Daisy Kenyon is available to stream on select platforms.
Otto Preminger is one of classic Hollywood’s central figures, notable for pushing the boundaries of censorship by dealing with various topics considered taboo at the time. His films frequently depict off-limit themes, from illicit sex in The Moon Is Blue (1953) to drug addiction in The Man with the Golden Arm (1955), homosexuality in Advise and Consent (1962) and rape in Anatomy of a Murder (1959).
Daisy Kenyon was a melodrama directed by Preminger in 1947 based on a 1945 novel of the same name by Elizabeth Janeway. In the years since its release, it has attracted a small cult following not for its controversial content but for its realistic treatment of a melodramatic plot. Melodramas, especially at the time, were known for their sensationalised, excessively sentimental conflicts and their use of stereotypical characters to gain a quick emotional connection.
Daisy Kenyon, in comparison, chooses to explore its characters in more detail and focuses less on the plot by keeping many critical moments off the screen. The film follows Daisy (Joan Crawford), a successful magazine illustrator in Manhattan, who is engaged in an affair with an arrogant lawyer, Dan (Dana Andrews). Dan is in a loveless marriage with Lucille (Ruth Warrick) and is a father to two children. However, all the couple do is constantly fight over Dan’s cheating, his job and their opposing views on parenthood. After Dan breaks off a planned date, Daisy opts to go out with a widowed war veteran, Peter (Henry Fonda). As a result, Daisy ends up torn between two men.
Initially, Preminger opts to play with the contrasts between both men. Peter is the single, gentle and quiet ‘good guy’ and the clear choice for Daisy. At the same time, married Dan is exciting but troublesome due to his marriage. This setup perfectly captures the stereotypical characters in melodramas, where the right choice and outcome appear predetermined. But Preminger quickly takes a wildly different turn and shows his characters from a different angle, demonstrating that the initial assumptions of the audience may require correction.
As a result, none of Preminger’s characters feels clichèd or simple in construction. Daisy’s refreshing and outright modern take on female sexuality, strength, want, and desire joyously takes a hammer to the 1940s glass ceiling. Meanwhile, Peter’s gentle and shy personality quickly reveals a harder centre, just as Dan’s caring side shines through his marital regrets. The result leaves the audience ambivalent towards the love triangle and its outcome due to the positives and negatives surrounding each of our characters.
Equally, the set design also sets out to confuse and challenge. Here Daisy Kenyon feels more like a noir as it wraps us in cramped and shadowy interiors than the typical extravagant melodrama – each interior a reflection of our character’s inner turmoil and choices.
As a result, a movie that slipped under the radar on its release has become a one-of-a-kind post-war romance. Daisy Kenyon feels modern, bold and realistic in its portrayal of a love triangle as it builds to a finale wrapped in the complexity and poignancy of its performances, direction and story.