Daisy Kenyon (Otto Preminger / U.S., 1947):

"All right, have your tragedy! Have your melodrama!" The taxi gag in the opening gives just the right Manhattan flavor and sets up the central image of people in relationships perpetually coming and going, an Otto Preminger specialty. The fashion illustrator (Joan Crawford) and the married attorney (Dana Andrews), she wants something more than their affair, he shrugs and on the way out bumps into her new beau (Henry Fonda), just back from Europe and "nice but a little unstable." The triangle is splendidly equilateral: The glib, philandering hotshot is also equipped with a social conscience and Andrews’ saturnine-haunted eyes, Fonda’s widowed GI is a yacht designer with a hint of shrewdness quietly pulsing through his humility. "The world’s dead, everybody in it is dead but you," the shell-shocked veteran murmurs to the woman who’s herself trying to figure things out. Preminger is of course on everyone’s side, characters rush in and out of apartments and courtrooms and his camera follows, glancing and piercing: This is a scrupulously cooled romance and a portrait of a postwar nation, but first and foremost it is a fluid chart of thorny personal spaces brushing against each other. (When it comes to understanding self-consciously "civilized" gestures, Lubitsch had no greater pupil.) "Anything logical makes me want to fight, for some reason..." The studio recreation of a bustling night at the Stork Club is a Minnellian little tour de force, Fonda gazing at the neon-lit Art Greenwich Theater through a diner window is recalled by Resnais in Wild Grass. The unfinished fishing scow and the bottom of the darkened staircase, Ruth Warrick’s aggrieved brittleness and the sad-eyed daughter’s battered ear, shadows as deep as in any noir. Fonda’s nightmare bells become the merciless ringing of Crawford’s telephone in the climax, Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne’s unseen car escape fantastically imagined amid Cape Cod snow: "Shock treatment," says the heroine, moving beyond the roles of mistress and wife and into her own, unlabeled territory. Cinematography by Leon Shamroy. With Martha Stewart, Peggy Ann Garner, Connie Marshall, and Nicholas Joy. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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