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The Legend of Lylah Clare

It “has been called Camp, which may be accurate, depending on your definition of Camp. The term has been debased to simply mean a work that is immoderately bad - so bad that it's funny - but I don't think Lylah Clare deserves that kind of condescension. It's not a terrible movie. It is, however, flamboyant, wildly exaggerated in both plot and character, stylized to the point of madness, so consistently and utterly unreal that it makes considerations of realism irrelevant... Robert Aldrich's films all tend toward excessive grotesquerie of character, excessively melodramatic plot trickery, excessive violence.... In the outrageous Lylah Clare... the excesses seem almost justifiable. The film is about Hollywood - the garish, swollen Hollywood of Hedda Hopper and King Cohn, Nathaniel West and Sunset Boulevard, the Hollywood of our most extravagant nightmares. People say we have seen Aldrich's characters before - a boorish, bellowing studio head, an arrogant, ruthlessly egotistical director, a dope-addicted lesbian housekeeper and ‘dialogue coach,' a solemn, milky, cancerous agent, a voracious, crippled gossip columnist who wears a rose in her brace and is wrenched in and out of rooms by a couple of sinister, silent homosexual bodyguards - and I suppose we have, but never in quite this ferocious and gross a parody version. The story itself is harder to defend - it concerns a young ingenue, Elsa Brinkman, who looks astonishingly like the legendary Lylah Clare, and is signed by the dead star's director-husband (von Sternberg to Lylah's Dietrich?) to appear in the film biography of Lylah, only to find her own personality more and more absorbed by Lylah's until she is playing out, in real life, the psychotic breakdown she has been simulating on film.... The performances are almost all up to the dizzying demands of the grand caricature parts, particularly Peter Finch as the director. Here, with a less ‘serious' part than he is accustomed to playing, he abandons his customary restraint and relishes the excesses of his role with almost frightening zeal. The supporting cast is excellent. Only poor Kim Novak is at a loss - but then her dual role is probably beyond human capability. Admittedly an insane film, and not recommended for everyone; but there must be a few other people with a taste for this kind of lush, decadent carnival of Hollywood horrors?”

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