Judge Daryl Loomis was once embroiled in a love triangle with Crystal Gayle and Erin Grey...if only they knew.
It's a funny thing about being in love. Sometimes it's easier to tell when you are than when you aren't.
When Twentieth Century Fox acquired the rights to Elizabeth Janeway's blockbuster novel, Daisy Kenyon: An Historic Novel: 1940-1942, Joan Crawford (Mildred Pierce), 15 years older than the title character, jumped at the chance to play this strong, successful lead woman. On loan from Warner Brothers, Fox attached the film to Henry Fonda, back from war and looking to make a comeback, and two of the main names from the mega-hit Laura, lead actor Dana Andrews and director Otto Preminger. While they didn't get the huge hit they were looking for, and the people involved had negative feelings about the finished product, the strong performances and modern, forward-looking themes have stood well against the test of time. Daisy Kenyon looks great at 60.
Facts of the Case
Daisy Kenyon (Crawford), a successful commercial artist in post-WWII New York, is involved with two men. A powerful lawyer named Dan O'Mara (Andrews) has been dating Daisy for a long time. Daisy loves him, but Dan just won't leave his wife (Ruth Warrick, Citizen Kane). Ex-soldier Peter Lapham (Henry Fonda, Once upon a Time in the West), on the other hand, is a widower. While the war addled his brains a little, he is a loving man who is willing to marry her. Daisy never forgot Dan, however, and when Dan finally calls it quits with his wife, guess who comes knocking on Daisy's door.
Daisy Kenyon may be a simple romantic triangle movie, but it is also a top-tier melodrama with great characters and a swiftly moving story that show off some of the best Hollywood had to offer. Joan Crawford can move a picture like none other and go from tender to psychotic with a contortion of her face. Daisy is a smart, powerful woman who knows how to wield it, but she's no femme fatale. She doesn't want money or power out of either of these men. She's looking for love without having to give up the life that she loves. Crawford carries all the emotional weight on her back and shows how easily she can play a role written for someone nearly half her age. Fonda and Andrews do equally good jobs in their supporting roles. Neither character is good or bad. They're both conflicted and play well off each other while they battle for Daisy's affection. Dan is very successful and likes to show off his power by calling people Honeybunch, Babe, and Sweetheart. He can be good; his big court case involves defending a Japanese landowner in a time of a lot of anti-Asian sentiment. He has no qualms about leaving his family, however, and gets so caught up in having control of every situation that he can't see when he's losing. Dana Andrews plays him with a lot of restraint, keeping him likeable in spite of all the bad he does. Fonda is equally good as Peter, who is a clear case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder before such things had a name. The war has scarred him, and the loss of his wife made it worse. He is erratic, sometimes kind and loving, and sometimes like a stalker. He is passive to Dan's aggressive but, as a man who has gone to war, Peter has reasons for his submissiveness. It's always fun to see Henry Fonda in a non-sheriff role, and he proves again here how versatile an actor he was.
Otto Preminger controls the action very well, building suspense through camera movement and characters coming in and out of frame more than through editing. Seeing the actors doing the scene in a single take adds a sense of detached realism that helps the film from becoming overwrought. Preminger does an excellent job of keeping the finale in question until the very end, a tall task with what is sometimes a very standard plotline. Stark, shadowy photography helps give a sense of mystery with the additional, and important, benefit of hiding the aging of Crawford, whose character is much younger than her suitors (she was the same age as Fonda and older than Andrews).
Fox's DVD is the first wide release of Daisy Kenyon in any format, and what a great debut. The picture looks great, with a hint of grain here and there but very little considering its age. The sound is crisp, clear, and everything you could hope for in a mono mix. The extras are mixed, but generally good. The two featurettes, especially the first about Preminger's time in Hollywood and the second on the making of Daisy Kenyon, are both very good. They are full of quality information about the cast and crew, as well as discussion of the mildly controversial inclusion of the film in the "Fox Film Noir" collection. They are very good historical supplements to a very good film.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Fox really has done a very good job on their release of Daisy Kenyon, and I appreciate that they bothered to include a commentary. It is recorded by Film Noir historian Foster Hirsch, and he won't let you forget that he's an expert. Generally, I like commentaries by critics over those by the filmmakers, but this is one of the worst commentaries I've ever heard. Between mentions of the books he's written, he does everything he can to explain how much the film "resembles" a Film Noir. Aside from the high contrast black and white photography, there is basically nothing that qualifies Daisy Kenyon as a genre picture. With its big budget, A-list stars, and a world of generally good people, it's hard to justify that this is anything but an A-list melodrama. Yet Hirsch continues to try. What he criticizes about the film are things that detract from the Noir argument, just trying to make his point. On top of it, he takes every opportunity he can to denigrate Crawford's performance—the best thing he says is "she isn't that bad in this scene." I'd have given the extras higher marks if the commentary hadn't been included at all.
I have a hard time understanding how this film doesn't have the following that some of Crawford's other roles have had. It's a well-spun drama with some of the best actors of the generation and the only release it can get is alongside a large number of lower scale (though not necessarily lower quality) productions. It may be misclassified as Film Noir, but Daisy Kenyon deserves a place alongside the better melodramas of this era.
Daisy Kenyon is released to continue searching for love. The court reprimands
Fox for their lazy classification, but thanks the studio for releasing the film
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Scales of Justice
• Audio commentary with Film Noir historian Foster Hirsch
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