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04.23.08

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Phaedra

Daisy Kenyon

One disc; 20th Century Fox; $14.98

By Michael S. Gant


In Otto Preminger's 1947 Daisy Kenyon, Joan Crawford finds herself trapped between two very different yet similarly manipulative men. Daisy pursues an independent-woman's career as an illustrator, but in private, she is the put-upon mistress of Dana Andrews' egotistical attorney, who has no intention of leaving his wife—after all, he owes his career to her family's high-end law firm. He smugly assumes that Daisy will always be there, happily plucking her second fiddle; he also has the insufferable habit of calling everyone, men and women, young and old, "Honey bunch." Out of nowhere, a quiet, persistent military veteran (Henry Fonda) starts asking Daisy for dates, then canceling the dates; he shows up uninvited, asks her to get married and says ominous thinks like "the world's dead, and everybody in it is dead but you"—in short, what looks like stalker behavior in today's world but was presumably romantic in the late '40s. In a surprising subplot, Andrews' lawyer takes a pro bono case defending a Japanese-American man who lost his property during World War II (although only to an unscrupulous individual and not to government internment—social conscience goes only so far). Andrews' character remains caddish to the end. He doesn't really care about his indigent client, only about winning and losing. His infidelity is somehow excused by the film because his brittle wife (played by Ruth Warrick, the first Mrs. Charles Foster Kane) takes out her frustration by abusing the couple's two daughters. The film seems headed in one direction but ends on a note of emotional capitulation. Crawford's postwar women could be hard, even repellent, but here she looks like a trapped animal who can't break free of two smothering males. The black-and-white visuals are resolutely moody and full of shadows, courtesy of distinguished cinematographer Leon Shamroy, who is more noted for his color work: Leave Her to Heaven and a string of '50s biblical and Roman epics. The link to Laura (directed by Preminger and starring Andrews) establishes Daisy Kenyon in the penumbra of the noir genre; it is, as San Francisco noir maestro Eddie Muller says in the excellent minidoc Life in the Shadows—The Making of Daisy Kenyon, a "noir-stained film." As with all Fox Noir DVDs, the extras are superb. Life in the Shadows contains insiderish anecdotes, including Warrick's observation that Crawford was terrifying on the set, and the bizarre revelation that Crawford pursued Fonda by giving him a rhinestone jockstrap and asking him if he had tried it on. From Journeyman to Artiste: Otto Preminger at Twentieth Century Fox provides a useful introduction to the autocratic director's career. The audio commentary by film noir historian Foster Hirsch provides intelligent analysis far beyond most commentary tracks.


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