The Notorious Landlady (1962)



director: Richard Quine; screenwriters: Blake Edwards/Larry Gelbart/story by Margery Sharp; cinematographer: Arthur E. Arling; editor: Charles Nelson; cast: Kim Novak (Carlye 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), Richard Peel (Sgt. Dillings); Runtime: 123; Columbia; 1962)
“Poor Fred Astaire comes off the worst of all — he’s stuck as a fawning American embassy chief.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A rather mild B&W comedy/mystery, featuring the bumbling comic antics of Jack Lemon and the ravishing beauty of Kim Novak. Under Richard Quine’s laborious direction, the film only perks up for its surprising ending — a takeoff on slapstick comedies from the silent era. The film failed to catch my interest even though the actors seemed to be giving an all-out effort to make this turkey have legs. The main problem lies in the ridiculous script. Poor Fred Astaire comes off the worst of all — he’s stuck as a fawning American embassy chief, afraid a scandal would ruin his career. His part was so wooden, you could have thrown it into the fireplace for kindling wood.

After William Gridley (Jack Lemmon) lands in London as a low level American diplomat, he rents a flat in the exclusive Grey Square section from fellow American Carlye Hardwicke (Kim Novak). What he doesn’t know is that six months earlier she was suspected of killing her husband. Since there was no body found Scotland Yard has not charged her with the crime, but are keeping her under close observation.

Gridley finds this out from his boss Franklyn Ambruster (Astaire), who arranges with Inspector Oliphant (Lionel) for his underling to cooperate with Scotland Yard and act as an undercover agent. The conflict for Gridley is that he fell in love with her and only wants to snoop if he can prove her innocence.

The film’s most hilarious moment are when Lemon bumbles his assignment while courting the mysterious Kim. There are a few ha-ha’s as he nearly burns her flat down while lighting the outdoor grill. This gives him the publicity in the newspapers his boss said would remove him from serving in England, an assignment he covets since coming from Saudi Arabia.

The mystery develops as we try to figure out why Kim is pawning her expensive candelabra.

Warning: spoiler to follow in the next paragraph.

It all comes clear when Kim’s husband turns up alive and she shoots him accidentally as he tries to kill her for the pawn ticket, as they wrestle for the gun. She is about to be convicted when Mrs. Brown suddenly appears and clears Kim of the murder charges by providing a false witness report. It turns out Mrs. Brown had an ulterior motive for doing so, she knows Kim’s hubby was a jewel thief and hid the jewels in the candelabra. Which results in the slapstick climax, set in an old age resort by the sea. The funniest moment is when the one who could truly clear Kim of any crime, the wheelchair-bound Mrs. Dunhill, is being pushed down a cliff by Mrs. Brown and Lemon is running after her to stop her fall.

I found the production too dry and hardly on par with those Buster Keaton vehicles it tried to emulate. This one’s watchable for the fans of Kim or Lemon.


REVIEWED ON 11/29/2000 GRADE: C-