The Legend of Lylah Clare

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The Legend of Lylah Clare
Poster of the movie The Legend of Lylah Clare.jpg
theatrical poster
Directed by Robert Aldrich
Produced by Robert Aldrich
Written by Hugo Butler (teleplay)
Edward DeBlasio (teleplay)
Robert Thom
Screenplay by Hugo Butler
Jean Rouverol
Starring Peter Finch
Kim Novak
Ernest Borgnine
Michael Murphy
Valentina Cortese
Music by Frank De Vol
Cinematography Joseph F. Biroc
Edited by Michael Luciano
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (1968, original) Warner Bros. (2011, DVD)
Release date
  • November 16, 1968 (1968-11-16)
Running time
130 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $3,490,000[1]
Box office 33,798 admissions (France)[2]

The Legend of Lylah Clare is a 1968 American drama film released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and directed by Robert Aldrich. The film stars Peter Finch, Kim Novak (in multiple roles), Ernest Borgnine, Michael Murphy, and Valentina Cortese. The film was based on a 1962 DuPont Show of the Week TV drama co-written by Wild in the Streets creator Robert Thom.

A satire on Hollywood, full of references to similar films, it recounts how an untalented beginner is hired to play the legendary Lylah Clare, a tempestuous actress who died mysteriously 20 years ago, and is herself consumed by the system. Although Aldrich's previous 1960s efforts were praised by critics, Lylah Clare opened to negative reviews.

Plot summary[edit]

Agent Bart Langner finds Elsa Brinkmann, a would-be actress who looks and sounds just like Lylah Clare, a flamboyant star who fell to her death in suspicious circumstances 20 years ago. He persuades arrogant director Lewis Zarkan, who had been married to Lylah, to see her. The two men then convince brash studio head Barney Sheean, who is equally struck, to back a picture with her as Lylah.

Besides coping with the tyrannical Zarkan and easy access to alcohol and drugs, Elsa also has to contend with other hazards of Hollywood like malicious journalist Molly Luther and lesbian admirer Rossella. As filming continues, her identification with her rôle gets more intense. She also begins to fall in love with Zarkan, who is happy to sleep with her but his priority is to get his film finished.

By the last day of shooting, her personality seems to have merged with that of the outrageous Lylah whose fatal fall, we learn, was prompted by the jealous Zarkan. To antagonise him, she first lets him find her in bed with the gardener. Then, as he directs her in a circus scene, she leaps to her death from the high-wire. The resulting publicity makes his film a huge success.

A final sequence suggests that the world of Hollywood is literally one of dog eats dog.


Production notes[edit]

The Legend of Lylah Clare originally aired as a teleplay on the anthology series The DuPont Show of the Week, with Tuesday Weld in the title role and Alfred Drake as Lylah's director widower.[3]

Director Robert Aldrich chose the script to film to fulfill his contract with M-G-M. He initially wanted Jeanne Moreau or María Félix[4] to star in the film but when it became clear that Moreau and Félix were unavailable, Kim Novak was cast. Novak hadn't made a film in three years, partly because she had been involved in a riding accident and because she had lost interest in working. Aldrich was initially thrilled with the idea of Novak in the role stating that she was a rare mixture of "ice and fire" but reportedly was disappointed with her performance.[3] At various times, Aldrich blamed Novak's performance and bad editing for the film's failure. In later years, Aldrich said that he was to blame for the film's failure and that blaming Novak was "...pretty unfair... To make this picture work, to make Lylah work, you had to be carried along into that myth. And we didn't accomplish that. [...]You can blame it on a lot of things, but I'm the producer and I'm the director. I'm responsible for not communicating that to the audience. I just didn't do it."[5]


The film received generally poor reviews and performed poorly at the box office.[3] The film critic for Newsweek magazine stated that The Legend of Lylah Clare "fights clichés with clichés."[3] Pauline Kael wrote, "there are groans of dejection at The Legend of Lylah Clare, with, now and then, a desperate little titter."[6] Roger Ebert said the film was "awful...but fairly enjoyable",[7] while Life's magazine's Richard Schickel felt that the film would catch on as a cult classic because it was "Not merely awful; it is grandly, toweringly, amazingly so...I laughed myself silly at Lylah Clare, and if you're in just the right mood, you may too."[3]


The Legend of Lylah Clare was released to DVD by Warner Home Video on October 4, 2011, via the Warner Archive DVD-on-demand system sold through Amazon.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Silver 1995 p. 272
  2. ^ French box office results for Robert Aldrich films at Box Office Story
  3. ^ a b c d e Miller, Frank. "The Legend of Lylah Clare". Retrieved March 3, 2014. 
  4. ^ Félix (1993), vol. 3, p. 48
  5. ^ Silver, Alain (1985). What Ever Happened to Robert Aldrich?: His Life and His Films. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 30. ISBN 0-879-10185-7. 
  6. ^ Kael, Pauline (1969). "Trash, Art and the Movies." Raising Kane And Other Essays (1996). Marion Boyars. pg. 127.
  7. ^ Ebert, Roger (November 13, 1968). "The Legend of Lylah Clare Movie Review". Retrieved March 3, 2014. 

External links[edit]