Films on Stars: Inside Daisy Clover  (1965)

24 08 2011

Inside Daisy Clover starts off as a typical sort of film about the empty promises of fame and the machinery of Hollywood. When we meet Daisy Clover (Natalie Wood) at the start of the film, she’s a raggedy tomboy who lives in a ramshackle trailer with her mother and sells autographed photos of the stars on the boardwalk (many of which she simply signs herself). Oh the glamour of Hollywood, but it seems so out of reach for seventeen year old Daisy Clover!

The whole rags-to-riches theme is common in films about stardom, but Daisy Clover offers something unique. Unlike the Esther Bloggett (both the 1937 Gaynor version or the 1953 Garland version), she’s no plucky heroine or good girl just waiting to be discovered. She has the appropriate hard luck story: father abandoned the family, mother is mentally unstable and basically relies on Daisy to survive. They live in poverty and under threat from the police because of her mother’s gambling. But instead being a typical sort of Pollyanna attitude about her life that typifies melodramatic heroines in these situations, Daisy is explosive and angry. She yells and spits and lashes out physically at those who cross her. Her rather butch appearance is also uncommon for these sorts of films, but is important to what happens later…

Natalie Wood as Daisy Clover

Her Hollywood dreams are somewhat undefined, but she apparently sent a record of her singing to a producer. Interestingly, we don’t actually see her sing, we just find out about it when the producer, Raymond Swan (a suave Christopher Plummer) sends a limo down to the boardwalk to pick her up. It seems like a set up for the the typical moment Hollywood loves to portray where the heroine’s true talent helps her escape from her harsh life and get the fame she truly deserves. But as we already know, Hollywood is a business and fame is really just an empty promise because it forces you to change who you really are in order to achieve it.

This point constantly driven home by Swan, who is a cynical and jaded Hollywood insider. After their first meeting, Swan says to Daisy, “Incredible as it may seem, I’m going to make something out of you…Money.” What Swan sees in Daisy is “a certain mixture of orphan and clown that always packs them in.” He femmes her up with new hair, clothes and, importantly, demure mannerisms in a Pygmalion like transformation. She has something special, but Swan knows she must also conform to the feminine standards of Hollywood. He basically orchestrates her whole life towards this goal. This includes allowing her mother to be insitutionalized and claiming that she is dead so that the tabloids won’t discover the truth and ruin her carefully crafted image as “America’s Little Valentine.”

The “new” Daisy Clover

The constructed image and made up biography is a familiar theme to stardom films, but this being the 1960s, Inside Daisy Clover gets particularly dark in its portrayal of Daisy’s fame. She thinks that fame and money are going to make her happy and solve her problems, but, surprise!, they really only make things worse. Her true self keeps pushing against this constructed facade, demonstrating that fame is a sacrifice or, as Swan puts it “Fame does have its obligations.” The problem is that boardwalk Daisy simply cannot be contained by America’s Little Valentine.

The machinery of fame and Hollywood is revealed at the outset, and though we do see Daisy sing and perform after she signs with Swan, the idea that her talent is not enough is made clear throughout the film. I find the musical numbers alternately boring and weirdly surreal in that 1960s sort of way (also, apparently Wood’s singing was scrapped in favor of an overdub from a session singer). They do fit with the themes of the film…the first is “You’re Gonna Hear From Me” that both demonstrates her talent and promises (threatens?) us that she WILL BE FAMOUS! Also, what’s up with that hat?

The other, “The Circus Is A Wacky World,” tells us “the circus ain’t what it’s supposed to be” and “isn’t real.” Do you see what they did there? Here’s the first appearance of the song as Daisy films a new movie that is apparently about clowns or something.

Tellingly, it is while Daisy is recording audio overdub of this song during post-production that she has a massive mental breakdown…but more on that to come.

To add to the illusion that is Hollywood, Daisy starts a relationship with fellow actor (and fellow Swan protegee) Wade Lewis played by a smoking hot Robert Redford. Seriously. Brad Pitt wishes he was ever this sexy.

This is the best picture I could find, but trust me, Redford kills it in the hotness department

Anyway, Wade, like Daisy, is forced to be something he’s not in order to fit the Hollywood mold and make lots of money for Swan. In her first act of rebellion against Swan, Daisy falls in love with Wade. The two stars get married, and Wade promptly runs off to New York. Swan reveals to Daisy the truth about Wade, which is he “prefers men” and is a lousy drunk. In fact, according to Swan, Wade really only took up with Daisy as part of his ongoing attempts to hide his homosexuality. Swan facilitates an annulment after only one day to keep Daisy’s image from being tarnished more than to protect her feelings. Furthermore, Swan uses this as further proof that he should always be the one in control.

All this leads to Daisy having massive breakdown while recording audio for that wacky circus song. It’s pretty spectacular, but I can’t really find any quality clips of it. Regardless, she freaks out and physically lashes out like the old Daisy. Swan sequesters her in her beach house and calls in doctors so she can recover out of the public eye (“the world holds its breath as you hold yours”). Swan demands that either she be certified as insane (just like her mom!) so he can collect the insurance on her or that she get her ass out of bed and back to work like the commodity that she is. In case we forgot, money is all that matters in Hollywood. Here’s where the movie gets awesome and really distinguishes itself from other stardom/Hollywood Dreams films.

SPOILER ALERT: Daisy gets out of bed all right. Just watch the last scene of the film:

She doesn’t just walk away from her Hollywood life and self. She burns it down and declares war! But that is the end! So this movie pushes up against the control of Hollywood in some pretty intense ways at the end, but stops short. What will she do? I demand a sequel!

In today’s celebrity culture, she’d probably go on a media tirade about Swan, make some crazy YouTube videos or write a page turning tell all. Then she’d be discredited as an addict and end up on Dr. Drew’s show. But Daisy wasn’t an addict or doing drugs in the film. She just couldn’t take the constraint of being America’s Little Valentine and that Hollywood was a wacky place. I could have done with one less musical number and more Hollywood comeuppance at the end, but this is definitely one of the blackest takes on stardom I’ve come across so far.