Aug 12, 2020

On Blu-ray: Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967), Sweet Bird of Youth (1961), and Inside Daisy Clover (1965)

I recently had a personal viewing party full of dysfunction thanks to a trio of new Blu-ray releases from Warner Archive. Inside Daisy Clover, Reflections in a Golden Eye, and Sweet Bird of Youth are a messy, but fascinating trio cataloging the many ways being a human can go off the rails.

Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967)

With his typical respect for the work of great novelists, director John Huston filmed friend Carson McCullers’s second novel with the plot essentially intact. This story of illicit passions and mental strife on a southern army base has drawn a few laughs over the years for its over-the-top dramatics, but I’ve always thought the high temperature of many of the performances suited the characters.

As the foursome at the center of the film, Marlon Brando, Brian Keith, Julie Harris, and Elizabeth Taylor are a well-balanced quartet of contrasting vigor and frailty. Taylor in particular seems to understand the psychology of the dim-witted, but emotionally blazing woman she plays. In a calm, nearly wordless performance, Robert Forster cools the proceedings, thought his chill is clearly only on the surface. Richard Burton, Montgomery Clift had both circled Brando’s role, but I can’t imagine anyone but him capturing the mixture of bluster and shame necessary to play an officer who craves control, but can’t even get a handle on his own desires.

One of the best features on the disc is the option of watching the film in standard color as released or with a wash of gold as Huston had originally planned. I like both versions, but the golden hue is effective in making these characters seem trapped in their uncomfortable, insular world, like fish circling a dirty bowl. The disc also includes a short film of silent behind-the-scenes footage, which documents what appears to be a pleasant, professional set in total contrast to the turmoil of the drama being portrayed.

Inside Daisy Clover (1965)

Natalie Wood was under contract to Warner Bros when she won the lead in Columbia Picture’s Inside Daisy Clover. The studio forced her to star in The Great Race (1965) in exchange for doing the film, which reinforced why playing a juvenile film actress who suffers under the control of her employers would have appealed to the actress. She also recognized Daisy’s isolation.

It’s a bleak film. Daisy Clover (Wood) rises from poverty, but doesn’t escape her suffering. Every time she thinks she has found love and affection, be it from her mother (Ruth Gordon), a lover (Robert Redford), or her employer (Christopher Plummer), it is cruelly taken away from her. Daisy needs to learn to love herself, but she’ll need to move through a lot of emotional clutter to understand that.

Wood is at her best in her scenes with Gordon and Redford. She insisted on casting her friend Gordon as her mother and their closeness comes through on screen. In the first of two movie pairings with Redford, she found one of her best costars. They relax with each other in the most delightful way, as if they are at play.

Special features on the disc include a trailer for the film and the classic cartoon War and Pieces.

Sweet Bird of Youth (1961)

Based on the Tennessee Williams play, this production is packed with the passions and power struggles typical of the playwright’s best work. It centers on Chance Wayne (Paul Newman), a never-was in Hollywood who has returned to his small Mississippi hometown with the drug-addicted, alcoholic star Alexandra del Lago (Geraldine Page), to whom he has been serving as procurer and nursemaid, among other things. He pines for his childhood sweetheart Heavenly (Shirley Knight) though her corrupt political bigwig father Boss Finley (Ed Begley) is dead set against their reunion. Rip Torn is quietly frightening as his son and reptilian fixer.

Newman, Page, and Torn performed in the Broadway production of the play, and their familiarity with the material and each other gives the film an added emotional vibrancy. They could all be caricatures, but have lived with these characters long enough to view them with humanity. Begley earned his Best Supporting Actor Oscar for this performance; he’s a superficially charming, self-absorbed monster, full of rage that he cannot control the world around him and determined to bully his way to success. Knight is in an essentially thankless role, but she has a way of looking both into and through others that draws attention and gives her authority.

The play was sanitized a bit for the screen, resulting in a less-explosive ending, but it retains plenty of heat, mostly thanks to its particularly intelligent cast.

Special features on the disc include a featurette about the film, a screen test of Page and Torn, and a theatrical trailer.

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing copies of the films for review. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.

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