A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Daisy Kenyon (Otto Preminger, 1947)

Daisy Kenyon is an underrated romantic drama from an often underrated director. Otto Preminger, with the aid of a screenplay by David Hertz based on a novel by Elizabeth Janeway, gives us an unexpectedly sophisticated look -- given the Production Code's strictures about adultery -- at the relationship of an unmarried woman, Daisy (Joan Crawford), to two men, one of whom, Dan O'Mara (Dana Andrews), is married, the other a widowed veteran, Peter Lapham (Henry Fonda), who is suffering from PTSD -- not only from his wartime experience but also from the death of his wife. It's a "woman's picture" par excellence, but without the melodrama and directorial condescension that the label suggests: Each of the three principals is made into a credible, complex character, not only by the script and director but also by the performances of the stars. Crawford is on the cusp of her transformation into the hard-faced harridan of her later career: She had just won her Oscar for Mildred Pierce (Michael Curtiz, 1945), and was beginning to show her age, which was 42, a time when Hollywood glamour becomes hard to maintain. But her Daisy Kenyon has moments of softness and humor that restore some of the glamour even when the edges start to show. Andrews, never a star of the magnitude of either Crawford or Fonda, skillfully plays the charming lawyer O'Mara, trapped into a marriage to a woman (Ruth Warrick) who takes her marital frustrations out on their two daughters. Although he is something of a soulless egoist, he finds a conscience when he takes on an unpopular civil rights case involving a Japanese-American -- and loses. Set beside his two best-known performances, in Preminger's Laura (1944) and in William Wyler's The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), his work here demonstrates that he was an actor of considerable range and charisma. Fonda is today probably the most admired of the three stars, but he had always had a distant relationship with Hollywood: He suspended his career for three years to enlist in the Navy during World War II, and after making Daisy Kenyon to work out the remainder of his contract with 20th Century-Fox  he made a handful of films before turning his attention to Broadway, where he stayed for eight years, until he was called on to re-create the title role in the film version of Mister Roberts (John Ford and Mervyn LeRoy, 1955). Of the three performances in Daisy Kenyon, Fonda's seems the least committed, but his instincts as an actor kept him on track.

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