sure it will tickle other people's fancies. Another film with Lemmon and Novak about which I feel the same way is Phffft!, which is airing at 3:30 AM.

The title Phffft! comes from an onomatopoetic word used by gossip columnist Walter Winchell. Sounding somewhat lie the sound of all the air rushing out of a deflating balloon, the word was used to signify a celebrity marriage that was about to break up. In this case, that marriage involves Lemmon, but not Novak: the wife is played by Judy Holliday, who had recently starred alongside Lemmon in It Should Happen to You. Holliday plays Nina Tracey, who writes a soap opera in the days when soap opera were only making their move from radio to television. Lemmon plays her husband Robert, who served in the Navy in World War II and after the war became a successful tax attorney. Well, they've been married eight years, and things have hit one of those lulls. On an impulse, both parties think that the marriage isn't working, and decide to get a divorce.

Nina goes off to Reno to get the divorce, and when she returns, it's back to the dating game for both of them. Especially Robert. He moves in with his friend Charles (Jack Carson), who immediately starts setting up Robert on blind dates. One of those blind dates is with Janis (Kim Novak), and they begin to start a relatoinship. Meanwhile, Charles decides to try to put the moves on Nina, which would certainly create an awkward situation for all three of them. As for Nina, her mother Edith (Luella Gear) is also around, trying to help out Nina in the romance department.

You can probably guess where all of this is leading. Something is going to happen to make Nina and Robert meet not only by coincidence, but in a way that makes both of them wonder whether or not the two would have been better off not getting that divorce in the first place. It's a them that Hollywood visited earlier in The Awful Truth, which is coming on after Phffft! at 5:00 AM, ans which was only remade as Let's Do It Again a few years before Phffft! There's also Divorce, American Style, which came out in the 1960s and explored similar themes. Of the various movies, I think I like The Awful Truth the best, because Cary Grant (especially), Ralph Bellamy, and Irene Dunne simply glitter in this sort of romantic comedy. Divorce, American Style has the interesting angle of being able to explore things as far as comedies go from a more grown-up attitude thanks to the loosening strictures of the Production Code by the late 60s. (I suppose drama could have done a good job of being intelligent about the issue back in the 1950s, suddenly being reminded of Judy Holliday's own The Marrying Kind.) As for Phffft!, it's OK, but there's something about it that I find a bit bland. It's not a bad movie, mind you, but it's not one of my particular favorites.

Phffft! got a DVD release a couple of years back, although I don't know if it's still in print, since the TCM shop claims it's not available.

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