DAISY MILLER (director: Peter Bogdanovich; screenwriters: based on the story by Henry James/Frederic Raphael; cinematographer: Alberto Spagnoli; editor: Verna Fields; cast: Cybill Shepherd (Daisy Miller), Barry Brown (Frederick Winterbourne), Mildred Natwick (Mrs. Costello), Eileen Brennan (Mrs. Walker), Duilio Del Prete (Mr. Gionavelli), Cloris Leachman (Mrs. Ezra Miller), George Morfogen (Eugenio), James McMurtry (Randolph Miller); Runtime: 91; MPAA Rating: G; producer: Peter Bogdanovich; Paramount Pictures; 1974)
“Fails to get at James’ subtler and deeper inner truths about his cast of characters.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Peter Bogdanovich (“The Last Picture Show “/”What’s Up, Doc? “/” Paper Moon“) stylishly directs this bland Henry James comedy of manners, that reveals the author’s usual opinion of the hypocrisies of upper-class society and that European decadence clashes with American barbarism. Bogdanovich, in this literary costume drama, manages success in capturing the atmosphere for the expatriate American elites in the late 19th-century Italy and all the outward trimmings of their comfortable lifestyle, but fails to get at James’ subtler and deeper inner truths about his cast of characters. The film was a commercial flop and mostly reviewed negative reviews. Bogdanovich’s girlfriend at the time, Cybil Shepherd, was roasted for her limited but likeable free-spirited liberated ditsy woman performance as Daisy–someone who revolted America’s Victorian society by her brash forward behavior. The wunderkinds’ career never recovered from the shots taken at him by the critics, as this film marks the beginning of the once promising director’s decline that supposedly exposed his lack of depth. James’s novella is adapted to the screen by Frederic Raphael.
In 1878, at a Swiss spa, refined upper-class expatriate American Frederick Winterbourne (Barry Brown), traveling with his snooty disapproving aunt (Mildred Natwick), meets pretty, nouveau riche, naive, unschooled, empty-headed, thoughtless, chatty, flirty Daisy Miller (Cybill Shepherd); her bratty, xenophobic younger brother Randolph (James McMurtry); and her daffy, hypochondriac, neurotic mother (Cloris Leachman)–the wealthy patriarch is back in their hometown of Schenectady, NY, taking care of the family business. The Miller family is on a Grand Tour of Europe, and is crassly showing off that their wealth is more important than culture.
In Rome, Frederick catches up with Daisy again. They meet at social gatherings arranged by the snide American socialite hostess Mrs. Walker (Eileen Brennan). Daisy, either consciously or unconsciously, taunts the lovesick Frederick, who pines for her but is confused why she openly flirts with him but parades around Rome with the handsome Italian eligible Mr. Gionavelli (Duilio Del Prete). The confused Frederick is not sure of what makes Daisy tick, as he’s the voice that speaks for us when tragedy hits.
Though fairly faulted for the pic moving too slowly, Bogdanovich‘s Daisy Miller is far from a dud and far more perceptive about the Ugly American characterized than given credit for–the result being a reasonably worthy film of an early James work.
REVIEWED ON 7/7/2014 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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