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January 17, 2012

Daisy Kenyon

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Otto Preminger - 1947
20th Century-Fox Region 1 DVD

The first time I was really conscious of the existence of Joan Crawford was seeing one of the films she made following the success of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane. The film I saw was The Caretakers, one of several films made dealing with issues of mental illness at the time. What I remember of that film was that Crawford was the mean, show them no mercy, bitch who ran this mental facility who was pitted against good old Robert Stack who was the humanistic, understanding medical professional. I also remember that I didn't find Crawford to be attractive, although the word "hag" hadn't yet entered my vocabulary. But in one scene, where she's wearing leotards, I was impressed by her great looking legs. I was around 12 years old at the time so my views regarding female beauty were somewhat more superficial then they are now.

It wasn't until I saw Grand Hotel for the first time at New York City's eclectic Thalia Theater, that I realized Joan Crawford had once been a babe. I would have had no problem tossing Greta Garbo for the former Lucille LeSueur. The only other time I found Crawford totally alluring was when I saw Tod Browning's The Unknown, a film I find more horrifying than any rats on a platter in Baby Jane.

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And then I saw Daisy Kenyon, probably on AMC when they actually showed classic movies introduced by Bob Dorian or George Clooney's dad. I don't remember if I actually made a point of seeing Otto Preminger's film or it just happened to be on. I even introduced my mother to the film when it was on at some later date. (My mother's side of of the family was made of Bette Davis partisans.) What I do remember is that I found myself really liking Joan Crawford in that film. Dana Andrew's kisses Joan Crawford. Henry Fonda kisses Joan Crawford. Given the chance, I'd probably kiss the Joan Crawford who appears in Daisy Kenyon.

Maybe it's because I got older and my ideas about female beauty have become a bit more flexible. The DVD commentary by Foster Hirsch helps articulate some of those feelings. Crawford smiles. Crawford seems approachable. Between Preminger's direction and Leon Shamroy's cinematography, Joan Crawford actually looks lovable, rather than being the inexplicable object of man's affections because she is Joan Crawford. Until Hirsch mentioned it, it hadn't occurred to me that I was watching a 42 year old woman playing someone ten years younger. The age of the character never seemed important to me. Hirsch mentions a "softness" about Crawford that is absent in most of her other performances. Even in the other MGM films I've seen that were made after Grand Hotel, Crawford lacks the warmth that Preminger was able to convey. Maybe it's all acting. Maybe it's a few tricks with make-up. What I do know is that Stephen Harvey, an acquaintance from my New York days, who wrote a little book on Crawford, might well be laughing from his particular perch in movie heaven. And I also know that I love Joan Crawford in Daisy Kenyon.

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Posted by peter at January 17, 2012 08:37 AM