The snake pit that was the Hollywood studio system of the 1930s gets a fine if flawed representation in Robert Mulligan’s acerbic comedy-drama Inside Daisy Clover.
The Production: 3.5/5
The snake pit that was the Hollywood studio system of the 1930s gets a fine if flawed representation in Robert Mulligan’s acerbic comedy-drama Inside Daisy Clover. With a clutch of well-known actors showing us the ins and outs of the star-making system of that era, Inside Daisy Clover leaves an indelible impression even if storylines are sometimes truncated and characterizations are often bowdlerized due to the continuing repressive presence of the Production Code still dictating however feebly the ethics and morals of bygone eras.
Fifteen-year old Daisy Clover (Natalie Wood) has tired of eking out a penny-ante existence selling movie star photos along the boardwalk of Angel Beach, California, forcing her to submit a homemade record of her singing voice to a movie studio seeking new talent. Excited by their discovery, Daisy is sent to a soundstage to make a screen test for the head of the Swan Studio Raymond Swan (Christopher Plummer) who puts her under contract immediately. Because Daisy’s mother (Ruth Gordon) is in the early stages of dementia, her self-serving sister Gloria (Betty Harford) signs a seven-year deal for Daisy who though rebellious against one and all manages to complete her first film Back Lot Kid which is a raging success. But the studio’s tight control over both Daisy’s personal and professional life leads to a series of defiant behaviors including walking out on a performance of Christmas carols with a children’s choir, ditching the premiere of her first movie, and an impromptu marriage to the studio’s leading heartthrob Wade Lewis (Robert Redford), all of which exert pressures on the complex teenager that she finds increasingly hard to deal with.
Gavin Lambert has adapted his novel for the screen and includes many of the events in the life of this plucky, talented teen whose complicated existence seems to echo facets of the lives of former child stars like Judy Garland, Jackie Coogan, and Gloria Jean. Writer Lambert and director Robert Mulligan might have made the screen test sequence a little more elaborate than would otherwise be likely (full costume, set, and make-up for a new song for Daisy “You’re Gonna Hear from Me”), but there is no denying the dizzying impact of Daisy’s press debut (a special presentation of a mammoth production number of the same song we’d just seen in a simpler, purer incarnation) or the push-and-pull influences on the youngster from gorgeous matinee idol Wade Lewis and her demanding boss Raymond Swan whom the pair dub “The Prince of Darkness.” The scenes with Daisy’s introduction to the mysteries of love and sex (on Lewis’ beautiful sailboat and later in an Arizona fleabag motel) are glossed over with too much left for the viewer to piece together in his own mind (we’re aided somewhat by Swan’s wife Melora – Katharine Bard – recounting her own affair with the ambisexual Wade), but the soundstage-set scenes all ring remarkably true leading to the movie’s most harrowing and brilliant sequence: Daisy’s looping the first few measures of her big production number “The Circus Is a Wacky World” in a tiny sound booth which becomes a nightmarish prison forcing her to watch a person she neither likes nor understands leading to her nervous breakdown. A later suicide sequence of slapstick antics seems jarringly opposed to the tone of the latter half of the movie, but it all sets up the film’s denouement, a final rebellious act of a free spirit out to reclaim her own identity.
Natalie Wood was too old to be playing the teenaged Daisy (Patty Duke would have been more appropriate casting), but she gives the role her all and even in some scenes with the proper lights and costumes looks a decade younger than she was at the time. As she did in The Great Race, Jackie Ward dubs most of the singing for Natalie though that is Natalie’s voice in the first four lines of her screen test version of “You’re Gonna Hear from Me,” one of the finest movie songs ever to be snubbed for an Oscar nomination. Christopher Plummer hits all the right notes as viperish studio mogul Raymond Swan. He’s unctuous when he needs to be and cold, calculating, and manipulative at other times. Robert Redford’s Wade Lewis is all charm and glamour on the surface but is the victim of the era when homosexuality could at best only be whispered about on the screen (in a nod to the Production Code, the character is made bisexual in the movie falling into love affairs with both sexes as the spirit moves him). Roddy McDowall has a cryptic role as Swan’s personal assistant always seemingly supercilious to stars whose profits pay his studio salary. Katharine Bard is the sweet-seeming wife of the studio chief forced to swallow her pride in the face of numerous disappointments and betrayals. Ruth Gordon, of course, steals all of her scenes as Daisy’s mother poised on the brink of losing her mind but still just cognizant of events happening around her, an entertaining performance that earned her an Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe award.
3D Rating: NA
The Panavision theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 is faithfully rendered in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. The movie is a beautiful thing from beginning to end with vibrant color and lots of details in facial features and in the Oscar-nominated sets and costumes. There are no signs of dust specks, dirt, or scratches, and the entire image simply sparkles.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound mix has impressive, robust fidelity. Dialogue has been crisply recorded and has been melded perfectly with Andre Previn’s vivid, lacerating score and songs and the various sound effects which punctuate some of the movie’s most splendid scenes. There are no age-related problems with hiss, pops, crackle, or flutter.
Special Features: 1/5
War and Pieces (6:41, SD): a Road Runner cartoon
Theatrical Trailer (3:32, HD)
Inside Daisy Clover gives a relatively honest and engrossing look at the Hollywood of the 1930s and features some outstanding actors and production design that looks simply stupendous in high definition.