Another trio of reviews from The Henry Fonda Collection. In this segment we’ll look at a western, a quasi-noir with romantic overtones, and a crime procedural.
Daisy Kenyon (Joan Crawford) is a forward thinking career-woman who can’t seem to pick the right mate. Mired in a relationship with the married Dan O’Mara (Dana Andrews), she finds stability in the meek Peter (Fonda). When Dan’s relationship with his wife goes sour, Daisy is unable to decide with whom she truly belongs.
Daisy Kenyon could be a fine domestic melodrama, but underneath the blase love triangle is the belief that this is a dark film noir; and it isn’t. There’s no big reveal, mystery, or really much of anything happening for over 90 minutes other than circling cries of “I love you. I hate you!” Crawford is a commercial artist who can’t find the right man, yet enters into a relationship with another man because she believes she’ll get over her past lover. At the same time, Fonda’s character is trying to get over a love as well. If this was a regular drama about a couple rebounding there could have been something. Instead, the dreary love triangle pays off exactly as expected, and is actually lessened by the script hoping to plug holes. The problem is none of these characters should be in a relationship, so there’s no clear-cut victor. Dana Andrews’ character is a heel, Crawford is indecisive, and Fonda is a stalker; no, he follows Daisy and calls her at all hours before showing up at her house and declaring that he loves her. By the time he proposes marriage everyone in the audience should be screaming that he’s a bad choice. In the end, when Peter decides to go back to Daisy, the script hasn’t followed him to show up if he’s made any changes to his mental state. He’s summed up best by Daisy as “nice, but a little unstable.”
The script is one of those where decisions are made purely out of a need for narrative resolution; case in point, Dan refuses to divorce his wife for Daisy, but when he puts Daisy on the stand during his divorce case (or else he’ll lose his children) and sees she can’t handle the stress he “realizes” his children aren’t that important! First, this continues to show him not as a romantic leading man, but a total cad, and second, where was all this before? He’s obviously prepared to hurt his children no matter what, so why wait for a painful divorce case? The only one I felt was memorable was Dana Andrews; this role is a total 360 from him in The Ox-Bow Incident and he’s the perfect flirtatious heel. In fact, I’d have preferred watching the toll of his affair on him and his family (then again, that would be the exact copy of There’s Always Tomorrow). You can tell Andrews is hamming it up as the smooth operator. Crawford plays Mildred Pierce and nothing else; which is good, but not a stretch. Henry Fonda is the impassive husband who, again, is mentally ill but that’s meant to be endearing. In the end, Daisy Kenyon is good purely because of Andrews. The melodramatic twists and turns do nothing more than give you a headache, and with Otto Preminger at the helm this really wants to be Laura or something similar.
Gil and Lana Martin (Fonda and Claudette Colbert) move to the frontier to star their lives. Unfortunately, Lana is a society girl who doesn’t take to the frontier world. When Indians start to threaten their way of life, the two will have to work together to survive.
Drums Along the Mohawk isn’t a terrible movie; it’s flag-waving patriotism wearing buckskins. Yes, the movie can out before WWII hit home, but by detailing the “horrors” of the Native American scourge it’s easy to see this as connecting to America’s continued struggles to protect our nation that would continue into the war. This isn’t nearly as insightful, complex, or intriguing as John Ford’s other Western in the collection, My Darling Clementine, mostly because it’s evident what he’s saying and he says it loudly. The movie starts out as being a tale of mismatched lovers with the impetus of showing women how to acclimate to things outside the luxury and comfort they’re used to; yeah, you can tell I took umbrage with Claudette Colbert’s character. Colbert is an actress I can take or leave; she’s good in some roles and present in others. Here, she plays the sophisticated, albeit devoted, wife who must learn to travail the harsh and unpredictable frontier. Working alongside her is Fonda’s Gil who takes to the frontier like a duck to water. Because we’re supposed to understand her selfish devotion to her former life, there’s a wonderful sequence of her getting so distraught over burning furniture that it causes her to miscarry her child! The first half of the movie is watching Lana learn to take on the frontier, but why have her quickly acclimate only to watch her freak out over furniture and “punish” her by losing her child? Later on, when the two do have a baby, it’s after Lana has shown her slavish devotion to Gil by caring for him after an Indian raid. Colbert excels at playing characters who support men, and that’s all she does here. Fonda is given action and wars to fight, but the focus is watching Lana traverse this unpredictable world. I did wish Lana would take a cue from Mrs. McKlennar, played by Edna May Oliver. Oliver is hilarious and one tough cookie, able to command Indians raiding her house to carry her and her bed downstairs! I had hoped that some of her independence would rub off on Lana, but to no avail. Overall, Drums Along the Mohawk is a domestic drama in the American frontier that focuses on women’s struggles; not enough in the role for Fonda to shine.
When a series of murders committed against women take place, the Boston police are in a race against time to track down the killer.
Watching The Boston Strangler was akin to watching a better acted, bigger budget version of the atrocious Town That Dreaded Sundown. I take that back, that’s an insult to The Boston Strangler. The story of Albert DeSalvo (Tony Curtis) is fascinating but director Richard Fleischer tells it in the most uninteresting way possible. In its defense, the style employed is a gritty, cinéma vérité style that puts the audience in the position of the police investigation. It’s chaotic, unpredictable, and frightening to watch the killer pick victims at random. The issue is how laughably bad these tense and horrific moments come off in 2013. When a newscaster starts detailing a new victim his monotone and the lines he reads feel like a person trying to sum up a murder flippantly: “She was young, the others were old. She was Negro, the others were white.” Yes, that’s enough to strike fear into my heart. The second half of the movie shifts into a bizarre psychological mode filled with extended conversations between DeSalvo and John Bottomly (Henry Fonda). The conversations do well to get you into the mind of a serial killer, but at the end the movie tacks on an epilogue about the nation needing to do more to care for the mentally ill. In a movie that’s given the audience “entertainment” through murder, I’m not sure where we’re supposed to feel bad for DeSalvo or what society could have done to prevent him? It’s a half-baked message that has to come through because any and all impact is beaten into submission by the unrelenting use of split-screen. Did split-screen revolutionize the film industry because almost every sequence for the first hour is split-screen; and not just the screen cut in half, sometimes the screen has at least ten things going on at once in various boxes and sizes. If you wanted to show chaos, congrats, but if you want to give the audience a cohesive sequence of events there’s no way to focus on what’s happening with literally everything and the kitchen sink cluttering the screen. Fonda and Curtis are good, but their conversations come after an hour of turgid police procedural. My mother has a nostalgic love for this movie, but it left me cold.
In terms of bonus content on this disc: Daisy Kenyon has interesting scene-select commentary with historian Foster Hirsch, but the two items to watch are the featurettes, “From Journeyman to Artist: Otto Preminger at Fox” and “Life in the Shadows: The Making of Daisy Kenyon;” there’s also an interactive pressbook, stills, and a trailer. In Drums Along the Mohawk I recommend the scene-specific commentary with Twilight Time essayist Julie Kirgo and Rick Redman; there’s also a stills gallery and trailer. The Boston Strangler has a Fox Movietone feature and an interesting look at the actual Boston Strangler case entitled “Backstory: The Boston Strangler;” there’s also a trailer.
Ronnie Rating for Daisy Kenyon:
Ronnie Rating for Drums Along the Mohawk:
Ronnie Rating for The Boston Strangler:
NEED MORE FATHER’S DAY IDEAS (OR WANT TO READ PAST REVIEWS OF THE HENRY FONDA BOX SET?). CHECK OUT MY FATHER’S DAY GIFT GUIDE HERE.
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.