Catching lightening in a bottle is a next to impossible journey, so it’s understandable that director Otto Preminger struggled to recapture the same romantic noir mood he evoked in Laura (1944). Three years later Preminger created another romance with Daisy Kenyon, though the tone is remarkably more romantic, hewing closer to a domestic drama. There’s nary a murder or mystery in sight! Despite a great turnabout from Dana Andrews, reuniting with Preminger after playing the obsessive cop in Laura, Daisy Kenyon never rises above being a maudlin divorce drama, neutered by the Code, with leading men more attuned to prison than love.
Daisy Kenyon (Joan Crawford) is a forward thinking career-woman who can’t seem to pick the right mate. Mired in a relationship with married Dan O’Mara (Dana Andrews), she finds stability in the meek, though unstable, 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 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 while suffering from some type of PTSD over his wife’s death.
If this was a regular drama about a couple rebounding that could have been something. Instead, the dreary love triangle pays off exactly as expected, and is lessened by the script hoping to plug holes. 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. 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! And that’s after realizing his children are probably being abused by his wife. 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.
Kino’s new Blu-ray edition of this looks as good as a film from 1947 can. The soft lighting to hide Crawford’s features does leave things looking a taste fuzzy at times, or only show us the bright features of her mouth while her eyes recede into the darkness. Foster Hirsch provides some excellent audio commentary. Featurettes on Preminger and the making of the film are included, as well as an animated image montage and trailer. 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.
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