“She was the most remarkable woman I’ve ever known. So what do you do? You spend the rest of your life trying to find her again.”
A shy actress (Kim Novak) named Elsa is recruited by a reclusive director (Peter Finch) to play the lead role in a biopic about his ex-wife, Bavarian movie star “Lylah Clare”, who died mysteriously some 20 years earlier. Soon Elsa begins acting more and more like Lylah, even imitating her deep, gravelly voice — but is she doomed to repeat Lylah’s fate?
Robert Aldrich made a number of classic films (Kiss Me Deadly, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?) during his 32-year career as a director, but this ill-conceived, horribly executed fiasco — his first film outside the studio system — exists squarely in the realm of “what was he thinking?” mishaps. While Peter Finch and Ernest Borgnine try their best with the insipid material (and fans of Coral Browne will undoubtedly enjoy her brief turn as a Louella Parsons-esque gossip columnist), the rest is an incomprehensible mess. The film’s one (potentially) redeeming quality is the level of camp it achieves through sheer ineptitude: whenever Elsa starts acting like a bitchy diva, for instance, her voice is inexplicably dubbed with a deep, gravelly, almost mannish German accent; unfortunately, while it’s hinted that Lylah may somehow be inhabiting Elsa’s body (conveniently enough, they look identical), it’s never made clear whether Elsa really is possessed, or is just doing a darn good imitation of her deceased doppelganger. By the time the utterly confusing denouement — involving a trapeze act and a dogfood commercial — rolls around, most viewers will no longer care enough to try to figure out what it all means.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Peter Finch as Lewis Zarkin
- Ernest Borgnine as a self-important Hollywood bigwig
- The campily constructed “flashback” scenes
- The truly awful, deep-voiced dubbing when Elsa is “possessed” by Lylah
- Some amusing dialogue: “You’re moving like a deeply offended Tibetan yak!”
No. Although it has a small cult following, I can’t in good conscience recommend this mess as a “must see” for film fanatics.