DAISY KENYON: Independent Woman

If Brandon’s post didn’t already convince you to listen to You Must Remember This, you might have missed this summer’s series of episodes about Joan Crawford’s time in Hollywood. I was familiar with her roles in The Women, Mildred Pierce, and Johnny Guitar, but Karina Longworth’s study of the 1947 noir Daisy Kenyon made me eager to see Crawford in that film. Thanks to Kino Lorber’s Blu-Ray release this week, my wait wasn’t long!

Crawford was in her 40s, not far off her Oscar win for Mildred Pierce, when she asked director Otto Preminger (Laura, The Man with the Golden Arm) to consider her for the role of Daisy. Ms. Kenyon is an artist/magazine illustrator, ending a long affair with married lawyer O’Mara (Dana Andrews) and starting a romance with WWII veteran Peter (Henry Fonda, who was a real-life veteran). Her age is never specified, but apparently it was a big deal that Ms. Crawford plays a younger woman.

“I’ll do my own thinking now, and my own existing!”

Crawford’s Daisy is unabashedly appreciative of her independent life and career, wise to manipulation. “You’re using me, sort of,” she teases Peter. After her relationship with him matures, she spurns a distraught O’Mara… who then assaults her. Maybe his moves were viewed at the time as a symptom of romantic desperation, but he basically attacks her without consent. Preminger’s film doesn’t necessarily let him off the hook, but it’s a disturbing moment that deserves more reflection.

As Daisy realizes happiness with Peter, O’Mara’s easy life starts to crumble. He takes on a case representing a Japanese-American veteran — note: we are told about this case, but never see the man involved — in a property battle and the lawyer faces backlash for that. His smooth talking can’t save things. His family falls apart. Another type of violence Daisy Kenyon doesn’t delve into deeply enough is Mrs. O’Mara’s abuse of their youngest daughter.

Control is an overarching concern through Preminger’s film. Mrs. O’Mara (Ruth Warrick) is overwhelmed by her circumstances and takes it out on her child. O’Mara enjoys the power of his charm over others, until he realizes it hasn’t served him well. Peter tends to float through life, barely dealing with his depression, willing to let others decide things for him. Daisy, thrust into a sort of sitting standoff between her two lovers, argues, “I’ll do my own thinking now, and my own existing!”

Based on the novel by Elizabeth Janeway, this screenplay by David Hertz (Magnificent Obsession, Love Crazy) is bitter and witty, full of smooth banter and quotable lines. D.P. Leon Shamroy (Leave Her to Heaven, South Pacific) imbues settings with shadow and smoke, giving a noir-ish feel to this “women’s film” which might otherwise be classified as melodrama. The soft lighting makes Crawford (and Daisy) appear at an unclear point between her late 20s or early 40s.

There are fuzzy moments on the print in the Blu-Ray package from Kino Lorber, but they are worth the viewing. The character of Daisy Kenyon is an original, most especially for this post-war time period. In these years when women lost their wartime employment to the men returning from abroad, she keeps working. While most female characters who sleep with/have affairs with married men in films of this era suffer ill consequences, Daisy is a woman who makes her own decisions (faulty as they may be) and isn’t punished for those. Instead she is the center of the film; Daisy is the one who makes the pivotal choice at the end. No one else is going to do it for her.

Blu-Ray available from Kino Lorber as of November 15, 2016.

The Package

  • Commentary track from film historian Foster Hirsch
  • Featurette: Life In The Shadows — The Making of Daisy Kenyon (wherein you learn that Crawford flirted hard with Fonda during the making of the film)
  • From Journeyman To Artist: Otto Preminger at Twentieth Century Fox
  • Trailers

Get it at Amazon or Kino Lorber

Originally published at cinapse.co on November 17, 2016.

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