Inside Daisy Clover

INSIDE DAISY CLOVER, a misbegotten Hollywood-as-dream-killer opus from 1965, led the way to a slew of industry-whacking hackjobs that would ultimately bottom out with the travesty of Myra Breckinridge. Following Daisy down the unmellow brick road were The Oscar a year later, Valley Of The Dolls in ’67 and The Legend Of Lylah Clare a year after that. Collectively they’re all bad, each in their own particular way. ‘Myra‘s so vomitous it’s unwatchable. ‘Oscar‘ and ‘Dolls‘ are hilarious, ‘Lylah‘ mystifying. ‘Daisy‘s failure is a little sadder in that its poor script (Gavin Lambert, from his novel), expensive yet sloppy production (Alan J. Pakula) and clumsy direction (Robert Mulligan) wasted talented actors, two men who were fresh to the public (Christopher Plummer and Robert Redford) and a veteran actress in the lead (Natalie Wood), hoping this would be the project that would finally nab her an Academy Award. Some decent moments are scattered around, but it doesn’t gel.

Sunny southern California, the mid 1930’s. Restless teenaged tomboy ‘Daisy Clover’ (Wood, 27) is lifted from anonymity in her loopy mother’s beachside trailer shack when her recording of a song impresses studio bigwig ‘Raymond Swan’ (Plummer, 35). Faster than you say “highly unlikely” she’s limo-whisked and jammed into star-buildup as The Next Thing America Will Adore. Her embarrassing mom (Ruth Gordon) is carted off to a mental institution and Daisy wham-bam marries flashy actor ‘Wade Lewis’ (Redford, 28). The swain is revealed as swine (he prefers guys), Daisy has a breakdown, tyrannical Swan (aka ‘Prince of Darkness’) seduces her. Rolled over in the Clover, the spunky sprite from Santa Monica rebels. The End. None too soon.

Period feeling is minimal, with anachronistic hairstyles, costumes and music. The latter includes a couple of ghastly “showstopper” songs written by André & Dory Previn that are supposed to be Daisy wowzers: one, fittingly tagged “You’re Gonna Hear From Me”, is repeated three times. An instinctive actress, it feels like Wood is trying too hard here, maybe because the wan script leaves Daisy a cypher, merely someone to react to the personalities that surround and impact her. Since the whole idea behind selling the character is that she’s a singer, it doesn’t help that Wood’s voice was dubbed by Jackie Ward, and the press leaks ensured the she’d be bashed anew since she’d been dubbed before on West Side Story.

Plummer, 35, had limited big screen exposure, most notably adding verve to The Fall Of The Roman Empire.  The Sound Of Music came out while ‘Daisy’ was being edited. He does the best work in the picture. Redford, 28, had done stage and TV work but only one low-budget feature, 1962’s War Hunt: he’s fine, even though challenged by lame faux-Fitzgerald dialogue. The actors are glue-stuck in a synthetic script and a production that lacks authenticity. *

Reviews were tepid, box office disappointing. Against a cost of $4,500,000, Cogerson pegs a gross of $8,100,000, 38th for the year: other sources indicate a considerably weaker response. Wood’s hopes for a winner were dashed, though Gordon—her first film in 22 years since 1943’s Action In The North Atlantic—got a “welcome back” Oscar nomination for Supporting Actress, plus the Art Direction and Costume Design were also put in play. *

With Roddy McDowall, Betty Harford, Peter Helm and Harold Gould. 128 minutes.

* Her personal life in continual turmoil, including suicide attempts, child star creation Wood felt kinship to the much-abused character and pinned hopes on this part: though they’d been popular, she was unhappy with the preceding Sex And The Single Girl and The Great Race. Alas,this fizzle was followed by This Property Is Condemned (with Redford) and Penelope: both flopped and she took a three-year respite before coming back with Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice.

For Natalie, the ‘Inside’ win was a long-standing friendship with Redford, whose career would soon take off like a rocket. For Plummer, the titanic success of The Sound Of Music and his own adaptability ensured he would never want for work, finding his real niche later in memorable character parts. At the very least ‘Clover‘ shone for Ruth Gordon, 68, who took her ‘wacky old lady’ schtick onward into Rosemary’s Baby, Where’s Poppa, Harold and Maude and Every Which Way But Loose. 

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