Jeanne Eagels

An under-rated biography of the famous stage actress of the '20s, who created the role of Sadie Thompson in the initial Broadway production of “Rain,” and who died tragically of drugs, drink, and related forms of self-destruction. In 1957, the idea of Kim Novak playing Jeanne Eagels was taken by most critics and certain segments of the population as a joke. She was also not taken seriously as an actress in Hitchcock's Vertigo. Today, it is possible to appreciate Kim Novak's personality and presence in a number of films from the fifties and early sixties with something close to nostalgia, for she was possibly the last true female American Movie Star of the glamour-queen type. Watching Jeanne Eagels today, one can sympathize with this recent appreciation of Novak written by David Thomson:

“Novak was a big, shy blonde, diffident about her beautiful body and for ever trying to speak up and project. Many critics saw this tense endeavour and concluded that she was not an actress. But film often flinches at the expertise of actresses, and the sympathetic viewer may begin to realise that there was a mute honesty in Novak: she did not conceal the fact that she was a broad drawn into a world capable of exploiting her. Filming itself seemed an ordeal for her; it was as if the camera hurt her. But while many hostile to the movies rose in defence of the devastation of Marilyn Monroe - whether or not she was a sentient victim - Novak was stoical, obdurate or sullen, like the stolid girls in Faulkner's novels. She allowed very few barriers between that raw self and the audience and now looks dignified, reflective and responsive to feeling where Monroe appears haphazard and oblivious. Novak is the epitome of every small-town waitress or beauty contest winner who thought of being in the movies. Despite a thorough attempt by Columbia to glamorise her, she never lost the desperate attentiveness of someone out of her depth but refusing to give in. Her performances improve with time so that ordinary films come to centre on her.”

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