best film:   Vertigo. From Saul Bass’ gorgeous opening credits with Bernard Herrmann’s score (it has to be his finest, right?)  it is clear this film is different – even for the great Alfred Hitchcock. Vertigo is his most ambitious film, the height of his perfectionism – and the greatest crystallization of his exposed psychosis on screen. Kim Novak plays the pivotal Madeleine Elster/Judy Barton role opposite Jimmy Stewart’s John “Scottie” Ferguson. This is a category of undeniable strength for Novak as she is excellent in one of the best ten films of all-time.


she may not be quite a one-hit wonder, but without Vertigo and her Madeleine/Judy role, Novak clearly does not land on this list


best performance:  Vertigo again here of course. It is well known that Novak was not Hitchcock’s first choice for the role but try watching it again and think about Grace Kelly or Vera Miles or someone else in the role. Miles? Not a chance. Kelly would be interesting for sure – she was a more gifted actor than Novak – but Novak has an unease about her that is perfectly suited for the role. In her brief career, Kelly never went there and this performance by Novak is the best single performance between the two actors. Stewart is mesmerizing in Vertigo – this is one of cinema’s greatest actor’s finest hour (and why not? This is maybe the greatest director’s greatest film) – but Novak is also no slouch either. Her look at the camera after meeting Stewart again –  this time as the brunette Judy – is sublime – very well done.  “The powerfully carnal Kim Novak” – David Kehr-


stylistic innovations/traits:   It is a light filmography (less than 35 credits) for an actor who had their film debut in 1954 and lived a long life. Kim Novak is known more so as a voluptuous beauty than a talented actor but her work in The Man with the Golden Arm acts as a confirmation that her superb work with Hitchcock in Vertigo is no fluke.  Novak’s Vertigo role came at the age of twenty-five (25). Prior to that she stars opposite Frank Sinatra in both The Man with the Golden Arm (an artistic work from Otto Preminger) and Pal Joey. Her only archiveable film after Vertigo is when she plays the Marilyn Monroe part (who had passed away by 1964 and could no longer be part of Billy Wilder’s film) of Polly the Pistol in Kiss Me, Stupid.


Novak’s sixth film overall, and first in the archives – The Man with the Golden Arm (1955). Novak plays Molly – a key role.


Novak once again opposite Sinatra – here again in 1957’s Pal Joey



directors worked with:  Otto Preminger (1), Alfred Hitchcock (1), Billy Wilder (1)


top five performances:

  1. Vertigo
  2. The Man with the Golden Arm
  3. Pal Joey
  4. Kiss Me, Stupid


archiveable films

1955- The Man with the Golden Arm
1957- Pal Joey
1958- Vertigo
1964- Kiss Me, Stupid