Paramount Studios presents
Daisy Miller (1974)
"That's all I want—a little fuss."- Daisy Miller (Cybill Shepherd)
Stars: Cybill Shepherd, Barry Brown, Mildred Natwick, Eileen Brennan, Duilio del Prete, Cloris Leachman
Director: Peter Bogdanovich
MPAA Rating: GRun Time: 01h:31m:20s
Release Date: 2003-08-12
DVD ReviewYou've got to admire the bravado of the young Peter Bogdanovich, if nothing else. He channeled Frank Capra in Paper Moon and Howard Hawks in What's Up, Doc?, and made one of the great coming-of-age movies: The Last Picture Show. Here he tackles a novella by Henry James, a project that he admits in the supplementary material that he took on for many of the wrong reasons; the result isn't entirely unworthy, but it's not up to the high standard of some of the director's other films, nor does it do much for James' cinematic reputation.
Cybill Shepherd plays the title character, a young American from Schenectady touring the Continent, with her mother (Cloris Leachman) and bratty little brother Randolph (James McMurtry). They're just the sort for whom the term "ugly Americans" was invented—as one of their countrywomen remarks, they are "the sort of Americans one does one's duty by just ignoring." Daisy is a captivating young thing, though, and commands attention from the men of all countries; especially taken with her is Frederick Winterbourne (Barry Brown), who knows that she's the wrong sort, but is charmed by her nonetheless. They meet in Vevey, Switzerland, where the first portion of the story takes place; later the action moves to Rome, with tragic consequences.
The ambition of doing this sort of period piece, at this time, was tremendous—this was before Merchant and Ivory started making this type of film their stock in trade. Unfortunately, though, the movie is actually done in by some of its period elements. The actors wear mounds and mounds of fabric, and they lack the panache and experience to carry off the outfits as if this were the stuff of daily life; more often than not, the costumes are wearing them, rather than vice versa. Shepherd and Bogdanovich's off-screen romance was tabloid fodder thirty years ago—he famously left his wife for her during the shoot of The Last Picture Show—and while she is beautiful here, you come to realize pretty soon that she just doesn't have the acting chops to pull this off. Yes, Daisy is supposed to be rough around the edges, unschooled in the ways of European society; but as the many words just pour out of Shepherd's mouth, she wears a pleased look on her face that seems to indicate: Can you believe I actually memorized all of this?
And as Winterbourne, Brown is just so unbelievably morose that it's hard to work up any feeling for him at all, let alone to believe that he's pining for Daisy. He very much likes playing with his moustache, but that's not hardly enough. Other Last Picture Show vets fare somewhat better—Leachman prattles on as Mrs. Miller, in a daffy kind of way that's actually sort of endearing, and even better is Eileen Brennan as the spokeswoman for expatriate society, who deems Daisy unsuitable, and makes sure that Winterbourne knows as much. Best of all is Mildred Natwick, as Frederick's aunt; she's got a keener sense for the period, it seems, and a slight shift of her eyebrow tells us all we need to know about another character's social standing.
There are some visual delights here—especially memorable is a scene of Frederick and his aunt taking the cure, fully clothed in a giant tub of water with others, who are variously reading the paper, taking high tea, or playing chess on a floating board. It's at moments like this that Bogdanovich gives James' prose a cinematic three-dimensionality; one of the problems I have in reading James is that he appeals to every part of the body from the neck up, and on screen that's simply not enough. Still, if nothing else, this movie is worth more than a passing glance from students who may not have gotten to the class reading for that seminar in nineteenth-century literature.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B-
|Aspect Ratio||1.85:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: Some of the colors have dulled with the years, and a few scratches can be seen from time to time; overall, the transfer has a rather gauzy look to it, part of which seems to have been artistic intent, part of which seems to be due to some carelessness with the source material. It's not radiantly beautiful, but Bogdanovich does have a keen sense of location, and he knows how to show off the Alps and Rome to great advantage.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: The limits of the mono track are made awfully clear—in several scenes, the dialogue is entirely subsumed by the clip clop of horses' hooves, or the rustling of the yards of silk of the ladies' dresses. Some hiss and pop can be discerned, as well. Bogdanovich and his crew had technical ambition, which you've got to admire, but they were obviously hampered, and they couldn't turn lead into gold.
Audio Transfer Grade: C
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Peter Bogdanovich
Extras Review: Bogdanovich provides an introduction (12m:45s) to the feature; if you haven't read James' story, you may want to save this for after, because just about all of the plot is given away. The director talks about his intense identification with the character of Winterbourne—originally, he wanted to play the part, and asked Orson Welles to direct, but Welles took a pass. Bogdanovich has an obvious fondness for this movie, which he considers "a forgotten film."
Many of the same points are made on the director's commentary track, which is a pretty good one—Bogdanovich is much better on his own stuff than he is with other people's. (Listen to what he has to say—or rather, how little he has to say—on his Citizen Kane commentary.) He's full of details about the production—particularly difficult shots, the perpetual traffic noise at the Colosseum in Rome—and with some nice background details on the cast. (James McMurtry, who plays Randolph, is the son of Larry McMurtry, who wrote The Last Picture Show; Barry Brown, sadly, later committed suicide.) Bogdanovich thinks of this as an art film before its time—he's proud to have gotten there before, say, A Room With A View. But he also confesses that "it was probably a mistake to make Daisy Miller" from an artistic and career point of view, and how he landed on the project as something he could work on with Shepherd. (Also under consideration had been Rambling Rose, the Calder Winningham story later made with Laura Dern.) Bogdanovich makes some allusions to his private life, though Daisy's fate seems to put him less in mind of Shepherd, and more in mind of Dorothy Stratten; you've got to salute his candor, both on personal and professional levels, especially when he refers to another of his own movies, At Long Last Love, as "the debacle."
Extras Grade: B-
Final CommentsThere's a lot of ambition poured into this film, and some of it looks very beautiful, but all in all it's a bit inert, both emotionally and cinematically.
Jon Danziger 2003-09-10