Friday, October 6, 2017


In interviews for his 1974 adaptation of Henry James’ Daisy Miller, director Peter Bogdanovich is fond of recounting that he chose somber-faced actor Barry Brown for the role of self-serious Frederick Winterbourne because Brown was the only actor in Hollywood who looked like he’d actually ever read a book.

In a similar vein (but at the entirely opposite end of the spectrum), one of the most egregious of the countless missteps taken in bringing Harold Robbin’s relentlessly trashy 1976 novel The Lonely Lady to the screen was to cast in the lead role of Jerilee Randall—gifted English major, novelist, and aspiring screenwriter—an actress who not only looks as though she’s never read a book, but upon encountering one, might be overheard asking, “How does it work?” 
Of course, because that's what intellectual writer-types do

The actress is Pia Zadora: the pint-sized kewpie doll who sought to set movie screens ablaze in the early 1980s with her scorching sensuality, only to see out the decade as a household name via punchline—a female Rodney Dangerfield who got no respect.
Although Zadora had been in the business since childhood (her film debut was in 1964s Santa Claus Conquers the Martians), as an adult she fairly burst on the scene out of nowhere, ubiquitously showcased in high-profile gigs that placed her front and center like a star. The only problem was that absolutely no one knew who she was.

Like that other pop-culture question mark with the exotic name, actress and Alberto VO-5 pitchwoman Rula Lenska, Pia Zadora’s assumption of fame ultimately became what she became famous for. Thanks to the bankrolling of her billionaire industrialist husband Meshulam Riklis (age 54 to her 23), Zadora became the TV and print ad face of Dubonnet, a recording artist, a Vegas headliner, posed nude for Penthouse. and earned “introducing” billing (and a controversial Golden Globe win) for her widely panned starring role in the 1982 Orson Welles film Butterfly.
She was everywhere and did everything, but genuine stardom always managed to elude her. Indeed, if stardom could be bought, she whould have been; but public consensus was that she was little more than competent as a performer, and as an actress she was (per the New York Times) “spectacularly inept.
Hey, Looka Me! I'm A Writer!

But deep pockets don’t read reviews. So, while Hollywood was still giggling over the fact that Pia Zadora was awarded the New Star of the Year Golden Globe over Elizabeth McGovern, Howard Rollins, and Kathleen Turner, sugar daddy Riklis was ponying up more than half the budget for his five-foot inamorata to star and get above-the-title-billing in a film adaptation of Harold Robbins’ The Lonely Lady.
Pia Zadora as Jerilee Randall
Lloyd Bochner as Walter Thornton
Anthony Holland as Guy Jackson
Bibi Besch as Veronica Randall
Jared Martin as George Ballantine 
Joseph Cali as Vincent "Vinnie" Dacosta

A member of that rarefied, they-don’t-make-‘em-like-this-anymore club of tantalizing cinema trash reserved for such gems as Valley of the Dolls, The Oscar, The Other Side of Midnight, and  Showgirls; The Lonely Lady is a film to be cherished. For in everything from content to execution, it exhibits that one essential quality shared by all craptastic classics—a surfeit of ambition, pretension, and ego supported by a scarcity of talent, budget, and good taste.  
Pared down and retooled considerably from its unwieldly and often incoherent source novel (Robbins credited cocaine for his writing prolificacy), the screenplay for The Lonely Lady is attributed to the contributions of no less than three writers. A rather astonishing fact given the banality of the results, but it does go a long way toward explaining why the lead character comes across as a tad schizophrenic

Borrowing from the popular “three working girls” format of movies like The Pleasure Seekers, Three Coins in the Fountain, The Best of Everything, and Valley of the Dolls, The Lonely Lady consolidates these three standard female tropes: the pragmatist, the romantic, the maker-of-bad-decisions -- into a single character: Jerilee Randall. The serious writer saddled with the name of an ‘80s aerobics instructor.
When The Lonely Lady was released in September of 1983,
Pia Zadora felt the burn of unanimous critical censure

Jerilee is inserted into your garden-variety showbiz cautionary tale depicting Hollywood as a cutthroat, dog-eat-dog business which exploits the talented and corrupts the innocent. The Lonely Lady’s ostensibly feminist angle (don’t you believe it) is that Jerilee, unlike the victimized heroines of Jacqueline Susann novels, has no interest in being an actress, model, or singer; she has brains and ambition and only wants to succeed behind the scenes as a screenwriter. But true to the genre, Jerilee just also happens to be sexually irresistible to all she meets, male and female, so sexism, misogyny, and her overall hotness prove to be major hurdles to overcome on her path toward being taken seriously as a writer.
Leaving no cliché unturned, The Lonely Lady charts Jerilee’s struggle to hang onto her innocence and principles while making that brutal climb up that Mount Everest called success. Surviving assault, impotent husbands, horny producers, philandering matinee idols, drugs, alcohol, abortion, lesbianism, and sanitariums (not a nut house!). When she reaches that peak, Jerilee stands there waiting for the rush of exhilaration to come. But it doesn't, and she's all alone. And the feeling of loneliness is overpowering... 'cause she's The Lonely Lady. (Thank you, Anne Welles.)
Vinnie Goes for the Big Pocket Shot

By the time The Lonely Lady limped to movie screens, public tastes and mores had changed significantly in regard to these Harold Robbins/Jacqueline Susann/Sidney Sheldon-style sex-power-glamour sleaze and cheesefests. Nighttime television—in the form of soaps (Dallas and Dynasty) and the miniseries (The Thorn BirdsWinds of War and Princess Daisy in 1983 alone)—had completely co-opted the no-longer-shocking genre. The boom in the availability of vhs and cable porn rendering Zadora’s frequent nude scenes and so-called steamy couplings quaint, if not downright passé.

Thus, The Lonely Lady arrived on the scene looking like an artifact from another era. A low-budget, Cinemax-tacky take on the glossy soap operas of the ‘50s and ‘60s, with nothing new to say about Hollywood, relationships, or systemic misogyny (what could the movie say about the exploitation of women when the willing exploitation of its leading lady was its sole raison d’être?).

Worse still, it arrived with virtually none of the usual compensations movies like this offer: exotic locales, glamour, beautiful people. First off, the men. Seriously, you’d have to look far to find a less appetizing and charmless roster of male co-stars. It’s a virtual parade of receding hairlines, flabby middles, and hairy backs. Sure, the movie might be trying to make a point about the kind of slimeball our Jerilee has to fight off (several of them uncannily resembling Harold Robbins), but even the film’s so-called hunks are an uncommonly bland and unprepossessing bunch. 
What Becomes A Legend Most?
Jerilee marries a millionaire and gets a fur coat 

As for glamour, Zadora gets to strut around in a few becoming Armani gowns, but by and large, The Lonely Lady has the look of a cut-rate “supply your own wardrobe” production.
No, Jerilee didn't just appear in a production of Anne of Green Gables. This pigtails and pinafore getup is the film's weak attempt to make 28-year-old Zadora look like an innocent teen, while simultaneously camouflaging her "charms" (to be unleashed later, full throttle). Incredibly, the two middle-aged gentlemen flanking her are supposed to be teenagers, as well. The one on the left offering a bit of plot foreshadowing by thrusting a conspicuously tumescent wiener in Jerilee's face.

And say goodbye for any hope of this Italian-American co-production offering any escapist glimpses of faraway places with strange-sounding names. There’s the unspeakable splendor of San Fernando Valley; Beverly Hills as viewed from one interior restaurant set after another; and picturesque Rome stands in for Los Angles in a chintzily-rendered movie industry awards event populated by about 30 enthusiastic and poorly-dubbed fans (the movie doesn’t even give the fake award a name, it’s simply called The Awards Presentation Ceremony).
Let's Have Lunch...& Dinner...& Brunch...
Ingenuity not being one the film's strong suits, The Lonely Lady
 stages no less than five scenes in restaurants

In light of the film’s blitzkrieg of bad acting (you expect poor performances in films like this, but The Lonely Lady seems to be trying to set a new precedent), risible dialogue (Vinnie [clearly naked with two just-as-visibly naked women] to Jerilee: “Hey doll, we’re naked!”), and the irrefutable sense that nobody involved in this slapdash production is very much invested in it (get a gander at the cover art for Jerilee’s two novels); there’s no denying The Lonely Lady fails miserably as a movie. 
These are supposed to be the covers of Jerilee's published books.
Who the hell was her publisher, Fisher-Price?

But The Lonely Lady is invaluable in illustrating the difference between a showcase and a vanity project. A showcase is intended to present a performer in the best possible light, emphasizing their strengths and minimizing weakness. A vanity project is a vehicle so ruled by ego and delusion that the performer, in so overestimating their talents, winds up only calling attention to their limitations. The Lonely Lady is a four-star vanity project.

For connoisseurs of cinema claptrap, what’s not to love? I largely look back on the ‘80s as a nightmare decade for movie fashions, hairstyles, décor, music, and flat, washed-out cinematography; therefore, The Lonely Lady gets off on the right foot (which is to say, the absolute wrong foot) almost immediately with an absolutely dreadful theme song (sung by Larry Graham) playing over an amateurishly shot title sequence. And, like a Malibu mudslide, things just keep going down from there. 
The Night Belongs To Michelob
The Lonely Lady is loaded with subtle mise-en-scene

The Lonely Lady episodically chronicles Jerilee’s pursuit of a writing career as a semi-pornographic Pilgrim’s Progress in which we’re invited to ponder the unique problems faced by an intellectual woman burdened with the dual curses of flawless beauty and low self-esteem. Because the film shares with us but a single example of Jerilee’s writing skill (and it’s a doozy), we must take her brains and talent on spec. However, the film is generous to a fault in treating us to scene after scene of Jerilee being the world’s biggest creep magnet, or compromising her sexual integrity for the sake of her ambition.
A scene from Homeland, the laughably awful-looking film-within-a-film for which Jerilee contributes
this single line of dialogue. Magically transforming a B-movie into an Oscar contender

The wrong story (over-familiar to the point of formulaic), starring the wrong actress (it's as though the film's real star refused to show up and they shot the movie with her lighting stand-in), at the wrong time (even ‘60s audiences would be hard-pressed to find it shocking); The Lonely Lady is a pungent potpourri of miscalculations, poor judgment, and ragingly bad taste. Small wonder it has earned the reputation of being the Showgirls of the ‘80s.
Every trash movie made from a trash novel needed its exploitation setpiece. Valley of the Dolls had a cat-fight wig-snatching, The Other Side of Midnight had abortion-by-coat-hanger, and The Lonely Lady had assault by garden hose.  That's Ray Liotta (possessor of the phantom crotch above, as well) making his inauspicious film debut. 

I particularly like how The Lonely Lady’s half-hearted efforts to be a scathing, feminist indictment of Hollywood’s rampant sexism and misogyny is consistently at cross purposes with the film’s desperate attempts (by way of clockwork-consistent nude scenes) to convince us that its wee cherub of a leading lady is a smoking hot sex symbol. 
Let's Make A Deal
Current headlines reveal that after all these years not much has changed in terms of systemic sexism in the film industry. Too bad The Lonely Lady merely treats the issue as fodder for sensationalism

It could be said Ms. Zadora dedicated her career to
making sure no one would ever refer to her by that name

There's no getting around it. Pia Zadora's performance here most definitely calls into question the credibility of her Golden Globe win, while emphatically cementing the validity of her multiple Golden Raspberry Award wins (although she lost 2000s Worst Actress of the Decade to Madonna).
In truth, Zadora is so unconvincing and inexpressive in the film, it's pushing it to call hers a performance at all. But on the plus side, it's not one of those pitiably bad performances that makes you feel bad or embarrassed for an actor. In the tradition of Patty Duke and Elizabeth Berkeley, Pia Zadora's awfulness is so robust and zestfully devoid of anything resembling technique or skill, it achieves a kind of guileless purity.
Words can't come close to expressing the full-tilt comic lunacy of Zadora's worth-the-price-of-admission nervous breakdown scene. Form her going-for-broke emoting to the acid-wash graphics and tilt-a-whirl not-so-special effects, it's a Golden Turkey instant classic.

If The Lonely Lady works on any other level than simply high-octane camp, I'd say it works best (as he places tongue firmly in cheek) as a disquietingly self-referential exposé. The construct of the entire film places the viewer in the position of scrutinizing the Pia Zadora phenomenon through the guise of meta-fiction.
Take for example the fact that The Lonely Lady is about an author no one takes seriously simply because she doesn't look like what people expect writers to look like. Well, didn't I begin this essay stating that very thing in regard to Ms. Zadora...that I found her to be miscast because she doesn't "look" like a writer to me? What does that even mean? Sure, she can't act, but she's not believable as an author because she's petite, has a kewpie doll's face, and a teenager's voice?  Sexist much, Ken?

On top of this, the movie keeps throwing Zadora's real-life circumstances into the mix. Like Zadora, Jerilee just can't get no respect. She marries a wealthy man old enough to be her father who proves instrumental in getting her into show business. A place where her success is never believed to have been rightfully earned. By the time the film finishes on the confrontational note highlighted in this screencap, I thought to myself, "Pia's playin' head games with us!"

As much as I adore The Lonely Lady for its wholesale lack of redeeming value, and how I thank the gods of cinema dross that Pia left us all this wonderful, enduring gift before retiring from acting; I must also add that I have become a big fan of the Pia Zadora of today. Like so many stars who once took themselves so seriously in their youth, only to mature into fun, easygoing personalities able to take a joke (Raquel Welch, William Shatner, Cybill Shepherd, Candice Bergen); Pia Zadora has learned how to laugh at herself.
Carla Romanelli plays a Sophia Loren-type Italian actress (complete with Carlo Ponti-esque husband) who, like everyone else in the film, finds Jerilee impossible to resist. I never realized screenwriters were so sought-after

After abandoning acting and the whole sex symbol hype (and Meshulam Riklis after 16 years) Zadora pursued what was always her strongest suit, singing, and, in a few cameo roles, revealed herself to be a natural light comedienne. She's been active and good-natured in promoting the DVD release of The Lonely Lady (which includes a spirited interview) and harbors no illusions about either the film's quality or her performance in it. She's so cool with the film's renewed cult status and everybody hailing it as one of the best of the worst, it's as though she's given us all her blessing to enjoy a great guilt-free laugh with her, not at her.

Back in 1976, Variety announced that Susan Blakely (The Towering Inferno) was slated to star in The Lonely Lady.

Pia Zadora's 1983 semi-hit pop song (it charted #49) is played twice in the film
In music video she seems to be channeling the Landers sisters HERE

Harold Robbins dedicated The Lonely Lady to Jacqueline Suzanne, and many believe the character of JeriLee Randall to be based upon her. In a November 1976 issue of Pageant magazine, Robbins denied this claim and stated he based the character partially on Peyton Place author Grace Metalious.

As per the Evita lyric—"My story’s quite usual: local girl makes good weds famous man” 
Pia Zadora's story is nothing new. From William Randolph Hearst and Marion Davies to Bo and John Derek; stardom by benefactor is as old as show business itself.
One of the more amusing examples is the forgotten Dora Hall, wife of Solo Cups magnate Leo Hulseman who funded his wife's late-in-life career to the tune of giveaway albums and TV specials in the 1970s.
Listen to Dora Hall sing "Floozy Little Suzy Brown"

Pia Zadora has said she is most proud of these two comedic cameo film roles.
As a beatnik in John Waters' Hairspray (1988) - See it HERE
As herself in Naked Gun 33⅓: The Final Insult (1994) - See it HERE

The late actor Kenneth Nelson appears briefly in The Lonely Lady as hairdresser Bud Weston. Fans of The Boys in the Band (1970) will remember him as Michael, the role he originated in the 1968 Off-Broadway production.

Copyright © Ken Anderson

Thursday, September 21, 2017


“Such, my angels, is the role of sex in history”
                                                          The Lion in Winter (1968) 

Well, someone could certainly write a book (and a heavy tome it would be) about the role of sex in Hollywood history. Especially when it comes to the influence libidinal urges have had on the casting of films, and the part that sex and sexual attraction has played in the launching and ruination of careers.
During award season, when film industry types love to go around giving self-serious interviews calling each other artists, lauding the challenges of “the work,” and praising their colleagues, ad nauseum, for their bravery, vision, and artistic courage; one would think that all decisions relative to the making of films are based exclusively on talent and artistic merit. Closer to the truth (thanks to decades worth of autobiographies, tell-it-alls, and TV talk shows) is that a great many decisions—particularly those relative to casting—generally seem to emanate from below the belt.

When it comes to casting, the Hollywood paradigm has traditionally been that of a patriarchic boys club built upon cronyism, nepotism, and cliques; its inherent misogyny and sexism feeding into the normalizing of a kind of “vertical casting couch” sensibility when it comes to the relationship between those in power (male producers and directors) and those with little (actresses). 
Few behind-the-scenes Hollywood clichés are as enduring and tiresomely pervasive as that of the movie director who falls in love/lust with his leading lady. Whether it be infatuation (George Sidney and Ann-Margret: Bye Bye Birdie), obsession (Alfred Hitchcock and Tippi Hedren: The Birds, Marnie), love affair (Clint Eastwood and well…everybody), or subsequent matrimony (Steven Spielberg and Kate Capshaw: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom)—the faces change, but the particulars have the same weary ring: movie contact = movie contract. (I’ll save the male-on-male wing of this phenomenon [director Luchino Visconti and Helmut Berger] for another time.)

An inevitable phase of soundstage lust blossoming into true love is when the father-figure/mentor has the impulse to star his muse/protégé in a work of classical literature. Paramount head Robert Evans acquired the rights to The Great Gatsby for wife Ali MacGraw to star in before she made a literal getaway with her The Getaway co-star Steve McQueen, summarily ending both her marriage and her career. Roman Polanski had a dream of casting wife Sharon Tate as the ruined heroine of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles before her tragic death.
And, representing the only film in this category to  come to fruition as envisioned: director Peter Bogdanovich, after falling in love with model-turned-screen-ingenue Cybill Shepherd during the making of The Last Picture Show, leaving his then-pregnant wife Polly Platt (the film’s production designer) and their toddler daughter, decides to star his lady love in an adaptation of Henry James’ Daisy Miller
Cybill Shepherd as Annie P. "Daisy" Miller
Barry Brown as Frederick Forsyth Winterbourne
Cloris Leachman as Mrs. Ezra B. Miller
Eileen Brennan as Mrs. Walker
Mildred Natwick as Mrs. Costello
Duilio Del Prete as Mr. Giovanelli

Adapted from Henry James’ novella, Daisy Miller tells the story of a headstrong, somewhat spoiled young lady from Schenectady, New York traveling Europe with her family in 1876. The Miller family: vivacious, gadabout Daisy (Shepherd), bratty little brother Randolph (James McMurtry), and distracted mother (Leachman); are ragingly nouveau riche clan and the epitome of the ugly American. Uncurious, unsophisticated, and forever talking about everything is so much better back home, though they appear to be, they are not “modern” so much as they are primitive.

But Daisy, (no one calls her by her given name, Annie) imbued with enough beauty, charm, and convivial graces to mitigate her shortcomings, has turned her baseness into a kind of performance art. A mass of flirtatious affectations and frilly adornments, Daisy is a perpetual motion machine of restive parasol twirling and fan-fluttering, all choreographed to the relentless trill of her own mindless chatter.

So thoroughly is Daisy a creature of self-interest, that in the restrictive atmosphere of European society and its rigidly-adhered-to codes of conduct and decorum, her guileless impudence might easily be mistaken for nose-thumbing recklessness at worst, proto-feminist rebellion at best. But of course, given Daisy’s thorough lack of awareness—self or otherwise—what we’re really witness to is a display of America’s top commodity and chief export: entitled arrogance.
Our Daisy as you're most apt to find her...mouth open and talking a blue streak

While touring Vevey, Switzerland, Daisy meets American expatriate (the name white immigrants have devised for themselves) Frederick Winterbourne; a formal and reserved young man who has lived in Europe so long he has absorbed the repressive manners and moral customs of the people. Ever the flirt, Daisy takes great pleasure in ruffling Winterbourne’s starchy feathers, heedless of the obvious fact that her actions largely succeed in merely confounding him.
As both parties later descend upon Rome, Winterbourne’s cautious courtship of Daisy both mirrors and is impacted by the pressures of aristocratic propriety. The difficulty arising out of Daisy not caring a whit for social conventions and Winterbourne being fairly ruled by them. Though there is mutual attraction, things keep getting gummed up by the near-constant misunderstanding of overtures and misreading of gestures.
In this beautifully composed shot, Mr. Winterbourne keeps his eye on Daisy (seen in the mirror behind him, talking to the hostess, Mrs. Walker) while Mrs. Miller prattles away to no one in particular, and Randolph amuses himself with the silverware

Daisy’s greatest sin stems from the fact that she’s a self-possessed grown woman who dares bristle at the socially-mandated obligation that she conduct herself like a helpless child. The affectations of propriety requiring women to seek male authorization, maternal escort, or societal consent for even the most innocuous activities don’t sit well with the freewheeling Daisy. Thus, it isn’t long before her penchant for doing just as she pleases results in tongues wagging, invitations withdrawn, and puts her reputation and social standing (such as it was) at risk.

The romantic dilemma this poses for Winterbourne, who keeps company with far too many old gossips and is forever second-guessing himself, is whether the mere appearance of transgression is as damning as the actual thing. Winterbourne hopes Daisy is only a recklessly naïve girl and not the fallen woman everyone believes her to be, but things are not helped by his never thawing out enough to honestly express his feelings for her, nor does Daisy drop her flirt-and-tease façade long enough to be as direct with him in her words as she prides herself as being in her actions.
The outcome of Daisy Miller is foretold by the deliberate names of its characters, the combination of daisies and winter evoking images of growth restricted and certain death.

Daisy Miller is largely remembered as the film that broke Peter Bogdanovich’s three-film winning streak (The Last Picture Show, Paper Moon, What’s Up Doc?), and while critics at the time treated it with more kindness than its reputation would suggest, it was nevertheless a film 1974 audiences found very resistible.

Part of this, I think, is attributable to something Bogdanovich references in his DVD commentary: that Daisy Miller was made several years before the vogue in Merchant/Ivory-style period picture adaptations of literary classics. But as a member of “the public” who was around at the time, I can say that a good deal of resistance to Daisy Miller had a lot to do with the public’s oversaturation with the Svengali/Trilby roadshow Bogdanovich and Shepherd treated us to on talk shows and in magazines.
Innocent flirt or fallen woman?
Bogdanovich likes to believe that people resented the couple’s happiness. Closer to the truth is that Bogdanovich and Shepherd failed to see how callous and unfeeling their public declarations of love and happiness came across given that everyone with access to Rona Barrett or Rex Reed knew it came at the cost of betraying a pregnant wife and abandoning a child.
True love may have been in flower for this “beautiful people” pair, but us common folk merely saw an oft-repeated Hollywood cliché: neophyte director dumps his lean-years wife for blonde goddess starlet at first flush of success. In addition, the public likes to think it makes stars, but Bogdanovich was shoving Cybill down our throats (he produced an ear-torture vanity project LP of his lady love singing songs by Cole Porter), branding her a star before it was earned.
I’m not sure what Bogdanovich saw when he looked at Cybill Shepherd (likely, the talented, funny, actress and singer she eventually grew to be), but at the time, I have to say I saw only a meagerly gifted girl of well-scrubbed attractiveness. She was wonderful in The Last Picture Show, but as part of a strong ensemble, not star material.
When it was announced that the inexperienced former model was to actually star in Daisy Miller, everyone (except Bogdanovich, apparently) seized on the irony of this well-known Orson Welles idolater in essence recreating those scenes in Citizen Kane where Charles Foster Kane insists on making his modestly-talented sweetheart into an opera singer for his own ego-driven reasons. No, by the time Daisy Miller made it to the screen, the public not only wanted this couple to fail, they needed them to.

While I recognize it’s unfair to judge a film based on the personal lives of the people making it, I’m also not so naïve as to not also understand that the obfuscation of reality and fantasy is the absolute cornerstone of the Hollywood star system. The public’s interest in Elizabeth Taylor’s real-life scandals helped make many an Elizabeth Taylor clunker into a hit (The Sandpiper), in fact, the studios relied upon it. The only time people in the film industry think the merging of private and professional is unjust is when it bites them in the ass at the boxoffice.
Winterbourne: "Wouldn't it be funny if they both were perfectly innocent and
sincere and had no idea of the impression they were creating?"
Mrs. Costello: "No, it wouldn't be funny."

With Daisy Miller, Peter Bogdanovich has crafted what I feel is a handsomely mounted, exquisitely filmed and costumed, and at times, genuinely moving adaptation of Henry James’ short novel. Uncommonly faithful to its source material, not only are the locations precise and the actors fit the physical descriptions of their characters to a T; but the script adheres so closely to the text you could actually follow along with the book while watching the film. 
Bogdanovich's cinematic eye is as sharp as ever, and the film never feels sluggish or airless like a great many costume dramas. Daisy Miller is a rarity in period dramas, in that it is very entertaining and watchable. Its flaws are minor and it plays very much like the old-fashioned period films of Hollywood's Golden Age, when sharp storytelling and keen pacing took precedent over the kind of over-referential stiffness that later came to exemplify films of the genre.
Indeed, so much is so ideal about Daisy Miller that it’s rather a shame my only complaint falls on the weakness presented by Daisy herself. The actress portraying her, not the character.
Daisy, making friends and influencing people. Not.
With a great deal of humor, and style, Bogdanovich has constructed a semi-tragic comedy of manners that feels like Theodore Dreiser American vulgarity meets Edith Wharton British propriety. He finds ample opportunities to dramatize the contrasts between the dreary Eurocentrism of the Miller family and the studied hypocrisy of Americans abroad who have adopted the customs of the British aristocracy.
Interweaving this with a love story that never can get started, Bogdanovich, who clearly envisions Daisy as something of an early suffragette and feminist, still leaves it up to us to draw out own conclusions as to whether Daisy’s independence is the result of a unique brand of Yankee boorishness or an admirable resistance to senseless social constriction.

This societal drama is sensitively and amusingly played out, but what’s lacking is a Daisy capable of conveying even a hint of why, beneath all the flirting and white-noise chatter, she is worthy of the attention James/Winterbourne/Bogdanovich expend on her.
Watching Daisy Miller, I was left with the impression that the fatal flaw of the film is that Bogdanovich took Shepherd's appeal as a given. Certain that Cybill was "born for the role" and that she and Daisy were one in the same, he simply plops her in front of the camera. Gone is the protective, loving care of the sort lavished on her performance in The Last Picture Show. Here he allows Cybill to merely be Cybill, certain that audiences will find her to be as bewitching as clearly had found her to be. But it takes talent to project  one's personality on the screen, Shepherd at this point was simply too green.  

For a brief moment in time Bogdanovich had wanted to star opposite Shephard in Daisy Miller with Orson Welles directing. While the idea sounds positively bananas, the side of me that loves Beyond the Valley of the Dolls and Showgirls wishes it had actually happened.
In considering projects for Shepherd to star in, Bogdanovich stated that it was down to Daisy Miller and Calder Willingham’s 1972 novel Rambling Rose. Rambling Rose was made into a film in 1991 and garnered an Academy Award nomination for its star, 24-year-old Laura Dern.
I bring this up to illustrate why I think Cybill Shepherd’s largely cosmetic performance in Daisy Miller is what ultimately stops it from being the film it could be. Shepherd and Dern were roughly the same age when making these films; both stories about naïve young women who innocently threaten the pervasive social structure. 
Somber Barry Brown, who committed suicide in 1978, gives the film's best performance;
his sad-eyed melancholy fairly aching to be relieved by the life force that is Daisy

Going by type alone, Cybill Shepherd would have been-well cast as Rose, just as Dern would have made a fine Daisy Miller; but to look at what these two actresses do with these roles is to understand the subtle but lethal difference between capable amateur and gifted professional.
Shepherd is not awful in Daisy Miller, she does have her moments. But her performance is largely external and superficial. Saddled with a character who never shuts up and a director fond of long single takes, Shepherd obviously had her hands full. Thus (as my partner noted with his usual perspicacity) perhaps Shepherd can’t be faulted if, after delivering - in machine gun rap - what must be page upon page of dialogue and hitting all those marks, she invariably resorts to hoisting that prominent chin of hers and adopting a look of smug self-satisfaction at having simply made it through the whole thing without having made a mistake. It's clear she's doing the best that she can. Nuance of performance be damned, she remembered it all!
Try as she might, lovely Cybill Shepherd has but a single, all-purpose expression to offer the camera when it comes in for a closeup. Ideal for magazine covers, it's a non-look that communicates considerably less than Bogdanovich thinks

As literary heroines go, I find Daisy Miller to be a captivating (if exasperating) heartbreaker. I loved her on the printed page, her deceptively complex, out-of-step-with-the-times character fitting in with the women I fell in love with in Far From The Madding Crowd, Madame Bovary, Sister Carrie, and Anna Karenina. Perhaps because I liked the book so much and because Bogdanovich’s adaptation is so glowingly faithful to it, I can overlook the shortcomings I have about Cybill Shepherd in the role.
As I’ve stated, the film can be very moving at times (I get waterworks at the end, no matter how many times I see it), so perhaps, when I relinquish my desire for what Daisy could have been and allow myself to enjoy THIS Daisy (Shepherd is not without her charm), the emotions and thwarted romance of the story are able to reach my heart.
Mildred Natwick is a real delight in her brief scenes. This amusingly well-turned-out bathhouse is just one of many examples of Bogdanovich adding visual interest to dialogue-heavy sequences

Staying true to his devotion to creating a kind of Orson Wells-type repertory company of actors, Bogdanovich features many players from The Last Picture Show,  Eileen Brennan and Duilio Del Prete going on join Shepherd in Bogdanovich's next feature, the equally ill-fated At Long Last Love.

Had I seen Daisy Miller when it was released, I'm fairly certain I would have disliked it. In the heat of huge 1974 releases like Chinatown, The Godfather Part II, The Great Gatsby, Mame, The Towering Inferno, and countless disaster films and Oscar contenders  (1974 was a biggie!), I'm afraid I wouldn't have appreciated Daisy Miller's small-scale virtues.
When it comes to watching the film today, I'd be lying if I said it didn't mitigate matters considerably knowing that time and cruel fate has mellowed what once seemed so obnoxious insufferable about the Hollywood's "It" couple (Peter & Cybill) and my feelings about the project as a whole. It's easier to recognize and appreciate what a talented director Peter Bogdanovich is when he's not telling us so. Likewise, knowing that Cybill Shepherd went out and studied and ultimately matured into a very good actress and comedienne, that I like her introspective take on her younger self (her autobiography Cybill Disobedience is a great read), and respect her political activism; all goes a long way toward getting me to relinquish my dogged resistance to her professional inexperience as Daisy and simply enjoy the many pleasures this film has to offer.
Funny how time has the power to work that kind of magic.

When in Rome, Daisy and her family stay at The Hotel Bristol. Which also happens
 to be the name of the fictional hotel where Barbra Streisand wreaks havoc in What's Up, Doc? 

From 2004: Shepherd tells her favorite Elvis Presley anecdote on The Graham Norton Show
Cybill's bestselling 2000 autobiography is available for free download in its entirety on her website 

"I have never allowed a gentleman to dictate to me, or interfere with anything I do."
 Copyright © Ken Anderson