Three’s a Crowd: Daisy Kenyon (1947)

Daisy Kenyon (1947) Directed by Otto Preminger Shown: Joan Crawford

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Daisy Kenyon (1947) is a rarity. It’s a romantic Hollywood movie made for adults that refuses to sentimentalize its subject and treats all its characters respectfully despite their failings and their flaws. Joan Crawford stars as Daisy, an ambitious commercial artist who becomes involved in a complicated love triangle with two very different men. Her longtime paramour is a cocksure married lawyer (Dana Andrews) who has a moral compass that seems to ebb and flow with the changing tides. Her new lover (Henry Fonda) is a shell-shocked war veteran, bereaved widow and onetime naval architect trying to find his footing in postwar New York. Daisy must choose which man she wants to spend the rest of her life with but the decision is not an easy one and director Otto Preminger ratchets up the tension by shooting this somber melodrama as if it were a film noir. In Daisy Kenyon love is a mystery that the resilient heroine must solve but a clear-cut solution remains frustratingly out of reach.

Based on a bestselling novel by the feminist author Elizabeth Janeway and adapted for the screen by screenwriter David Hertz, this 20th Century Fox release was met with cool indifference when it opened on Christmas day in 1947 with critics at The New York Times calling it “Somewhat more mature and compelling than the usual run of pictures of this sort.” They also complained that “The story goes completely to pot. The weakness here is the scenario, for after David Hertz builds up his problem he obviously doesn’t know how to resolve it, at least, not with any noticeable ingenuity. . . As the producer-director of Daisy Kenyon, Otto Preminger keeps the film going at a nice clip and this helps greatly to gloss over the threadbare portions of the narrative, which would be a lot more obvious in the hands of less attractive players.”


Despite the criticism of the Times, I find the oblique nature of Daisy Kenyon to be one of the film’s best assets. Instead of pummeling viewers with its concerns that allude to working women’s fears of spinsterhood, adultery, child abuse, shell-shock, traumatic grief and the horrific treatment of Japanese-Americans during WWII, Preminger gently weaves these various narrative threads throughout the film. The final product is an absorbing mid-century American tapestry conceived as a shadow drenched noir that subtly addresses many of the concerns facing the country at the time. Holding this intricate drama together are some outstanding performances from three Hollywood actors who were at the top of their game.

“I enjoyed working with Miss Crawford. We were alike because we were both people who tried hard. There are some people who scorn those who seem to be trying too hard. Miss Crawford and I were people who believed there was no such thing as trying too hard . . . She did her best every day, and I did too because that was the way we were made.” – Otto Preminger, quoted in Not the Girl Next Door: Joan Crawford, a Personal Biography by Charlotte Chandler

After winning an Oscar for playing a mother in Mildred Pierce (1945), Crawford reportedly begged to get the lead role in Daisy Kenyon. She was determined to show Hollywood that she could still play a convincing love interest and the 40-year-old actress was right. Many critics have described Crawford as being “too old” for the role of Daisy but nothing could be further from the truth. She was, give or take a few years, the same age as her male costars and their shared maturity is what makes the film all the more convincing and heartfelt. Preminger managed to reel in Crawford’s more theatrical traits and she is at her very best playing the driven Daisy, a woman who is intensely focused on her career but also eager to find a suitable partner to share her life with. Andrews and Fonda are also at their very best playing two dissimilar men vying for her attention. Andrew’s character is smarmy and controlling but still manages to be charming despite his penchant for calling everyone “Honeybunch” and treating his lawful wife (Ruth Warrick) like a bad disease he can’t shake. At first glance, Fonda is a pussycat in comparison but his soft-spoken nature masks a man of fortitude trying to contain a tsunami of pent-up emotion. As is typical of Preminger, these characters are multifaceted individuals and none of them are are particularly likable although the film’s alliance is with Crawford. But in the end, their humanity is unmistakable.


Some have called Daisy Kenyon a “passionless” drama and while it is true that much of the film’s romance is of the cerebral kind, this is a sensitive study of an adult relationship in turmoil. These strong-willed characters have no time for starry-eyed infatuation and juvenile banalities. They are looking for something solid that they can hang their hat on as they approach middle age.

The understated acting of everyone involved is easy to overlook and it has taken decades for critics and audiences to appreciate what Preminger and his cast managed to accomplish. Seventy years after its release, Daisy Kenyon is still ripe for rediscovery and the curious can currently catch it streaming on FilmStruck as part of the “Early Otto” (as in Otto Preminger) theme.

Kimberly Lindbergs

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6 Responses Three’s a Crowd: Daisy Kenyon (1947)
Posted By Arthur : August 17, 2017 8:00 am

I recall watching this film. But I don’t remember it well. It just did not grab me like, say, MILDRED PIERCE did. But your analysis has convinced me to give it a second look.

(By the way, of course you meant Henry Fonda not Peter.)

Posted By Nitin : August 18, 2017 3:54 am


Posted By Lyndell Smith : August 18, 2017 12:01 pm

Daisy Kenyon is part of my film collection—which means I thought it an excellent film. I haven’t seen it in a decade, so after your terrific critique, can’t wait to pull it out and watch again. Thanks.

Posted By Fae Cain : August 22, 2017 7:36 pm

I was never much of a Joan Crawford fan, particularly of her later works. I always found her to be pretty much of an overactor. In her later works she became a caricature of herself. Then I saw this film. I fell in love with it and, with a Joan Crawford day on TCM where they were showing some of her earlier films I became a true fan. I loved this film because of some of the reasons you stated. She fit the role perfectly as I thought some of the parts she took were too young for her. She, actually they all, played their parts in an understated way. None of the over the top performances from her this time. She brought mature love to her part instead of flighty, angst ridden young love. I cannot imagine anyone who could have played the part more expertly. I am glad I saw this wonderful film and have since become a true fan.

Posted By kingrat : August 22, 2017 11:32 pm

Kimberly, thank you for a marvelous review of this fine film, which resonates in the mind long after more fashionable films have been forgotten. Writer, director, actors, all brought their A game.

It’s worth noting that Dana Andrews is billed above Henry Fonda, presumably because of BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES, whereas Fonda had been away from Hollywood during the war.

1947 is one of my favorite years of the studio era, just chock full of films that aren’t too well known but hold up remarkably well.

Posted By swac44 : August 28, 2017 1:02 pm

Watched my DVD of this this morning, it’s a title that gets better with repeated viewings and can be a bit of a disappointment the first time around, if only because the noir trappings make you think the film is going to be more thrilling than it ultimately turns out to be.

But once you get that out of the way, you can admire the nuances, the carefully woven period details, and the great work of the leads. It feels like a template for the kind of film Sirk would make a career of in the 50s, and Crawford really does deliver one of her best performances.

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