Saturday, November 15, 2008

cinema obscura: Robert Mulligan's "Inside Daisy Clover" (1965)

Thanks to Daryl Chin for alerting me to the fact that Natalie Wood's nearly impossible-to-see "Inside Daisy Clover" (1965) - produced by Alan J. Pakula and directed by Robert Mulligan from Gavin Lambert's novel - will be part of a Warner Home Entertainment boxed-set devoted to Wood.

Due to be released in February, the other titles in the set include remastered versions of Elia Kazan's "Splendor in the Grass" (1961) and Mervyn LeRoy's "Gypsy" (1962), both longtime VHS and DVD staples, along with such new titles as Gordon Douglas' "Bombers B-52" (1957), in which Wood played opposite her "Gypsy" co-star, Karl Malden, and Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.; Richard Quine's version of the Helen Gurley Brown tome, "Sex and the Single Girl" (1964), which had a solitary showing on
Turner Classics about a year ago, and Joseph Pevney's "Cash McCall" (1960), which also recently turned up for a single viewing on Turner.

"Inside Daisy Clover" is one of those films which divides movie buffs, beloved by some and detested by others. There's no doubt that it's an acquired taste, thanks largely to Wood's bravely quirky, potentially audience-alienating performance in the title role - that of a 1930s teen starlet nurtured and then devoured by Hollywood's monolithic studio system - one Swan Studios, run by a truly frightening Christopher Plummer (a role played the same year he did "The Sound of Music").

Warners, which produced the film, probably saw it as another variation on its Garland version of "A Star Is Born" (1954), what with its pseudo-musical contours that allowed for occasional musical numbers for Wood. But the Pakula-Mulligan team ("To Kill a Mockingbird," "Love with the Proper Stranger," Up the Down Staircase" and
"Baby, the Rain Must Fall")clearly had something altogether different in mind, bringing a quirky, sing-song quality to the movie that its detractors saw as dubious filmmaking. The fact is they were expeerimenting here, aiming for their film to have the same unstable quality that afflicts its troubled heroine and her daffy, unmotherly guardian, a card shark self-named The Dealer (Ruth Gordon).

The estimable co-stars include Robert Redford in one of his earlier roles as a closeted actor; Roddy McDowall as a callous, officious studio type, and Katharine Bard, a fine actress who died young in one of her rare film roles. (Redford was cast at the suggestion of Wood; a year later, they effectively reteamed in Sydney Pollack's "This Property Is Condemned," based on a Tennessee Williams play. Wood would also play walk-ons in two later Redford films, "Downhill Racer" and "The Candidate.")

The film, fashioned as a "movie" film, isn't the least bit sentitmental, least of all about Hollywood, although it brims with compassion. It's not always likable, but for me, thanks to the extraordinary Wood, "Inside Daisy Clover" works as an out-of-control life force, unstoppable.

I always thought of Mulligan's film as a companion piece to a work that came three years later in 1968, Robert Aldrich's "The Legend of Lylah Clare" starring Kim Novak and Peter Finch in roles not too dissimilar to the ones played by Wood and Plummer in "Inside Daisy Clover."

Note in Passing: "Inside Daisy Clover" came up on Dave Kehr's blog recently as part of a discussion about Universal's new Gregory Peck collection. (Peck, of course, made "To Kill a Mockingbird" for Mulligan.) Junko Yasutani, a regular on Dave's site, lists "Daisy Clover," along with a few other Mulligan titles - "Love with the Proper Stranger," "The Nickle Ride" and "The Other" - as "all good movies," while Stephen Bowie couldn't disagree more, flatly stating that "'Inside Daisy Clover' is excruciating." As I said, an acquired taste.

Cinema Obscura is a recurring feature of The Passionate Moviegoer, devoted to those films that have been largely forgotten. Suggestions welcome.

(Artwork: Two views of Natalie Wood as Gavin Lambert's Daisy Clover; poster art from the film)


Mike said...

Couldn't agree with you more a bout "Daisy Clover" (and "Lylah Clare"!).

Beef said...

Fascinating post on a movie that I really want to like. I love Gavin Lambert's novel, and Natalie Wood is my all-time favorite actress, but I really don't care for the movie "Inside Daisy Clover"--I consider it a dud, alas. There are a few excellent scenes, but, to me, "Daisy" misses the mark. As a lifelong Natalie Wood buff, I intend to buy the boxed set, so I plan to give "Daisy Clover" another look. The Natalie Wood boxed set is long overdue, and I only wish that they'd decided to include other never-available on VHS/DVD titles like "Penelope" or "All the Fine Young Cannibals."

John said...

Interesting comparison of "Clover" and "Lylah Clare." I always thought Aldrich's film was underrated and deserved more attention.

Diana said...

I absolutely loved "Inside Daisy Clover" ,I want to thank you for the heads up on that boxed set!
Also "This Property Condemned" and
"Love With the Proper Stranger".
All of them rarely shown any more!

Jenny Lens said...

LOVE LOVE LOVE this film. Why IS it so hard to see? I once ran into Gavin Lambert at the Raleigh Studios when the American Cinematheque was there (before moving to the Egyptian). I tried to talk to him, but he wasn't having it.

I could not believe I was standing next to the man who wrote Inside Daisy Clover!!! I can still picture that! OMG.

I've loved this film since it was released and I was 15. Turned me onto Dory Previn too (who wrote the songs). Of course that blond actor/director too. Redford was so great in it. Christopher Plummer and of course the great Ruth Gordon. Natalie Wood and I share a birthday, but she was born first. I adored her. Still miss her, wonder what great acting lay in front of her.

I actually don't like any of the other films in this boxed set. I'll pass on getting it. Hope TCM shows this film. You think it might happen?