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Daisy Kenyon (Fox Film Noir)
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A fashion artist juggles romances with a naval architect and a married New York lawyer. Directed by Otto Preminger.
Otto Preminger's Daisy Kenyon is an unsung beauty from Hollywood's golden age, a remarkably good and intelligent movie that's all the more gratifying because it could so easily have come out formulaic and sappy. In 1947 it was regarded (and implicitly shrugged off) as a "women's picture" or, more specifically, a "Joan Crawford picture." But there's more going on here. This was shortly after the Oscar for Mildred Pierce revived the actress's career, and the nature of a Crawford picture was changing since she had entered her (gasp) 40s. New York careerwoman Daisy (a magazine illustrator) is trying to break off her longtime affair with a high-profile lawyer and family man (Dana Andrews), and tentatively beginning a relationship with an attractive WWII veteran and widower (Henry Fonda). The men's roles are as important as Crawford's, and neither man is entirely what he first seems--Andrews a self-centered manipulator in all arenas, Fonda a poetic New Englander who used to design boats. Enough ambivalence, wounded psyches, and intimate violence surface to make the movie a kissing cousin to film noir... albeit a variation of noir in which no gun is pulled. Noir also leaks in through the gorgeous Fox craftsmanship. Leon Shamroy's lustrous lighting paints the characters and their studio-made, persuasively three-dimensional environs with insinuating shadow, while still serving director Preminger's penchant for fluid camerawork and mise-en-scène that doesn't dictate our attitudes toward the characters. The production is a model of Hollywood professionalism at every level, and the three star performances are each atypical and complex, with Crawford more restrained and thoughtful than we're accustomed to seeing her. And speaking of model performances, plan to rewatch the film while listening to the commentary by Foster Hirsch, author of the excellent critical biography, Otto Preminger: The Man Who Would Be King; Hirsch is especially sharp on Preminger's stylistic choices and the underappreciated Dana Andrews. --Richard T. Jameson
- Commentary by film noir historian Foster Hirsch
- From Journeyman to Artist: Otto Preminger at Twentieth Century Fox
- Life in the Shadows: The Making of Daisy Kenyon
- Interactive pressbook
- Still galleries
- Original theatrical trailer
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Top customer reviews
The commentary is quite good and any student of film will enjoy the technical and psychological points that are brought up. There are also two documentaries that are excellent. I wish all older films could have the kind of "making of" that this film has.
I recommend this DVD.
Otto Preminger's 1947 black-and-white, shadowy and sharp-angled picture is shot like a film noir, at times feels like it's heading into noir territory - we wonder at first if Fonda's unstable, obsessive character will take the road of violence in his passion, and Lucille O'Mara is also struggling with some mental issues and seems capable of taking the dark path - but interestingly, and refreshingly, the film never does more than strongly hint of these possibilities, instead at every point taking on the difficult and adult challenges posed by these complex human interactions. All of the characters come off as believable and sympathetic - even the abusive Lucille clearly is taking out her frustrations the only way she feels she can, and apparent heel Dan turns out to be much more vulnerable and torn apart than his buddy-buddy joking (he calls everybody "sugarplum" or "honeybunch") would at first indicate. Peter shows unexpected strengths, and Daisy throughout struggles not so much between the two men, as between either man and "freedom". But what kind of freedom? The film doesn't choose to make an overtly feminist statement and have her tell both men to get lost in the end; at first I hoped it would - instead it takes an arguably more difficult tack in showing us subtly a very different way in which one of the men can win her heart...
I have to say I was completely blown away by this - it's easily my favorite Preminger film to this point, and all three stars are as good as I've seen them. Fonda has the showiest role in some ways but he neither over- or under-plays it, there's an edge of danger and madness but throughout we see a man struggling for control - and nearly always maintaining it. Andrews and Crawford are playing roles more typical for them but both seem totally committed and seem to get that this is much closer to a real slice of life than the more melodramatic noir roles that they were associated with for the most part at the time. I don't know that Crawford is any better here than in "Mildred Pierce" but the film is pitched at a lower volume and she has more of a chance to be "normal". As much as the acting and Preminger's careful and subtle direction - relatively swift pacing within the scenes and a lot of noirish angles and lighting that keep the viewer on his toes throughout, building a suspense that is, in the end, nothing more or less than "real life" suspense - the screenplay by David Hertz (based on a recent bestselling novel by Elizabeth Janeway) doesn't have a lot of flaws either. Even some of the "noirish" bits of dialogue, like Dan's pet names for everybody and Peter's sometimes abrupt and cold, sarcastic cuttting comment, seem to come entirely out of the characters and never ring false.
I can think of few other competitors from this period that "Daisy Kenyon" has, as a mature and serious treatment of marriage and infedility in the American cinema; Ida Lupino's "The Bigamist" is one, but it is marred by a rather gutless and moralizing ending - no such problem exists for this masterpiece. Whether one wants to call it "noir" or not (I wouldn't, in the final analysis), it's certainly one of the great American films of the immediate postwar years and shocklingly underseen and undervalued in my opinion.
This Fox disc is as nicely put together as the other examples I've seen in this series, with a couple of brief docs on Preminger and on the making of this film - no surprise that they go on a bit about Crawford's age though if anything Fonda is the actor who can most readily be seen as "too old" for his part. Anyway it's hard to imagine anybody but Andrews in his role, and Crawford could have MAYBE been replaced by Susan Hayward, but probably no one else. I haven't listened to the commentary track yet.
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