(director: Robert Mulligan; screenwriter: from a Gavin Lambert novel/Gavin Lambert; cinematographer: Charles Lang; editor: Aaron Stell; music: Andre Previn/lyrics, Dory Previn; cast: Natalie Wood (Daisy Clover), Christopher Plummer (Raymond Swan), Robert Redford (Wade Lewis), Roddy McDowall (Walter Baines), Ruth Gordon (The Dealer), Katharine Bard (Melora Swan), Betty Harford (Gloria Clover Goslett), John Hale (Harry Goslett), Harold Gould (Policeman); Runtime: 129; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Alan J. Pakula; Warner Home Video; 1965)

“Entertaining showbiz tale despite being short on execution.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Talented filmmaker Robert Mulligan (“Fear Strikes Out”/”To Kill a Mockingbird”/”The Nickel Ride”) helms this oddball showbiz drama, that’s based on a novel by Gavin Lambert; he also did the screenplay.

In 1936, in Angel Beach, California, Daisy Clover (Natalie Wood, was 26 at the time) is a tough-talking, graffiti-writing, chain-smoking, 15-year-old street urchin living with her batty mother, known as The Dealer (Ruth Gordon) because she always plays solitaire. Daisy hates her older sis Gloria (Betty Harford), who escaped this dump to marry a wealthy real estate man and dreams also of escaping by becoming a Hollywood singing star. Daisy sends a demo record to Hollywood producer Raymond Swan (Christopher Plummer) and the manipulative wheeler-dealer and his deceptively tricky wife Melora (Katharine Bard) are impressed, and aim to present Daisy to be their next star as the innocent “America’s Little Valentine.” First the studio head ships mom off to a sanitarium to get her out of the way, as Gloria is made guardian of Daisy and works with Swan to control Daisy for the studio. The studio publicity department tells the world Daisy’s mom died recently and her dad, who skipped out on the family seven years ago, is said in the publicity memos to the media to have died when Daisy was nine.

After enormous success with her first pic, Daisy begins a romance with fellow studio matinee idol Wade Lewis (Robert Redford). He’s witty and self-absorbed, and marries her but disappears on their Arizona honeymoon before the marriage can be consummated biblically. Soon Daisy learns from Melora that hubby is a closted homosexual, and perhaps married the teenager to live up to his public persona as a ladies man (perhaps a swipe at Errol Flynn). From hereon it’s all downhill for the rags to riches Daisy, who has a nervous breakdown after seduced by Swan (whom she calls Swine), always feels alone in the Hollywood community of actors and no longer regards being a star as something worth pursuing. At 17 Daisy is a suicidal recluse (recovering from a breakdown) and with her old fervor vows to fight the studio system, as she watches her beach house go up in flames.

It plays out as a stylish, cynical, somewhat artificial satire of the studio system in the 1930s; since the characters were made cartoon-like into caricatures, it lost most of its bite and had trouble finding an audience upon its release. Also the songs provided by Andre and Dory Previn were campy misfires. Future director Herbert Ross choreographed the musical numbers.

It never rises to the interest level of A Star is Born (1937/1954), despite that film’s clich├ęs, but it was an entertaining showbiz tale despite being short on execution and ambivalent of whether to play things straight or shoot for laughs.