Inside Daisy Clover makes for an interesting film in that the plot is really secondary to the acting on display. And when I say secondary, I mean the plot is awful. At over two hours, the story of a girl who becomes a celebrity is presented in a boring and melodramatic way. It’s really as if director Robert Mulligan wanted to make a Douglas Sirk film, and simply took the basic ideas without delving into them. By the end, you’ll be entertained by Inside Daisy Clover because of how campy, and soap opera-esque everything is. I kept saying after I watched it, “the plot is crap, but wow is the acting fun.” In the end, this is a fun movie that you have to sit back and enjoy without thinking of the story.
Daisy Clover (Natalie Wood) is a fifteen-year-old waif who gets a chance at being a Hollywood star. As her fame rapidly rises she attracts the attention of producer Raymond Swan (Christopher Plummer) who seeks to control her. Meanwhile, Daisy begins a romance with fellow actor Wade Lewis (Robert Redford).
I should have written this review a month ago, so apologies if I muddle up plot details. I really should buy this film as it’s stuck with me for so long. Inside Daisy Clover is a two-hour melodrama that is laughably campy at times, but it’s enjoyable in spite of that. From the beginning, you have to take the fact that Daisy is fifteen on faith alone because there is no way to believe that Wood (who was 27 at the time) is that age. If you can ignore that then you’ll enjoy the film as a whole. There’s a lot that simply has to be pushed under the carpet; not just Wood’s age, but her singing is dubbed as well (although she would eventually sing in Gypsy).
The story is formulaic and one-note involving the horrors of stardom, but it’s planted firmly within the Hollywood we know as seen by the usage of première footage that’s meant to be Daisy Clover’s premieres. We get vintage video of Myrna Loy, Tyrone Power, and Humphrey Bogart going to said premieres. This establishes a real-world we’re seeing despite the fact that Daisy’s films feel more 1960s than 1930s. The film does detail the harsh choices actors did make in the early decades including changing their family histories, and even severing ties with family members that could prove harmful to their careers. With that, expect alcoholism, infidelity, and all the typical failures of stardom to be showcased leaving you to either feel for Daisy or consider her ungrateful. You really only have one choice, and it’s the latter because the script, penned by Gavin Lambert who wrote the novel, doesn’t show Daisy ever enjoying her stardom. The film opens with Daisy, who sells vintage celebrity photos, dying to get an audition. When she finally becomes famous it’s only because we’re told she is. The film includes a handful of scenes of Daisy actually making movies, and yet from the first time she starts working she complains about how terrible it is. It’s as if she walks on-set for the first time, and immediately hates acting. It’s hard to sympathize with her because we never see a balance between work and place. She spends more time partying with Wade, ignoring her film premieres, than working so I was shocked she was actually making money. On top of that, the timing of the film is confused. I was always unsure if Daisy was meant to be fifteen still or not. When the film ends, and it’s said that Daisy is only “pushing 17” you expect her to be 30 with how much has happened to her. It’s laughable to believe this all happened in almost a year or two.
The rest of the plot rests firmly on character relationships. In fact, Hollywood itself becomes incidental as the various intricacies rest on the characters interacting with each other. Daisy’s relationship with her mother Mrs. Clover (Ruth Gordon) has shades of Gypsy in it only with Daisy being the one yearning for stardom. Daisy appears to have no one but herself when the film opens. Her mother is disturbed mentally, and Daisy’s sister is an opportunist who only shows up when money is to be made. It would seem that none of the Clovers have Daisy’s best interests, but that’s nothing compared to when the Swans get a hold of the girl. Daisy’s mother appears to be weirdly prophetic about how the girl’s life will turn out, and in the beginning there’s a telling moment when Mrs. Clover confuses the limo that’s coming to her daughter with a hearse; obviously with the implications that stardom brings death (I mentioned the film was heavy-handed with the symbolism, right?). The ties between Daisy and her mother never disappear, and by the end Raymond is telling Daisy to concentrate in a way that reminds the audience of when Daisy told her mother to. Both moments are meant to be done to prove that the concentrating person isn’t crazy, and yet ultimately they can’t be saved. Gordon is good, and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Wood is also good, but her screaming can become annoying, but I always find Wood’s attempts to be manic somewhat bothersome.
The Swan’s are delicious, mustache-twirling villains that you want to watch from the minute they show up. Christopher Plummer and Katherine Bard are amazing, and both feed off each other’s negativity as the film progresses. From the minute Daisy meets them they act predatory towards her; circling and evaluating her before devouring her (metaphorically speaking). Plummer has never been colder, from what I’ve seen, than he is here as Raymond Swan. He’s magnetic in his power; a man you can’t help but be attracted to because he is so compelling, and yet at the same time he’s a conniving devil. When Daisy is told her mother has been institutionalized behind her back, he coolly sits there, never batting an eye. Let’s just say it becomes obvious why Wade Lewis calls him the Prince of Darkness throughout the film. At the film’s conclusion he gives Daisy an ultimatum after the death of her mother. She can either finish the movie she’s working on, or be declared insane; “certifiable or sane” as Swan says. Regardless of the outcome, Swan wins as he either profits off the movie or collects on Daisy’s insurance money. The coldness of his heart borders on stone, and yet you continually love how hammy Plummer plays the role. Every line he says sounds like he’s saying “Screw you.” I thought Captain Von Trapp was my favorite Plummer role, but I think this beats it.
The other male in Daisy’s life is Wade Lewis played by Robert Redford. I’m ambivalent about Redford. I’ve seen two movies of his, back to back, and he’s good but not great. Here he’s a drunken Lothario with a lot of complexities that I found myself drawn to. His pick-up line to Daisy is “As one fallen angel to another, would you care to get drunk?” That’s quite a line and a man like Redford draws you in and makes himself the object of desire. You’re never sure if he desires Daisy, but it’s obvious she wants him. Wade’s big secret is later revealed; it’s alluded to that he’s gay, and boy does that put things into a tailspin. Katherine Bard’s character Melora is given the best line about Wade: “Your husband never could resist a charming boy.” I did have a question, Daisy is only fifteen, and Raymond even calls her “jailbait” at one point, so how did Daisy marry Wade? And I’m all for Raymond acknowledging Daisy being young, but the man becomes a total hypocrite when he starts up an affair with her. Only in Hollywood I guess.
Inside Daisy Clover is an acquired taste. It’s filled with brazen symbolism, a garish plot that details the worst in Hollywood, and doesn’t clearly define the time period (it’s supposedly set in the 1930s, but it never feels that way). The acting though is what makes things so fun, particularly from Plummer, Bard, and Redford. The film is like the best Douglas Sirk film; filled with heartache, backstabbing, and insanity. The film literally ends with a boom, and I recommend it.
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A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.