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Daisy KenyonUSA 1947
Directed by Otto Preminger
Running time 100 minutes
Director-producer Otto Preminger’s film is a relatively unusual work for the time (compare for instance Preminger’s more typical Laura for instance) as it confronts some of the less attractive aspects of human relationships head-on. Joan Crawford is the title character who is having a tortured affair with Dan O’Mara (Dana Andrews) , a wealthy lawyer and married man with a wife, Lucille (Ruth Warrick) and two kids. When returned soldier Peter Lapham (Henry Fonda), comes into her life and proposes marriage she accepts but he has been traumatized by the death of his first wife five years earlier and then the war. Dan tries to lose himself in his work but when this fails tries to get back with Daisy. Lucille finally cracks and an acrimonious divorce ensues and Daisy finds herself having to chose between Dan and Peter.
What is unusual about Preminger’s approach is his much more “adult”. psychologically realistic approach to the material. All the characters are troubled and unhappy (Lucille is even given to physically abusing her children) and Preminger doesn’t even allow his audience to enjoy the tarnishing of an illicit romance of thewell-to-do– these are ordinary people with messy lives making them messier.
Commendably novel as this may be dramatically the film doesn’t really come off. There is insufficient dynamic to the narrative and there are some odd and annoying small choices such as having Dan call everyone, men as well as women by some flirtatious term of endearment , the most favoured being “honeybunch” while his kids call him “Dan” which sounds like “Dad” but isn’t though he appears to be their father.
Crawford is effective in the lead. Although emotionally fraught working girls were her stock-in-trade her performance here is understated and feels genuine. On the other hand a mis-cast Andrews (he had starred in Laura) is unable to give any credible delineation to his character’s personality – being neither opportunistic cad nor lover possessed but some kind of overly rational manly in-between. Equally, although Fonda is appealing as the emotionally wounded suitor/husband his character is too curiously passive to seem convincing and the “choose me” premise of the film never seems like particularly high stakes.
Daisy Kenyon is an interesting attempt at psychological realism and deserves credit for this. Although Preminger doesn't bring it off perhaps Hollywood’s lack of experience with such things has much to do with it's failure.