Published in 24fps, February 2004.

Part Six (Damien Bona)

Hi, Dan and Zach 

Dan, I was very intrigued hearing about the particulars of the Elizabeth Janeway novel. Keeping Peter a remote figure in the movie would have been inherently a much less cinematic way of presenting the narrative. Moreover, I doubt that Preminger would have been comfortable with an adaptation that hewed closely to the book in this aspect and gave Peter and Dan separate physical spheres, joined only by Daisy's emotional connection to each of them. Such an approach would have been particularly antithetical to Preminger's sensibility and modus operandum, running counter to his interest in analyzing the comparative psychological underpinnings of individual personalities.

Indeed, much of the fascination of Daisy Kenyon arises from the contrasting actions and stratagems of the two leading men as each attempts to have the yearnings of his heart fulfilled, and from the consequences their behavior has on Daisy's psyche and emotional balance. Great scene: the colloquy between three members of the romantic triangle, where the viewer is not quite sure what Henry Fonda's Peter is up to. Without this sequence—or such other sequences as the three-cornered confrontation at the Cape Cod house at the finale—Daisy Kenyon would not simply have been a lesser achievement, it would also have been a completely different movie. A major reason the picture feels so adult and true-to-life is because, as it unfolds, neither man is given the upper hand by Preminger or David Hertz, and there is a continual pendulousness in Daisy's attitude towards them. 

It's interesting how Dan O'Mara's pro bono legal work in the film is much more altruistic and individualistic than doing his bit for the war effort in the book (as well as bespeaking a liberal temperament). This benevolence does make him a more complex and sympathetic (and also—dare one say?—more ambiguous) figure. His willingness to invest his time and effort in helping someone who is an "outcast" offers a nice contrast to the self-absorption that accompanies his single-minded pursuit of Daisy, in which he has little compunction in throwing over his wife and is, at best, insensitive, to the needs of his girls.

Elizabeth Janeway would go on to become a leading feminist theorist in the 60s and 70s (I believe she's still alive, in her 90s). We haven't even touched upon the issue of feminism in Daisy Kenyon, which could be a treatise in itself . . .

And, Dan, I think your point bears repeating:  There is a widespread misconception regarding the issue of Preminger's "objectivity," when in fact not every character in every Preminger movie is afforded the opportunity to be "understood." As for O'Mara's hapless father-in-law, Coverly (played by Nicholas Joy), one might possibly, in a generous mood, offer him condescending pity because he is such a spineless creature, but contempt is an equally valid attitude. (Other non-sympathetic Preminger characters include Rory Calhoun's Harry Weston in River Of No Return, George C. Scott's Claude Dancer in Anatomy of A Murder, Darren McGavin's Louie in Man With The Golden Arm.)

Zach, your comment regarding "the film's amazing diversity of tonal shifts, stylistic commands, and thematic webs," zeroes in on a primary reason why the three of us are probably so drawn to Daisy Kenyon, and why its reputation is currently on such an upswing. (This is a film that over the years most reviewers and movie buffs have—incredibly—dismissed as a "mere" women's picture or just another Joan Crawford vehicle—and I do know Crawford cultists who froth in anticipation for the moment when Lucille calls and Daisy screams to Angelus, "Hang up!").

As you point out, the shifting—but not disparate—ways in which Dana Andrews's Dan behaves is emblematic of the sophistication of Preminger's handling. One of the beauties of the film is the distinction drawn between Dan's over-all lack of self-awareness and the enigmatic Peter's self-conscious, calculating conduct. (To some degree, Dan vs. Peter is Id vs. Ego.) Andrews's character, who is macho and brusque and full of brio, is surrounded by people he has no problem intimidating—in an almost oblivious fashion—including a frequently hysterical wife, two impressionable daughters, and his painfully ineffectual father-in-law/law partner. He similarly handles the secretaries in his office

with a glib offhanded-ness. Dan's arrogance is one reason why every time you see the film it is so compelling to watch him go up against Peter -- who on the surface seems to be as spineless as Dan's father-in-law.  Asking Peter to sign the divorce papers, for instance, he fully expects the other man to comply, it's priceless when he's confounded to discover that Peter does possess a great deal of fortitude. Dan's approach to pursuing love is based on instinct, Peter's is cerebral, but the efficacy of each method is dependent on the transient moods and reactions of Daisy, a woman who may be confused emotionally but is nobody's fool.  

Your use of the word "horror" in describing what the characters are experiencing in the film at first seems curious, Zach, but, on reflection, it is highly apt. It's a quiet horror we're witnessing, perhaps (well, Ruth Warrick's Lucille is fairly vociferous), but the grappling for another person's consistent love is a situation with which most people in the audience are much more familiar than the more blatant horrors movies generally dish out (e.g. blood-curdling monsters, the terror of combat). The vast majority of us have spent substantial amounts of time in our lives seeking the sanctuary that (we imagine and hope and assume) is provided by a romantic relationship and Daisy Kenyon is such a mature work in that, as you state, it "respects both love and lovers, because in a certain way it does not believe in love as we usually know it."  Because of its volatility, the love conveyed in the movie is not of the form traditionally seen in films (particularly during the studio period).  Also helping to set Daisy Kenyon apart is how Preminger and his collaborators emphasize the search rather than the objective and don't back away from presenting the instability and difficulties that the search for love entails. And while we are on that quest, we are all alone. As Daisy Kenyon reminds us, that situation can be unsettling as hell.