Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Movie: Daisy Kenyon (1947)

It’s one of the latest releases from the Fox Film Noir Collection. It’s directed by Otto Preminger, who made Laura. It’s got shadowy photography and a plot that’s twisted in every sense.

But trust me on this. Daisy Kenyon is not noir, no matter what the box says. Daisy Kenyon is melodrama. Pure melodrama. Uncut melodrama. Schedule I grade melodrama.

And as such, I couldn’t get enough of it.

Joan Crawford – who else? – plays Daisy, a Manhattan graphic artist who insists on paying her own way even though she’s also the mistress of high-powered attorney Dana Andrews. She’s on the verge of ending their relationship when she meets a veteran (Henry Fonda) shattered by the death of his wife and his experiences in Europe. Daisy awakens something in him, and soon she’s forced to choose between her two suitors.

Sound straightforward? Take my word for it, it ain’t. Nothing is straightforward with Otto Preminger. There’s always a welter of perversions and neuroses beneath the polished sheen of his movies.

Dana Andrews, a Preminger favorite, is at his best here playing a blithe charmer whom Rosemarie described as “Bill Clinton and Eliot Spitzer combined.” Competition for Daisy’s affections and a pro bono lawsuit he takes only to demonstrate what a swell guy he is reveal the hollowness of his life to him. They also expose the deep fissures in his marriage; his high-strung wife (Ruth Warrick) is taking out her frustrations with her husband on their younger daughter, in a subplot that still startles.

Fonda gives an atypical performance as a man whose demons have stripped away his internal censor. His unflinching honesty in word and emotion teeters between charming and unsettling, with the balance tipping toward the latter once Andrews comes back into the picture.

If Fonda is stretching here, Joan Crawford is playing Joan Crawford. Again, I have no problem with that. 42 at the time of Daisy Kenyon’s release, Joan is at least 12 years too old for the role; the noir cinematography by Leon Shamroy isn’t used to establish mood, but to hide the leading lady’s age. Watching Joan at this stage in her career isn’t about seeing her disappear into a character. It’s about bearing witness to a woman trying to stop the hands of time with every weapon in her arsenal. Always a mesmerizing spectacle.

For every aspect of Daisy Kenyon that’s dated, like the divorce proceedings that take up much of the third act, there’s another that remains bracingly fresh and adult. Throw in some well-produced extras that feature several members of the Film Noir Foundation and you can’t go wrong. Noir or not, Daisy Kenyon is a movie that gets under your skin.