The Archivist #119: Handsome Men, Double Lives [INSIDE DAISY CLOVER & REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE]

Looking at two classic Warner titles in honor of Pride month

The Archivist — Welcome to the Archive. As home video formats have evolved over the years, a multitude of films have found themselves in danger of being forgotten forever due to their niche appeal. Thankfully, Warner Bros. established the Archive Collection, a Manufacture-On-Demand DVD operation devoted to thousands of idiosyncratic and ephemeral works of cinema. The Archive has expanded to include a streaming service, revivals of out-of-print DVDs, and factory pressed Blu-ray discs. Join us as we explore this treasure trove of cinematic discovery!

As Kathy Bates once remarked in that horrible Melissa McCarthy movie Tammy: “Gay wasn’t always in fashion.” Indeed it wasn’t. Even though we live in the age of Pete Buttegieg and Billy Porter, getting to a point where gay figures could emerge in the world to gain influence and admiration was a long time coming. The steps forward are still there in terms of true equality and acceptance, but the milestones continue to be reached and cannot be reversed. We’ve come a long way from the days where homosexuals had to deny and suppress their true selves in an effort to make it in their respective roles within society. However, while the world has largely changed, there are still individuals stifling feelings and living in disguise for reasons which are (arguably) purely their own.

In this Pride month edition of The Archivist, we look at a pair of films featuring two handsome leading men bringing to life characters who shunned their true feelings in order to adhere to an image the world thought they should embody.

Inside Daisy Clover (1965)

When a poor California teenager named Daisy (Natalie Wood) finds her way into a screen test for a major studio, she’s suddenly turned into an adored movie star and immediately bears witness to the dark side of the movie business. Under the thumb of ruthless studio boss Raymond Swan (Christopher Plummer), Daisy finds solace in another contract star, the incredibly dashing Wade (Robert Redford), with whom she develops a kinship as the pressures of fame begin to take hold.

Being a famous child star herself, I’m sure Inside Daisy Clover was meant to be a cathartic vehicle of sorts for Wood who agreed to star in the overblown comedy The Great Race in order to get this film greenlit. Yet it’s Redford who emerges as the most compelling element here. Most savvy audiences will go into the film knowing that the character of Wade was written as gay in the source novel, but (lazily) changed to bi-sexual for the film. Reportedly, the actor’s agent advised him against taking the role, but Redford accepted it provided the nature of Wade’s sexuality was changed. The condition was made, but it didn’t really matter. The whole of the character shines through, from his more whimsical approach to life, to his incessant drinking and a certain flair and charm that have become his calling card. These are all traits associated with many gay men, both then and now. Add to this his relationship to Daisy, specifically their chemistry which reads more like brother/sister or BFFs than romantic partners, no matter what they each try to make themselves believe. More than that, there’s the unmistakable resentment and aggravation Wade possesses about the fact that he’s a product of the Hollywood star machine and that his sexuality, not to mention the rest of his life, is not his own. As a film, Inside Daisy Clover does a fantastic job of shattering the movie star illusion (the circus musical number and the looping session scenes in particular really drive the point home). But it’s the character of Wade that emerges as a bold testament to the many men and women whose true natures and overall existence were taken from them by an industry built on illusion.

Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967)

At a military post somewhere in the east, a revered Major (Marlon Brando) and his wife (Elizabeth Taylor) hold court as the reigning army couple while enjoying a longtime friendship with the next door neighbor Colonel (Brian Keith) and his wife (Julie Harris). However, each of them holds a dark secret that would tarnish their reputations. Yet no secret is more dark than the Major’s secret obsession with a young soldier (Robert Forster) on his base.

Like so many of John Huston’s films, Reflections in a Golden Eye exists as a forgotten oddity that features big stars and an innovative filming technique. But it’s the daring frankness within the story for which it ought to be remembered for. Any one of its various story elements would have been enough to label the film a piece of scandal. Put together however, the result is a movie that is totally unforgettable. On one hand there’s the affair between Leonora (Taylor) and Morris (Keith), the latter of whom is still devoted to his wife Allison (Julie Harris). However Allison’s recent bout with madness following a miscarriage resulted in her cutting off her own nipples before becoming a frigid recluse confiding in only her gay “houseboy” Anacleto (Zorro David). It’s quite possibly the most bizarre, morbid and, thanks to the movie’s golden tint, beautiful film Huston ever helmed. Yet by far the most compelling element of Reflections in a Golden Eye remains Weldon’s (Brando) attraction to Forster’s young soldier. The two rarely exchange words throughout the film, but the way the Major finds himself transfixed by Private Williams says it all. It’s a spectacular performance from Brando in which he emotes the pain, confusion and obsession of a man living in the shadows without having to say much at all. In Weldon’s eyes, there is the desire and longing for a life as far removed from the one he finds himself trapped in; a life where his secret love returns his affections and are free to live an existence where they are the only two in the world. It’s all fantasy of course and Weldon’s somber, distant nature throughout the film signifies that he knows this is true. He is a military man of the highest order with a goddess wife and a life which has him forever trapped.

Inside Daisy Clover and Reflections in a Golden Eye are both available on Blu-Ray and DVD from Warner Archive.

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