Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Joan Watch: Daisy Kenyon (1947)

Watched:  11/23/2021
Format:  Amazon
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1940's
Director:  Otto Preminger

I was looking for a new-to-me noir to watch for Noirvember and on some list of "best noir" saw Daisy Kenyon (1947), and that it starred Joan Crawford, Dana Andrews, and Henry Fonda.  All have some noir bona fides as actors, and Otto Preminger never lets me down, so I put the movie on.

Friends, Daisy Kenyon is not film noir.  It's melodrama.  And that's fine, but half-way through the movie I realized no one was going to shoot anyone, no one was going to make a decision that would end in murder, and realized "someone making that noir list had no idea what they were talking about".  It happens.  

Movies can reveal quite a bit about the times in which they were released.  This is a post-WWII story and the aftermath of the war isn't the plot, but it's key.   There are some surprisingly forward thinking elements that I wanted to see if they'd get mentioned in the NYT review of the time, but... not really?  (I did find it funny how the reviewer treats the well-established leads as "you know what they do, and here they are doing it, just as reviewers would today).  

Crawford's Daisy Kenyon (post Mildred Pierce) is a working woman, driving her own career as the artist supplying images for stories in magazines.   I was a bit surprised to see the movie starts with her as "the other woman" to Andrews, a hot-shot attorney working for his father-in-law - married with two daughters.  She's not okay with her own situation, but loves Andrews.  When she meets soldier Henry Fonda, a widower, who throws himself at her.  But he's... maybe a weirdo?

Anyhoo... this is really about a woman who has options choosing between two guys, both of whom have their pluses and minuses (or option 3, which is:  both of you go away, I'm good without you).  Andrews is bucking against his homelife, clearly out of love with his wife who has her own issues exacerbated by what she knows her husband is up to.  

In addition to the "career woman" angle pacing this in the post war period, Andrews decides to use his legal mind to try to assist a Japanese man reclaim his property taken from him in California during the war.  And he gets beat up by locals for representing the guy (he also loses the case).  After calling his father-in-law/ boss a racist.  It's... amazing to see.  Throw in Henry Fonda's general sense of loss and PTSD at both the war and the accidental death of his wife, and there's a lot going on.  Not the least of which is the mention of mistresses and post-war divorce, which I'll need to look up, but this movie makes sound matter-of-fact.

There's certainly the closest I've seen to sexual assault in a Code-era film, and the woman's horror at the attempt.  And like a lot of the content, I'm a bit surprised it made it past the censors.  A man low-key threatening to murder his wife.  And most definitely physical abuse of a child.

Then as I am sure would happen now, I'm not sure the NYT reviewer quite got the point of Henry Fonda's seeming ambivalence about his marriage to Kenyon - but it's called playing the long game.  And, after all, figuring if your wife really actually does want to be with someone else, maybe not to just go around wind milling punches at people.  It's not fun, but if you love something, set it free, etc...  I did keep expecting some dark turn for Fonda, or for him to break down or something - and it was weird how the movie used that expectation and tension and then... did nothing.  Which I read as intentional.

The movie is fine.  I can go for a melodrama, and I'll always give Joanie a shot.  I'm not sure the phrase "honey bunch" should be deployed this liberally, but I got the point.  

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