Third Girl From the Left (DVD Review)25 Mar, 2013 By: Mike Clark
Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Stars Kim Novak, Tony Curtis, Michael Brandon.
Headlining 1968’s hall-of-fame howler The Legend of Lylah Clare likely helped spur the decision-making process for Kim Novak, as did following it with DOA Western spoof The Great Bank Robbery, which is likely (it’s just a guess, but I’ll run with it) the only movie to contrast the acting disciplines of Clint Walker and Zero Mostel. The same went for Tony Curtis when after a decade of non-starter comedies along the lines of Wild and Wonderful, Arrevederci, Baby! and Not With My Wife, You Don’t!, he like Novak, was additionally in the market for TV work. Or their accountants were.
It’s a little more difficult discerning the motives of Girl’s executive producer Hugh M. Hefner, who had recently gone the full respectability route by helping to finance a big-screen go at Macbeth for director Roman Polanski’s first project since his wife Sharon Tate’s death in the Charles Manson slayings. But in any event, Novak, Curtis and Hefner found themselves involved in a ABC TV movie that must have been a big deal at the time, though one assumes there are a lot of people (myself formerly included) who are all-out ignorant of its existence. Whatever its other shortcomings, this is a major curio, and you have to wonder if its coming-about had anything to do with one of those Curtis hang-outs at the Playboy Mansion (possibly staying in the James Caan guest room) and speculating about some project with “Hef” that might prove mutually fruitful.
Novak’s career was seriously on the wane by her mid-30s, and if Hollywood is cruel to bombshells, it is certainly so as well to chorus girls. Playing 36 at age 40, Novak plays the title dancer here — one suddenly shunted to the back of the line for a younger rival just as it’s becoming obvious that her singer squeeze of many years (Curtis as a kind of Buddy Greco Vegas type) may not be forthcoming on their dozen-or-so-year understanding that they will someday be wed. The movie makes two immediate impressions, the first of which is a virtuoso opening scene shot in extreme close-up in which Novak applies her makeup with the kind of confident precision that will always fascinate men. The other is a likely viewer reaction of, “What’s that noise?” — which then turns out to be the first in half-a-handful of godawful voiceover tunes by Girl screenwriter Dory Previn. How did Previn ever manage a musical cult at the time, small as it was?
Directed by a non-stylist (Peter Medak) who had nonetheless recently helped Peter O’Toole earn an Oscar nomination for The Ruling Class, this yarn takes about 71 minutes to unreel (not the 93 listed on the Warner Archive box). Novak gets involved with a much younger guy of limited professional ambition — one played by another of those nondescript weak-faced actors (Michael Brandon, no Dale Robertson he) who populated so much of early ’70s cinema. In this age-differential regard, the movie was ahead of its time, though the will-she-or-won’t-she aspects here prove somewhat limited in sustaining a running time even this short. Yet by this time, Novak and Curtis were established pros, and their performances are pro jobs that do garner some respect. I could never figure out if Novak was an actress or someone whose semi-expressive somnambulance was simply mined effectively more times than a few. She does, however, carry the picture in a way that Hefner’s then girlfriend Barbi Benton (featured in a small role as one of Curtis’s play-arounds) likely couldn’t have done. Which is exactly what Novak was asked to do here.