Film

Short Cuts - Guilty Pleasures: Please Don't Eat the Daisies (1959)

Doris Day is an actress of rhythms. She has differing modes of performance operation, and depending on the starring (or occasionally, supporting role) vehicle, she can crank it up or tone it way, way down. She uses her inherent wholesomeness as a shield, a way of hiding her substantial sensuality and beaming inner light. She's often mislabeled as the world's oldest virgin, mainly because her movie roles had her equal, not underneath, the leading men. In many ways, she is the role model for future actresses, trading femininity for friendliness while never losing the intelligence and spark that made her a star. She herself gave up her celebrity at the start of the 1970s, concentrating her efforts instead on charity work—especially animal rights and advocacy. As a result, she remains a part of a certain time, a relic reminding us of a period when paternalism still dictated the way in which married people performed their roles.

So when one thinks about it, Please Don't Eat the Daisies is the perfect Doris Day picture. It's light and airy, like a sitcom made spectacular by the setting and the circumstances (it's no surprise the film—derived from a best-selling book by Jean Kern—eventually became a short lived TV series). It employs formula elements like uncontrollable bratling children; decrepit, money pit style country homes; and eccentric cab drivers/playwrights who want to derive entertainment out of the most bizarre subject matter (a musical version of The Bible, for one) to pad its pleasantries. It lets Day take the lead, but only in service to her spouse David Niven, and never allows the possible unpleasantness of the real world (adultery, antagonism, sex) to step into the picture. From the beginning, this is a movie about rediscovering your center, about remembering what is important in life. And like all good old-fashioned Hollywood films from the time period, home and hearth are where your true loyalties should lie.

Our story starts in Manhattan, 1960. Larry Mackay (Niven) is about to become the talk of the town. The failed playwright and drama teacher has just been hired as a critic for the biggest paper in the city. And wouldn't you know it, his first assignment is a doozy. He must review old friend Alfred North's new show, starring the high-strung diva Deborah Vaughn. The show is a bomb. Of course, things at home aren't much better. Wife Kate wants the family to move to the country, a situation better suited for the four young boys that make up the rest of the Mackay brood. This means a major commute for Larry, and when he spends more time in the city (especially in the occasional company of Ms. Vaughn), Kate gets suspicious. Can she save her marriage, or will she be too busy screaming "Please Don't Eat the Daisies" to the children?

While it may be hard to see it, you can actually witness the birth of the high concept motion picture comedy here. It may not be as obvious as the far-reaching films of the '80s, but you still can see how name performers are being placed in outrageous positions to twist contrivance into conviction. Of course, Niven has to become an egomaniac—how else will he learn humility? Of course the children must be city spoiled urchins—how else will they learn the magic of the country? Deborah Vaughn must be an extreme. The same with Alfred. Otherwise, the eventual leveling of their characters wouldn't mean as much to the narrative. Similar to Day's predetermined pitch (read: manic and perky), Please Don't Eat the Daisies is tuned to a plane of preposterousness that can only exist in the movies. Larry would never allow himself to be humiliated with his own poor play in real life (a true plot contrivance if ever there was one), nor would any right-thinking adult buy a Gothic dump like the one the Mackays purchase in the country. Indeed, what Daisies wants to do is set up outrageous situations, hoping the humanity will seep through. Thanks to the terrific acting all around, it does—but not without some bumps along the way.

Perhaps the best storyline in the film doesn't involve Day, the children, or the move to the country. Instead, David Niven gets the award-winning arc as he moves from theater professor to high-powered media critic for a major New York paper. Slowly, over the course of Daises, Niven's Larry goes from meek moralist with integrity to maintain, to sanctimonious fourth estate dictator with a sense of self-importance larger than any actor he's critiquing. Naturally, this leads to a fine dramatic double whammy as old friends try to get back at him while starlet Janet Paige (as Vaughn) tries to seduce him. Basically, while Doris is home playing with the wee ones, David is being wined and dined for his praise and positive reviews.

The rest, sadly, is pure Hollywood artifice. It's bad enough trying to envision Day married to Niven (a similar situation occurs in her pairing with Rex Harrison in Midnight Lace). Day is just too American, too crafted out of Kansas corn, California sun, and Bible Belt basics to warrant such a steak-and-kidney stiff upper lip. Also, the kids are a central casting nightmare (though it is fun to see future My Three Sons sibling Stanley Livingston as one of the manic Mackays), biology playing no part in their look or their personalities (how Niven and Day raised such delinquents is a question for cinematic psychiatrists to ponder). Yet, somehow, Please Don't Eat the Daisies manages to make its points with humor and heart. This is neither a laugh-out-loud farce, nor is it really a pointed study in character. It is the melodrama version of comedy—not quite farce, but close enough in tone to warrant a mild comparison. Instead, this is urbanity taken to tired extremes, with only the expert cast and journeyman direction of Charles Walters saving the silliness.

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image