INSIDE DAISY CLOVER: Blu-ray (Warner Bros., 1965) Warner Archive
Robert Mulligan’s Inside Daisy Clover (1965) is unoriginal in perpetuating a myth about ‘old Hollywood’: that it was insidiously out to destroy the talents it mined for profit. This sort of apologue - for animals on two legs - has its appeal among the sycophants who worship at the altar of some such deified personality, eagerly, with hammer and pick-axe, to chisel away at the seemingly indestructible façade of Hollywood itself until nothing but rubble remains. Falling somewhere between 1954’s A Star is Born, that glamorous tragedy to befall all genuine and aspiring hopefuls, and, Valley of the Dolls (1967), Jacqueline Suzanne’s booze-soaked and pill-popping den of iniquity, Mulligan’s fey and fabulous frolics through Tinsel Town strike a decided chord of crude camp and just plain Vanilla silliness. Inside Daisy Clover never rises above the hokey-jokey drivel of Gavin Lambert’s meandering and mindless screenplay, though I suspect Lambert’s aspirations were otherwise grotesquely situated lower on the totem of artistic merit, anchored to his novelized chronicles of this trailer-trash waif who, true to her formulaic ‘rags to riches’/’hags to bitches’ tradition, trades squalor for stardom, only to discover dreamland as a cesspool for the overworked, mentally ill, and utterly driven to their own self-destruction. The picture would be nothing at all without Natalie Wood as the nominal heroine, assailing the ramparts of greed, glut and glam-bam with sobering dollops of sex, sin and Benzedrine.
Daisy does Hollywood, and, the town reciprocates the favor by doing one hell of a number on her – handed the keys to its kingdom at the tender age of 15, before pulling a Cinderella-in-reverse, transforming the star-struck ingenue into a Hollywood has-been, morbidly jaded by the time she turns 17 (24, in the novel) – a lifetime of lasciviousness, packed into just one brief decade of disgusting detriment and self-loathing. This slippery slope is greased by the palms of movie producer, Raymond Swan (Christopher Plummer) – a.k.a. ‘the prince of darkness’ who wastes no time and minces no words in his plans for Daisy. “I’m going to make something out of you,” he coos with reptilian glee, “- money!” And so, if begins, with Daisy, having nudged her way into the noose, now, seemingly even more eager to slip it over her head and help with the fastening of its knot. But the meteoric transformation from nobody into America’s sweetheart, propels her through a series of hoops, vaguely to mirror the career slalom of Judy Garland. As the grubby urchin turned pill-popping princess, Natalie Wood is neither as musically charmed nor as resilient as Garland in her prime, leaving Wood’s wooden wunderkind, and, her ascent into the stratospheres of ephemeral fortune and glory, rather fitful and maladroit at best.
Like all such like-minded fare that reports to be a cautionary tale about the seedy side of fame, Inside Daisy Clover makes the marathon misfire of doing too much to illustrate its point, losing sight of those built-in human subtleties along the way. So, it is not enough for Daisy to claw her way to success. She has to belly-flop into it overnight, like wading knee-deep in a tub of sour cream. And her mentor cannot be just another overbearing Svengali. He has to also be an unscrupulous casting couch/slave-driver. Dislodging Daisy from her velvet tuffet is not just a fait accompli. It is a thought-numbing/soul-bludgeoning blood sport. How fast can we tear down what we have built up? Addiction to booze? How about booze, booze and more booze - and pills to massage the humiliation of her 24-hr. faulty marriage – not just to any man, but Wade Lewis (Robert Redford) – who cannot just be untrue, but has to be gay – or, as close to it without a full-blown confession – thoroughly to embarrass Daisy by straddling the fence. In Lambert’s novel, Lewis was a closeted homosexual, a bridge Redford did not want to cross – entirely, for fear of derailing his image as a screen stud. Likely Mulligan was also, prevented from any full-on flame out by Hollywood’s waning code of censorship.
All of this craziness might have come off as something marginally more edifying than camp had director, Mulligan somehow managed to reign in the rot and find his rhythm in this grand guignol. But neither he nor Lambert ever allow the opacity of ‘sins’ committed to achieve and maintain their essence as a great and sobering parable for life. Instead, Inside Daisy Clover gets reduced to just a lot of titillating tosh. Experiencing Inside Daisy Clover for the first time is like being stirred from a drunken bacchanal, awakening, but still in a gin-soaked haze, only to discover someone performing an enema on you with a 40-ouncer of malt whiskey. At 128-mins. the picture is tedious and exaggerated, Mulligan taking the froth and folly of a Douglas Sirk flick to its hair-raising extremes and putrefying the soap opera into just plain suds. That said, what keeps Inside Daisy Clover from dissolving like a sugar cube swamped in absinthe is the acting – universally, overblown, but otherwise a hoot, especially Ruth Gordon’s Oscar-nominated turn as Daisy’s scattershot mum, Lucile. Our story begins – where else? – but in the slums, the perfect setting to do a comparative analysis of Daisy’s presumed escape, rise and romp through these not-so glittery fairy-lands of Hollywood. Daisy (Natalie Wood) is 15 going on 50 – just a tomboy with a dream. Lambert’s novel and script being with this ‘perfect storm’, Daisy rising like cream as a singing sensation to attract the malevolent interests of movie producer, Raymond Swan (Christopher Plummer) who seeks to ‘handle’ not just her career, but also manhandle her life. Daisy, however, has other plans, inveigling herself in a screwy affair with actor, Wade Lewis (Robert Redford).
Two things any viewer of Inside Daisy Clover must immediately set aside, if, in fact, any marginal appreciation of the movie is to follow: first, Natalie Wood, who was 27 at the time, is impossibly too grown up and sophisticated to be taken at face value as this 15-years cured trailer trash. So, the bumpkin-esque naiveté she immediately exudes, however clever by design, is nevertheless laughably false from the outset. Second, Wood – who sang for herself in 1962’s Gypsy, is horrendously dubbed by Jackie Ward in this movie with a voice that quite simply does not fit, making her singing sensation an absolute farce. Moving on, we must also set aside Lambert’s one-note premise; that Hollywood in totem is the new Sodom and Gomorra – motivated exclusively by sin, greed, and sex aplenty. Lambert and Mulligan get enough of Hollywood’s mythology right to make its faux reality appear genuine; detailing some of the harsh decisions fledgling stars of the 1930’s made to ensure their success – re-fashioning their origin stories and rechristening their names, throwing family members and friends, deemed ‘undesirable’ by studio publicity, under the proverbial bus to ensure their rise to fortune and glory remained Teflon-coated and indestructible. With such self-imposed humiliations, expect a general lack of scruples to follow, along with a modicum of guilt, assuaged by over-indulgences with the bottle and meaningless trysts to drown out the sorrow.
That said, Inside Daisy Clover never illustrates the point to this exercise. I mean, Daisy never has any fun getting to where she thinks she ought to be. And once she has arrived, she still cannot find a moment’s satisfaction or peace at the top. So, what is the point? Dramatic irony? Hardly. When first we meet the girl, she is peddling vintage celebrity photographs on a pier in Venice, California with her crackers mum. A few short scenes later, we are told someone should be hocking hers. Yet, even these few brief scenes, illustrating Daisy at work in front of the cameras, never elevate her ethic beyond sheer contempt for the industry that plucked her from obscurity and handed her a position within its rising social strata. It is as though Daisy just walked onto a movie set for the first time, but immediately decided she could not care less for the art of picture-making. From here, Hollywood itself becomes mere backdrop. The rest of this story could have been set in the black hole of Calcutta for all that it matters. We lose ourselves in Daisy’s insincere relationship with her mentally-disturbed mother, whose eerily oracular confusion, mistaking a limo for a hearse, foreshadows the trajectory of Daisy’s fame, while also equating the perishable impermanence of stardom to the finality of death. This narrowly construed mother/daughter bond is brought back into focus in a scene where Raymond commands Daisy to concentrate on her work. As long as she does this, presumably, she will not lose her toe-hold on reality the way her mother did. Yet, is this ‘sound advice’ or just Swan being Swan – ruthlessly to wring every last ounce of productivity from his protegee?
Christopher Plummer and Katharine Bard – who plays Swan’s wife, Melora – are sublime villains; devouring vultures, who feed off one another’s bleak pessimism. Plummer plies his actor’s craft to will a resolute and cold-blooded magnetism. Despite his malice and venom, Plummer compels us to draw nearer his diabolical Swan - a supremely deceitful fiend. Even after he has Lucile institutionalized without Daisy’s consent, relieved to have her out of the way permanently after she takes her own life, Plummer manages to pull yet another rabbit out of his magician’s hat, by convincing us Swan’s blackmail of Daisy – ordered to complete the movie currently in her hopper, or be declared ‘certifiably insane’ herself – is all for her own good. Never mind Swan gets to collect on Daisy’s insurance money should she prefer the shadowy depths of the nut house to the bright lights of another Hollywood premiere. Raymond Swan is Hollywood’s gargoyle – a mogul, perched atop his edifice of greed and moral turpitude from which only such a puppet master as wicked as he could survive, and even then, not without having first bid on the losses to his own soul.
Regrettably, Daisy has no champion in her corner – not even hubby, Wade Lewis, whose pick-up line is “As one fallen angel to another, would you care to get drunk?” Gee, now what self-respecting Hollywood starlet could resist that? Let us, for a moment, set aside the ‘logic’ in this illogical coupling; Wade, having wed ‘jail bait’ without even fear of reprisals and imprisonment for statutory rape. The chemistry between Wood and Redford – both of legal age here – is palpable, making Wade’s closeted homosexuality a rather moot point. One could no more imagine Redford locked in a passionate embrace with Chris Plummer’s Raymond than with Rin-Tin-Tin – if bestiality were dangling its ‘participles’ in this story. To further bludgeon the impact of the novel’s troubled leading man, the movie’s Wade Lewis offers only shades of that tormented bisexual brute who rather indiscreetly can find only fleeting solace in his ‘plug and play’/‘sometimes he feels like a nut. Sometimes he don’t’ sexual preferences. While Redford’s skillfully played ‘on the fence’ ambivalence always hints at some spectral and diverging orientation, it never entirely crosses that line, leaving Daisy’s attraction to Wade rather believable, however painstakingly foolish. Melora lets the proverbial cat out of its bag for an eye-scratching good barb, “Your husband never could resist a charming boy!”
On the whole, Inside Daisy Clover leaves something of a bitter aftertaste, its shameless allegory, itemizing the nastiness of Hollywood while refusing to acknowledge its flip side. The burden is writ large on Robert Redford, who is allowed his twenty-second moment to establish masculine virility, so as to assure his fans he will not renege on his status as a Hollywood he-hunk, even if Wade’s 24hr. marriage to Daisy is pure sham. We are given only half the equation here – or perhaps, even less – and as such, an untruthful representation of everything at best. The despondency, conniving, recklessness and unbridled gluttony behind the movie screens is, of course, all relevant to the milieu of ‘this’ Hollywood, whatever its vintage. But so too, does it apply to the arenas of big business, politics and sports celebrity. So, to suggest Hollywood has a monopoly on death and desire is a bit much, if, offering truth of their kind, to give Inside Daisy Clover its minimal hint of cache and credibility. However, there are far better movies about the ugly side of fate, inflicted – not by fame, but one’s own malicious and ill-advised pursuit of it - on those aspiring to reach for the proverbial brass ring, however briefly to possess it. Inside Daisy Clover is a joyless excursion precisely because it refuses to acknowledge the bright side of success – even, if only in passing. Instead, the picture suggests a perfectly sane, normal 15-yr.-old girl would willfully aspire to become mired in this fusty, fetishized, effusive and pedantically pessimistic paradise lost. Within the context of its tedious case study, Daisy herself emerges as the byproduct of that sixties’ beatnik generation, anchored to its hallucinogenic cynicism – a rather rank aversion to the status quo – instead of setting her up as the star-struck and enterprising bright young thing, surely to be eaten alive within the star-making grindhouse of 1930’s dream factory Hollywood, whose industry freshness, then – barely a decade old – was undeniably certifiable.
Interestingly, Andre and Dory Previn – later, to write the score for that ‘other’ needlessly cruel exposé to address the bizarre underbelly of stardom – Valley of the Dolls – have, here, augmented Inside Daisy Clover with some perishable afterthoughts. Like ‘Dolls’ dummy-load of forgettable bad songs, their efforts yield a solitary hit, ‘You're Gonna Hear From Me.’ Save a few moments, meant to be appalling, but otherwise merely to distract those who neither managed to stave off a coma induced from boredom or take a moment’s glance at their watches and thus, blink and miss all the fuss, Mulligan’s menagerie unfurls like a brutally hung over gag, teeming with a boatload of neuroses, easily to fill a week’s worth of Dr. Phil episodes. Where are we going with all this – pure misery or obscure comedy? Regrettably, Mulligan is never quite sure. Beginning with Billy Wilder’s infinitely superior Sunset Boulevard (1950), Hollywood’s self-appraisals were increasingly felled by this sort of warped, diseased and thoroughly contaminated fascination to extol the ugliness of life behind the curtain. But rarely does Mulligan’s accelerate the story with slivers of myth-busting discourse, or unexpected, almost surrealistic foretastes to infer his Hollywood as a sinister if polished lair, populated by chic automata.
Instead, the Hollywood revealed to us in Inside Daisy Clover is hardly shocking – not even on its own terms, or for its time. It is just a sad, careworn and blousy balderdash. While a few brief scenes mark their sincere attempt at whimsy, much of what is here plays more like a Hammer horror movie let loose on the old MGM back lot, ending with Daisy’s miserable failed attempts at suicide, turning on the gas, only to walk away with an ‘I think I’d rather live instead’ philosophy, moments before everything explodes. Over-produced and underwhelming, Inside Daisy Clover is supposed to represent the larger-than-life shit storm that is Hollywood en masse, distilled into the microcosm of one tiny gamin’s Alice in Un-Wonderland-styled exploration of its harrowing labyrinth. Instead, it winds up being the wet fart of all bad jokes about the biz, a lot of ill-willed hoopla, meant to hasten our disregard for those naughty ‘show people’, clawing at each other and their own Dorian Gray-ish reflections in this hall of mirrors, presumably, for their one ever-lasting chance at immortality. How needlessly, pointlessly sad!
Much better news is forthcoming from Warner Archive’s Blu-ray presentation of yet another failed movie from that ever-bottomless pantheon of truly ‘bad movies’ that should remain dead and buried until more of their legitimate rivals, still MIA in hi-def, have come forth from the studio’s vast asset management purgatory. Here, the Panavision 2.35:1 is exquisitely rendered in 1080p. No one will be disappointed with what is here – visually: a vibrant palette of colors, superb detailing, exceptional clarity and a light smattering of film grain looking indigenous to its source. Inside Daisy Clover may not be great film-making (actually, it’s not!), but the Blu-ray is absolutely top-drawer with gorgeous contrast and a total eradication of age-related artifacts. The DTS 2.0 mono has a surprisingly vigorous quality. Dialogue is crisp, and Andre and Dora Previn’s score and songs achieve their necessary punctuation. Inexplicably, Warner has tacked on a Road Runner cartoon - War and Pieces, and, the movie’s original theatrical trailer, which has seen better days. Bottom line: Inside Daisy Clover is two-hours of life you can never get back. Even under the rubric of a good ‘bad’ movie, it miserably fails to leave much of a mark and much more of a stain, once the houselights have come up. If you are a fan, WAC has done you proud. All others can pass, and be very glad that they did!
FILM RATING (out of 5 – 5 being the best)