Daisy Miller (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: She’s a real tease.

While studying in turn-of-the-century Switzerland Frederick (Barry Brown) comes upon the beautiful Daisy Miller (Cybill Shepherd) who’s touring Europe along with her nervous and talkative mother (Cloris Leachman) and precocious younger brother Randolph (James McMurty). Frederick is smitten with her beauty, but unable to handle her free-thinking ways. Nonetheless he follows her around Europe where he continually becomes confounded with whether she likes him or not, or whether he’ll ever be able to convey his true feelings towards her.

This film, which is based on a short story by Henry James, was originally conceived by Peter Bogdanovich as being a vehicle for both him and his then girlfriend Shepherd to star in with Peter playing the part of Frederick and Orson Welles directing it. Peter had become mesmerized with Cybill while directing her in The Last Picture Show and left his then wife and children to move in with her in a situation that was later satirized in Irreconcilable DifferencesFortunately Welles realized that Peter’s obsession with making Cybill a big screen star had sapped him from all common sense and bowed out of the film project considering the material to be weak and lightweight, which it is, but this only then helped to convince the determined Peter to direct it himself.

The result isn’t as bad as I had initially presumed and in a lot ways it’s strangely engaging and certainly  far better than At Long Last Love another Bogdanovich/Shepherd concoction that was rejected by both audiences and critics alike. This one though takes advantage of Cybill’s conniving, flirtatious nature, which is something I feel she’s been doing her whole life and therefore makes this character a reflection of who she truly is. Leonard Maltin described her performance as “hollow”, which I agree as we only see one side to her personality, but when she plays that one side as well as she does then it becomes entertaining nonetheless.

Brown is excellent too and far better in the role than Peter ever would’ve been as Brown manages to retain the necessary modicum of self-respect even as he chases her around like a lovesick mope. Instead of this becoming off-putting we sympathize with his internal quandary and this then helps to propel the story forward even as it seems to be going nowhere.

The film’s other big asset is its on-location shooting. Some viewers have described the period costumes and set-pieces as being great, but for me this was only so-so. What I really liked though was the scene done inside the Coliseum at night under the moonlight, which gives off both a surreal and creepy feeling and adds an extra ambiance making me wish the segment had been extended as well as adding a trip to Rome on my own personal bucket list.

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s biggest failing though comes at the end where Daisy catches malaria and promptly dies, but we never see her sick and only gets told this after she’s already dead. Having a scene showing her ill and vulnerable as opposed to always being free-spirited and in control would’ve helped give the character an added dimension especially if it had been done with Frederick at her bedside.

The idea that if Frederick had just been less ‘stiff’ towards her that the relationship might’ve blossomed is ridiculous as I think this was the type of woman who enjoyed manipulating men and even if she got married to one she’d continually toy with them until she got bored and moved on to the next. Having her die isn’t ‘sad’ as the film suggests, but instead a happy one for Frederick as now he’s ultimately out of her grip and able to free himself to find someone who would really care for him.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: May 22, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated G

Director: Peter Bogdanovich

Studio: Paramount Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

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