Daisy Kenyon (1947): Joan Crawford Has Them Eating Out of the Palm of Her Hand

Dana Andrews and Henry Fonda stand beside a sitting Joan Crawford in Daisy Kenyon (1947)
Dana Andrews, Joan Crawford, and Henry Fonda in “Daisy Kenyon” (1947)
Daisy Kenyon (1947) opening banner

After a successful run with MGM, Joan Crawford’s career was on a slow slide into oblivion when she came roaring back to life with her Oscar-winning turn in Mildred Pierce (1945).

She proved to audiences—and herself—that there was a place in Hollywood for a Joan Crawford no longer young enough to play the ingénue.

She followed Pierce up with a trio of quality films—Humoresque (1946), Possessed (1947), and Daisy Kenyon (1947)—that launched the second, and more interesting half of her career.

It is to Daisy Kenyon that we turn our attention today.

Based on a novel of the same name by Elizabeth Janeway, Daisy Kenyon is a post-war New York love triangle between Daisy, her longtime married lover Dan O’Mara (Dana Andrews) and new suitor Peter Lapham (Henry Fonda.)

Some worried that Crawford, in her early forties, was too old to play the 32 year old Daisy from the novel.  Though the much younger Gene Tierney was considered, the film is better for having cast Crawford, who plays Daisy as a woman ultimately beyond her years in wisdom.

Joan Crawford lying on a bed on the telephone in Daisy Kenyon (1947)
Crawford

Though Dan’s heart has long been with Daisy, he is fully ensnared in his marriage.  He and his wife have two children who adore him, and the ambitious Dan works as a lawyer in his father-in-law’s firm. 

Daisy has mostly been content as Dan’s mistress, devoting herself to her career as a freelance commercial artist.  The film opens with Dan breaking a date with Daisy, something it’s obvious he does frequently, and which is part and parcel of being a mistress instead of a wife.  But Daisy is growing tired of waiting for Dan to divorce his wife, and she picks a fight with him.

She’s beginning to see what is obvious to the audience—that Dan will never leave his wife. 

Their affair is breaking her heart.

In anger, and perhaps a touch of desperation, Daisy begins dating the widowed Peter.  The two men in Daisy’s life could not be more different.  Dan is a charismatic glad-hander who juggles all the people and situations in his life with aplomb.  Peter has returned from World War II emotionally scarred.  He’s awkward and has nightmares about the war.  Dan is ambitious, in the thick of things, wanting to be in the center of every room and at the heart of the action.  Peter wishes to move to a remote village along the sea and live an isolated, quiet life.

Finally realizing that Dan will never leave his wife, Daisy marries Peter, but she remains torn between the two men who refuse to give her up.

Dana Andrews and Joan Crawford stand looking at one another in Daisy Kenyon (1947)
Dana Andrews, Joan Crawford

Daisy Kenyons trio of stars elevates this potential soapy melodrama into something deeper that was not appreciated at the time of its initial release.  Despite infidelity and betrayal, the film has no real villains—Dan is not toying with Daisy, he truly loves her.  Daisy marries Peter in good faith, wanting to move on from being a mistress.  Peter may still be in love with his dead wife, but he wants to build a life with Daisy.

As biographer Donald Spoto writes in Possessed:  The Life of Joan Crawford, “Daisy Kenyon presents, with a rare kind of emotional honesty, a trio of credible adults struggling with unhappy situations.”

Things come to a head when the plot takes a turn none of the leads saw coming and Dan’s wife want to divorce him.

Suddenly the tables turn and Dan is available while Daisy is married.  But Peter won’t hold her to her vows if she wants out.

With Dan free, Daisy finally has what she’s always wanted. 

Or does she?

And in case you’re wondering—of course Joan Crawford rocks the shoulder pads here.

No one has ever done it better.

Daisy Kenyon (1947) Verdict:  Give It a Shot

Sources

  • Spoto, Donald.  Possessed:  The Life of Joan Crawford.  2010.

Want more?  Click here for an index of all posts in the series, as well as source notes and suggested readings.

Laura (1944): Seduced by a Corpse

Laura (1944) opening banner

Off the top, a three-part disclaimer:  

  1. You should watch Laura.  It’s only the seventeenth (out of sixty-eight) films I’ve given the designation of Timeless.
  2. If you think you might ever watch it, don’t read this review.  It’s impossible to write about Laura without spoiling it, and it’s got a killer twist.  Go watch it, and come back when you’re finished.  I’ll wait.
  3. If you’ve already seen it or you know you’ll never watch it, proceed.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.


I don’t consider myself a film critic.  To be a good film critic, you need a dispassionate air.  You examine a film objectively, and situate it in its time and place in the history of film.

I do some of this, of course.  But I don’t write objectively.  I let my personal opinion color everything.  I play favorites and gloss over the faults of my idols.  

The films I truly despise?  The ones that bore me to tears?  I don’t write about them at all.

I’m a fan, first, last, and always, and not much different from the kid I was at ten years old watching these black and white films with my mom on Turner Classic Movies.

Three films in particular hooked me and launched a lifelong love affair with classic cinema.  Watching them as an adult, I wonder exactly what fascinated me, why I wanted to watch Bette Davis in black and white more than Saturday morning cartoons. Three quarters of the story went over my head, I’d never heard of a director, and I didn’t know anything about the lives of the stars.  

The first film was What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?  I danced around the house singing the Baby Jane Hudson song while my mom and dad roared with laughter.  Second was To Have and Have Not, with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.  I saw what Bacall saw in Bogie’s craggy lived-in face.

The third?

Laura.

The film is a textbook example of classic film noir.  There are a lot of different definitions of noir, but as we’re fans and not critics here, suffice it to say that film noir refers to both a cinematic style influenced by the Germans and a cynical tone influenced by an American audience disillusioned by World War II.  There’s often a hardboiled detective ripped straight from the pages of a 1940s mystery novel and a femme fatale—a woman who slinks across the screen like a black widow spider, using her sexuality to lure in and destroy the men she sees only as marks.

Laura has both.  Or does it? 

The film opens as a standard whodunnit—Detective Mark McPherson, played by Dana Andrews, investigating the murder of Gene Tierney’s Laura Hunt.  Someone blew the beautiful young woman’s head off with a shotgun.

McPherson has a collection of suspects—fiancé Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price), who needs her money and may have learned she was considering calling off the wedding; Ann Treadwell (Judith Anderson), the older woman who loves Shelby but cannot compete with Laura for his affection; and Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb), the powerful older man who took Laura under his wing and scares away any man who desires her.

All speak of Laura in glowing terms, but we get the most from Lydecker.  By his accounting, he took an interest in the young aspiring career woman and opened doors for her.  He taught her how to dress, introduced her to the right people, and cultivated a beautiful swan from—if not an ugly duckling, at least an inexperienced one.

As is typical of many film noirs, the plot is so bonkers that it should ruin the film but doesn’t.  McPherson allows Lydecker and Shelby to tag along as he searches Laura’s apartment and questions witnesses.

McPherson also spends an inordinate amount of time in Laura’s apartment, seemingly without any reason but a desire to paw through her things and stare at the large painting of her hanging over her fireplace.

It’s clear poor McPherson has fallen under the spell of a dead woman, and about halfway through the film he gets drunk and falls asleep beneath Laura’s portrait.

[…dangerous spoilers ahead…this is your final warning…turn back now…]

Dana Andrews sits at the base of Laura's portrait in Laura (1944)

He awakens to find the dead woman standing in the doorway, obviously mistaking him for an intruder and threatening to call the police.

Laura’s got an unconvincing story about staying in a remote cabin with a broken radio and having no idea that she’d been presumed murdered.  The body wearing her dressing gown with her face blown off is identified as Diane Redfern, a woman having an affair with Laura’s fiancé.

Suddenly, she goes from victim to prime suspect, but that doesn’t stop the sparks flying between Laura and Detective McPherson.

At one point McPherson makes a show of arresting her in front of a roomful of people.  He takes her to the station and interrogates her under bright lights.  Angry, humiliated, and confused by her feelings for him, Laura lashes out.  But it’s an elaborate ruse by McPherson to smoke out the real killer.  Laura convinces him of her innocence, and McPherson rightly begins to worry for her safety.

In the end, there is only one person who could’ve tried to kill Laura.  Shelby doesn’t have the stomach for it, and Ann Treadwell wouldn’t go to the trouble.  It’s Lydecker, the older man who has everything but the thing he wants most.  Realizing Laura would never desire him sexually, he decides that if he can’t have her, no one will.

McPherson saves her before Lydecker can finish the job he started, and detective and mistaken murder victim presumably ride off into the sunset together.

It really shouldn’t work.

But it really, really does.

Laura (1944) Verdict - Timeless - Watch It Tonight

Want more?  Click here for an index of all posts in this series, as well as source notes and suggested reading.

Dana Andrews interrogates Gene Tierney in Laura (1944)