In Otto Preminger's sturdy, talky 1947 women's movie Daisy Kenyon, Dana Andrews, Henry Fonda, and Joan Crawford learn through bitter firsthand experience that attempting to deal with an impossible situation with maturity and grace doesn't make it any less impossible. The film is being released as part of Fox's Film Noir series, but like the similar but superior Mildred Pierce, it's really more of an old-fashioned melodrama with noir underpinnings. As the commentators on the disc's special features wryly note, the film's dark, shadowy look serves dual purposes. The moody noir stylization highlights the darkness and ambiguity at the story's slippery core, but it also helps obscure the fact that the 43-year-old Crawford was way too old to play a driven career-girl torn between two men. (In the novel from which Kenyon is adapted, Crawford's character is 32.)
With her kabuki makeup looking like war paint for the battle of the sexes, Crawford stars as a lonely illustrator and longtime mistress of wealthy lawyer Andrews. Crawford has seemingly reconciled herself to a lifetime of being the other woman, until she meets Henry Fonda, a haunted veteran whose sweetness and emotional transparency quickly wins her over. But not even Crawford and Fonda's marriage can put a conclusive end to Crawford's thorny relationship with Andrews, who is so damned affable, he can't help but make friends with his lover's new husband.
With surprising candor, Daisy Kenyon deals not only with adultery and the tricky transmutations of desire and devotion, but also with class and the lingering aftershocks of combat. Preminger stages an unusually balanced love triangle that threatens to spiral into something more all-encompassing once Andrews' wronged wife and Fonda's dead first wife are factored into the equation. Even Andrews, who easily could have come off as a cad, is granted a certain nobility, and Fonda imbues his soulful survivor with heartbreaking vulnerability. In a happy accident, the casting of the too-old Crawford works in the film's favor by lending a sense of urgency and pathos to her search for love. Nearly everyone in this solid, though less-than-transcendent, melodrama tries to behave honorably, but sometimes words and actions can wound as deeply and permanently as the weapons found in more conventional noirs.
Key features: Serviceable featurettes on Preminger and the film's making, and a scholarly commentary by Preminger biographer Foster Hirsch.