The Journey So Far

A chronological stroll thru the history of Broadway Musicals as they came to be recorded by Hollywood--the summation of a lifelong vocation, and a journey of self discovery. Equal parts cultural history, critique and personal memoir. Coming next: Hairspray

Sunday, January 19, 2014

On a Clear Day You Can See Forever

June 17, 1970   Paramount  129 minutes
And so, dear reader, the day at last arrives when I'm allowed to make pilgrimage to this mythical land called Bway I'd been obssessed with as far back as I could remember. My parents, who first gave permission for me to go stay with Baba in NY for the '65 World's Fair--only to (unforgivably) renege at the last moment--finally allowed me to make the trip upon graduating high school. I was 17 and had lived my entire conscious life in the newest, cleanest, whitest suburbs of Los Angeles and San Francisco. But they paled to what I imagined New York was like. To me it meant glamour, excitement, the high life. And I couldn't wait to enter its ranks. The first 747s were introduced that summer, and it seemed only fitting that I was jetting to Manhattan in the latest style. Whatever I imagined of Baba's address: 3456 Broadway, was quickly dispelled on my arrival at her doorstep on 141st St. To say that I was stunned by her Spanish Harlem digs doesn't begin to hint at my disappointment after a lifetime of Baba's bragging about her greatly superior, magnificent "New York!" Sleeping on a Castro Convertible in one of her two street-facing rooms, I would sit at the sixth floor window overlooking the noisy avenue--not the glamorous boulevard of worldwide fame but a shabby thoroughfare of dry-cleaners, bodegas and Chinese-Cuban restaurants, under rundown apartment buildings--and late into night spy thru open windows across Broadway, searching for potential Rear Window drama, or at least bits of flesh or sex.

My arrival coincided with the premiere of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever at Loewe's State in Times Square, and two days later I first set foot in Bway Ground Zero. . . and bee-lined it to a movie! Saturday was the first Theater matinee day, and I took Baba to Fiddler on the Roof at the Majestic. I'd already seen the show in LA, but what better way to ease Baba into my future vocation? She accompanied me two more times before I was emboldened to venture out alone, and in evening as well; taking the long #5 bus ride home on my own (it would be some time before I'd brave the subway at night), bracing for the block-long walk thru the urban 'hood into the funky/scary building lobby with its halls reeking of garlic & cigarettes; then the slow, rickety elevator ride, praying that no one else rush in at the last second. Sure, I was a wimp--a white suburban teenage wimp--and New York was in steep decline at the time; my long-revered theater district, in particular, had deteriorated into a shabby tenderloin full of garbage and graffiti (which was new then) when taken in the curdling summer humidity was a radical correction to the Manhattan I'd been weaned on from the movies: less Breakfast at Tiffany's, more Cotton Comes to Harlem. My template for NY existed only a decade before, but by 1970 was as irretrievable as the days of the Pharaohs. And the heart of my Mecca, Times Square was a tawdry shadow of its former self; as full of sleaze and danger as much as signage and neon, and stewing in rancid smells after furious summer thunderstorms--all so alien to this pure-bred Californian.           

But my disappointments would melt away once I stepped into the Shubert or St. James or Imperial or Winter Garden theaters, where the magic of Bway was no less potent than I expected it would be. It didn't hurt that the shows I saw were Fiddler, Hello, Dolly! (with Ethel Merman), Man of La Mancha, Hair, 1776 (on July 4th!), Promises, Promises, and that season's newest batch: Coco with Katharine Hepburn, Company, with Elaine Stritch; and, most thrillingly, Applause with Lauren Bacall--which introduced a completely new, yet instantly recognizable sensation: the giddy electricity of an audience at the latest smash hit. I saw plays as well: Plaza Suite, Forty Carats, Butterflies Are Free--which accorded half an act to Keir Dullea in his boxers, along with the just-arrived, Tony winning Blythe Danner; Eileen Heckart to enter wisecracking. Yes, Bway was what I expected of it. It was Hlwd that disappointed, again. Despite the thrill of seeing my first movie in NY, and a Bway musical at that, the high hopes I had for Clear Day evaporated quickly.

In the original poster art for the musical, the marquee-busting title runs thru a window frame into the horizon. For some deeply embedded, unexplainable reason, I have long associated this show to another window: the high one above my bed in my childhood bedroom in Canoga Park. If I stood up on my knees in bed I could peer over into Gloria's kitchen (frequently in use) and hear her volcanic, highly contagious laughter over the fence. This window, not incidentally, faced east (in the direction of my Mecca: Bway), and came to represent a sort of nightcap fantasy: the imagined sleepy afterglow of a Bway evening (not a weekend or sellout night, but a quiet Tuesday or Wednesday) always with On a Clear Day You Can See Forever in the vague background as the source that floats this ephemeral euphoria. To this day, I might look out from my deck at the twinkling lights of San Francisco on a hazy week-night, and summon up this pocket of momentary bliss. I don't know what it is. And why this show? Perhaps because the musical resides more deeply in the abstract, in my imagination. It seems a dark show in many ways, but has a dream-like feel, which is maybe why it haunts me, hovering beneath the surface of my consciousness; a portal into a nameless feeling of timeless suspension--or what I call sheer contentment. Yes, I was a strange child.

Musical lovers have their own cherished Tar Babies--those shows that arouse passionate defense and unexplainable affection, despite--or perhaps because of--their imperfections. On a Clear Day is such a heartbreaker; a show whose potential was (and is) obvious, yet remains frustratingly unrealized. Blessed with a million-dollar title, propelled by a hit title song--one of the last show tunes to become a standard--and an intriguing premise concerning reincarnation, ESP, past life regression, telepathy, flower-whispering, witchcraft and psychic radar. Just the sort of metaphysical voodoo Alan Jay Lerner aspires to traffic in, with mixed results. For aside from all those contemporary trappings, so exploitable at the time (tho as quickly dated and reductive as Lady in the Dark was to psychoanalysis) what really interests Lerner is the gimmick of Romance across time and place. Here's his modern take on Brigadoon; and just as sloppy in its dramaturgical logic. To wit: in accessing Daisy's memory of her life as Melinda, wouldn't it be just that: her memories? Lerner has her, and soon the Doc, interacting within her contemporaneous 18th Century life. This isn't just reincarnation, it's casual time travel. As in Brigadoon, it just doesn't make sense.

The show had a difficult path to the stage. With Loewe firmly retired after Camelot, and Rodgers widowed by Hammerstein, Lerner sought Rodgers, which to Bway was the equivalent of General Motors merging with Ford. The Edsel, er--show was called I Picked a Daisy, and was set to star TV western star Robert Horton (go figure); and Second-City transplant and Star-in-waiting, Barbara Harris. Gower Champion was to direct and the opening was set for April 3, 1963 at the Majestic Theater, following the closing of Camelot. But if Rodgers & Lerner seemed an inevitable pairing, it was short-lived. Lerner's erratic and painfully slow work process had Rodgers ankling before barely anything was set to music. Horton and Champion both left for David Merrick productions; and Harris went into Jerome Robbins' production of Mother Courage, starring Anne Bancroft. Lerner persevered, hooking Burton Lane on the basic premise (still unwritten), as well as producers Feuer & Martin and director Bob Fosse--for awhile. Lane & Lerner had written a few songs for MGM's Royal Wedding, but Lane hadn't written a Bway score since Finian's Rainbow, 18 years prior (By contrast, Jule Styne wrote ten new musicals over the same period). But Lane was almost criminally choosey. He turned down Pajama Game; gave up Li'l Abner, dropped two shows with Dorothy Fields (Arms & The Girl, and By the Beautiful Sea) and who knows what else. But Lerner was persuasive, and despite no change in his sporadic work habits, he sparked Lane to came thru with a score deserving a better show. Tho attracted first to Lerner's premise, Lane hated the direction he took with Daisy's remembered past. It was too serious, Lane thought, and needed a more comic slant; perhaps revealing "Melinda" as the unknown heroine behind some great event, "like, if it weren't for her there wouldn't be a United States." Something Billy Wilder would've had no trouble coming up with. More adamantly, Lane fought for impressionistic rather than literal scenes of Melinda's past, to enhance the was-she-or-wasn't-she mystery. But Lerner, being Lerner--and as author, lyricist and producer, unregulated--he was again his own worst enemy. The book is full of ideas, none of them fully realized, some of them utterly superfluous. Naturally they'd assign him the screenplay as well.
After years of delay, the show finally lurched into rehearsal in the summer of '65, still without a complete score or a final scene. Harris was still on board. Having used imposing, dramatic leading men like Burton & Harrison, Lerner tried to engage Maxmillian Schell for his Pygmalion-like psychiatrist. But Schell proved decidedly unmusical, so the role went to Louis Jourdan, whose presence lent a nostalgic cachet from Lerner's Gigi. The Boston tryout was a trial. The show was 4 hours long; 7 songs were dropped with none added; and Jourdan wasn't audible past the fourth row. Lane wanted to replace him with Hal Linden; but Lerner elevated John Cullum from the chorus. One wonders why, or if, the role wasn't offered to Robert Goulet, who was certainly right for it--especially vocally--and had as much an association with Lerner from Camelot. Goulet was still credible then, before devolving into cheesy self-parody and would've been a boon to the matinee crowd. But Cullum (who'd played a lesser knight in Camelot--and later replaced Roddy McDowell as Mordred) had the pipes as well, and tho his performance lacked star-making excitement, it was sufficient to promote him to the ranks of leading men. Nevertheless a sense of desperation descended on the show, which no miracle had reversed by the time it opened in New York on October 17, 1965. Playing the same Mark Hellinger Theater where My Fair Lady had triumphed for over six years, only evoked unfair comparisons. Reviews were mixed to middling but unanimously positive about two things: the score and Barbara Harris.

Harris voted against bringing her Chicago troupe to Bway, but was overruled, and From the Second City would yield her a surprise Tony nomination--as featured actress in a musical, tho it was more sketch play than song. She (and another Barbra) lost to Phyllis Newman, but an invitation from Richard Rodgers (not Lerner) to stick around for a new musical kept her in NY. (Alan Arkin and Paul Sand stayed on as well.) Harris didn't think much of musicals, or of herself as a musical performer. But even she couldn't resist Rodgers. It all fell apart before coming back together, which in the meantime gave Barbara room for a couple of plays, including the surrealist farce, Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feeling So Sad.; some TV drama guest shots and a perfect film debut, A Thousand Clowns, stepping into a role that put Sandy Dennis on the map. But there was still something about proving your chops in a Bway musical that would really put one over as a Star. It doesn't hurt when one's role is tailor-made to their talents. She was a proven zany from her improv years at Second City, so Daisy Gamble wasn't much of a stretch--tho no less unique and wonderful--but what makes her unforgettable, and what I got immediately from the OCR is her amazing vocal authority. All said she might be my very favorite Bway voice.

But let's not discount the contribution Lane & Lerner make to this opinion. Daisy has a handful of numbers, but among them are three songs that rank among the best any Star could hope for in any one show. "Hurry, It's Lovely Up Here," is a botanical call-to- arms, that begins a shy prayer and ends a classic Bway belt. She takes it even further on "...the S.S. Bernard Cohn" building a production number out of a solo with a backup trio. And finally the plaintive ballad, "What Did I Have That I Don't Have" that gives her long yearning phrases to parse with heartbreak and authority. Lerner's lyrics are most clever on the latter, but Lane's melodic gift is in full flower on all. And these aren't even the show's top crossover songs. "On a Clear Day" was original enuf in both words & music to instantly join the Great American Songbook. And the driving force of "Come Back to Me"--(a defiant plea that seems common to all Lerner's heroes: Henry Higgins, Gaston, King Arthur, and Tommy Albright) made it as irresistible to vocalists as well as jazz musicians. Tho Sondheim has a lower opinion of Lerner's lyrics, I find this among his best work. The rhymes he makes out of flora in "Hurry, It's Lovely..."; the vehicular laundry list in "Come Back..." the exquisite confusion expressed in "What Did I Have?":
               I'm--just a vicitm of time
               Obsolete in my prime
               Out of date and out-classed
               By my past

He's enamored with linguistic foreplay. A diversionary number set in Melinda's 18th century, "Don't Tamper with My Sister"--and riding another jaunty melody by Lane, has this passage:

               Don Juan
               Once had a royal marriage lined up
               Until he left a blonde
                   Venetian's blind up
               A sin is not a sin until a sin is seen
               So let us misdemean
               Where lights are low

It's what Lerner did best. But writing lyrics was a long and tortuous process (Lane says it took 18 drafts before Lerner could make any sense of his own title phrase) and Sondheim's opinion notwithstanding, the one true talent Lerner excelled at, far above his sloppy, dramaturgically lazy screenplays & librettos. Here he makes Daisy Gamble's ESP into another '60s "malady" (like Samanatha's in Bewitched, or Jeannie's in I Dream of Jeannie), a power she somehow needs to resist in order to fit in--altho, of course, it's her most endearing feature. Here's where the story falters also: our hero (Mark Bruckner) is so taken with the past-life Melinda, that he thinks little of Daisy--But that is already a lie, as we see how fascinating she is in making flowers grow, and hearing phones before they ring--in truth she's more not less interesting than Melinda, whose arbitrarily chosen period seems to come directly from Tom Jones--tho with nowhere near the humor or vivacity. Or is it merely coincidence the Oscar-winning film was in release at the time Lerner was writing? Its irrelevance to the story allowed Lerner to change the narrative for the movie, and the milieu to the Regency period--for no apparent reason other than more lavish costumes (an excuse to bring back Cecil Beaton for the period frocks). The stage climax was a mishmash of pyshic portent (the plane will crash) and remembered tragedy (Melinda's ship sank) with unconvincing proof (of past lives) that strains to wrap up the plot. That the film goes somewhere else entirely shows how little the stage libretto mattered.

What kept the show alive was its glorious score. Whatever the faults of Lerner's book, his lyrics betray no lack of cleverness, wit or inspiration. As for Lane's music, can there be a higher compliment than to say it inspires no longing for what-might-have-been with Rodgers or Loewe at the keyboard? Sadly, it didn't make Lane any more frequent a Bway flyer. Bitter and disillusioned, Lane became estranged from Lerner--who later attempted to find another composer to write additional songs for the film. Still, a dozen years later Lerner seduced Lane back one more time. By then Lerner had a trail of disasters behind him, and Lane, typically, hadn't worked since. Lerner agreed to his demands for accountability but just as predictably betrayed them. An unhappy experience from start to finish, the 1979 musical, Carmelina was based on an uninspired '60s Hlwd comedy, Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell. It survived three weeks on Bway. (20 years later the story was virtually stolen outright--without acknowledgment or, apparently, lawsuits--for the "original" book to the ABBA catalog, Mamma Mia--the first blockbuster jukebox musical; a dubious and unfortunate distinction.)  

Barbara Harris had a tough field to face off with Tony voters in June of '66: Another Harris, Julie, in her first and only musical, Skycraper; the unbeaten champion, Gwen Verdon as Sweet Charity, and the Janey-come-lately, Angela Lansbury, who dazzled all with the unexpectedness of her musical comedy glamour as Mame--taking the Tony mere days after opening night. Harris was back the very next season in even showier multiple roles in The Apple Tree--and won over another champ, Mary Martin in I Do! I Do! (a marathon role) and the ubber-German legend, Lotte Lenya in Cabaret. But Harris loved the "process" of acting, and hated the frozen quality of long stage runs--and was known to be as erratic as that other Barbra on stage. (After opening night of The Apple Tree, she allegedly told Mike Nichols; "You don't expect me to do that (quality) every night.") Phyllis Newman, Carmen Alvarez and Sue Ane Langdon were soon filling in for matinees and later evenings too. Film suited her better for its process. But it was a sad loss to Bway. In my fantasy-universe she would've been a spectacular vis a vis to Jerry Orbach in Promises, Promises (Fran's songs are entirely in her best vocal range); tho a few years on she'd have been no less a hysterical Margie MacDougall. She had a fair run in Hlwd thru the '70s; starting with a trio of filmed plays: A Thousand Clowns; Oh Dad, Poor Dad . . . ; Plaza Suite before moving into more original stories. She was an amusing fake medium in Alfred Hitchcock's last, and greatly underrated, film, Family Plot. Brilliant as a teenage Jodie Foster in the body-switch comedy, Freaky Friday; and as a politician's betrayed spouse in The Seduction of Joe Tynan, with her old stage comrade, Alan Alda and some up-and-comer named Meryl Streep. She received a supporting actress Oscar nod for a rarely seen Dustin Hoffman movie from '71 called Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why is He Saying All Those Terrible Things About Me? As an actress at audition she begins "Painting the Clouds with Sunshine" (sounding very much like Alice Playten) then rambles on in a showy monologue as a lonely never-will-be actress, on her birthday lamenting the passage of her youth. Its indicative of how warmly she was embraced that Hlwd took notice from an otherwise unpromoted pic. But I'll never understand how Nashville lost the Oscar to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, for it's among the most audacious, creative, panoramic, and amazingly acted movies of the '70s. Harris got herself cast as a ditzy would-be singer on the fringes of the action--with frustratingly little chance of making much impact; while others (Ronee Blakely, Lily Tomlin, Karen Black) were so indelible. That is until the midnight (not the eleven o'clock) moment, after Blakely is shot and in the chaos and confusion a mic is thrust at the sidelined Harris, who in an utter daze slowly takes hold of the stage and to everyone's surprise proves to have the best voice of all. It's such a thrilling ending for Harris fans and doesn't  hurt  in  elevating  Nashville  up  a  notch  or  two. 
Her film roles dwindled in the '80s, with a couple of nice cameos in Peggy Sue Got Married and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. She eventually retired to Phoenix where she enjoys the process of teaching. Tho she would never return to the stage, I think she would've made the best Norma Desmond in Lloyd-Webber's Sunset Boulevard.  When it comes to our favorites we always want more; but Harris left enuf of an imprint to register strongly.

I first saw On a Clear Day on stage in August of '68. It was a bus-and-truck edition that slipped into the Curran in San Francisco between Civic Light Opera runs of I Do! I Do! (with Martin & Preston) and the first national company of Cabaret. This would be the week we were in San Jose shopping for a house. But I dragged mother up to SF for a weekday matinee of Clear Day, which had as good a touring cast as could be expected: Tammy Grimes & John Cullum. It was my first time attending theater in SF, which with just two Bway size houses in tandem on Geary Street evoked a mini-W. 45th St. to me. The show left less impression upon me, in part because it was abridged (a tab version), and tho I was a fan of Grimes, she wasn't the Voice I'd loved since the OCR. Sadly, I scarcely remember it at all today. Three decades later I became intimate with the musical, while involved with a SF production by 42nd Street Moon; the local reconstructor of old musicals, overreaching here in a large theater and small orchestra, with an imported Star: Andrea Marcovicci. I was assigned as her handler. She was a lovely woman, given to bouts of narcissism and nervousness. Usually the show is cast by fitting the actress to Daisy. Andrea was a more natural Melinda, which meant her search for Daisy was, in a way, more creative, more interesting. She sang her bouquet of numbers beautifully, entirely in her own manner. And I planted the seed that would later bear fruit; her return to 42nd St. Moon--tho in more modest quarters--to play Coco (another Lerner show) and actually sing the numbers Kate Hepburn could only croak. By good fortune I'd already seen Marcovicci in Lane's other Bway hit: Finian's Rainbow done by LA's Reprise unit. She was delightful.

Over the years revivals (with some major tinkering) were rumored to be in the works; playwright Paula Vogel (Pulitzer winner for How I Learned to Drive) was reportedly working on a version in the late '90s. But it was a radical rewrite by Peter Parnell that made it to Bway in 2011. On the surface it was an intriguing twist, turning Daisy into a Davey, thus throwing gender confusion into the mix (and the show's one thrilling moment as Dr. Mark moves in to kiss Melinda, as she fades away and Davey slips in--a great act break.) But an insecure, effeminate gay boy (in the mold of Tommy Tune circa '74) given Daisy's extraordinary songs is nobody's idea of an upgrade. (Even if we sang the songs ourselves in the privacy of bedrooms and showers.)  It feels like a gimmick--a night at Backwards Bway--where performers sing numbers written for the opposite gender. It also makes "What Did I Have" a superfluous, if not stupid, query.
Parnell had as little respect for Lerner's original Melinda story, as Lerner himself had in the film. But turning her into a 1940s band singer seems inspired only to facilitate the inclusion of several songs from Lerner & Lane's 1951 movie, Royal Wedding, "Too Late Now" is a lovely melancholy ballad of some distinction, and the others are pleasant as well, but they have no relation to the story other than to give Melinda a songlist. Lerner's Melindas were at least built of stalwart defiance; had some modicum of witchery like Daisy. But Parnell's is just another ambitious performer with no extra-sensory gifts or anything  particularly love-worthy about her; making Mark's obsession look hollow. They thought they had something by snagging  Harry Connick  Jr.  to play  Mark, 
but the doc  is always the less interesting character; the straight man to the walking miracle that's Daisy/Melinda. In taking on the gender issue, Parnell forces the part into a male/female divide, while making it very clear where the doc's interest safely lies. For there's really nothing about Davey to interest Mark at all except for Melinda. More painfully, Davey crushes on Mark, giving threat to his devoted b.f., Warren--who becomes the show's most appealing characater. But boy gets boy, doc gets over fixation and sees Miss Jones before him, and Melinda fades into case history. Nice try, but no salvation. Some musicals will forever be flawed gems.

Despite its failure on Bway, Lerner still had the clout to negotiate a sale of the musical to Paramount--his final film transfer. But even this coin didn't put the show in the black. The studio wisely confined Lerner to author duty; with former head of film production, Howard W. Koch, taking helm as producer; tho Lerner certainly had some pull in luring Vincente Minnelli to direct. It had been five years since Minnelli's last film (The Sandpiper with Liz & Dick) and a decade since his last musical (Bells Are Ringing). But his famous Touch was mostly depleted after Gigi, and at 63, he was virtually retired. But temptation came from beyond the material. At the center of a casting frenzy, Streisand was signed for her third Hlwd musical before the public had even seen her on screen. After the questionable choice of Dolly Levi, it was viewed with relief as a fitting role for Miss Barbra (tho Ethan Mordden considers her miscast--really?). And appealing to Minnelli, who after all knew a few things about Star performers. I don't know what Lerner had in mind for Dr. Mark but he seems to have a strong bent for  Frenchmen. I've nothing against Yves Montand, husband of the sultry Simone Signoret, and a fascinating actor in his own right (see The Wages of Fear); but why here? He's not a convincing romantic interest for Babs, and his Jacques Brel-ish vocals are not the right tone for this story. Sinatra was a bit old for the role, but it needed someone with his vocal swagger; some beat and power. Bob Newhart and Larry Blyden are pretty much wasted in thankless roles--Blyden, as Babs' improbable fiance acts like a character out of How to Suceed., and is denied his one song from the show, "Wait Till We're 65," (which doesn't really have the comic wallop Lerner intends; tho it rides on another smooth Lane tune.) As for Jack Nicholson--what the hell is he doing here? And playing what? Daisy's step-brother thru a brief marriage between their parents? Why such a twistedly invented relationship--and how does this serve the story? But Lerner himself took a scalpel to the show; jettisoning six musical numbers, rewriting Melinda's history, rejecting a romantic ending; ignoring, as usual, the lapses of logic in his dramaturgy, satisfied with a hazy fantasy--some of the strongest reasons for its failure.

The movie begins with flowers--an obvious allusion to Cukor's opening for My Fair Lady --but tricked up with time lapse photography, seedlings bursting into blooms. The audio is of course, Babs a'capella lead-in, "Hey, buds below . . ." and we're off with Nelson Riddle's Hlwd arrangement of "Hurry It's Lovely Up Here." It's a bit sloppy in continuity & editing, but Barbra looks great in modern dress and signature page boy; and she digs into the song with her usual intensity. Essentially a stand alone video, this is another pre-credit sequence (as in Dolly), after which we must endure an endless rectangular op-art tunnel, with neon colors while the credits roll, and an overture plays. By why, in every incarnation must there be a vocal rendition of the title song in a Clear Day overture? It takes a good half hour before another song is heard, and most of that is in establishing how little chemistry Montand & Streisand have. But once we slip back into Daisy's memory of Life as Melinda in 1814 England, some life returns to the film. Problem is, Melinda's operatic romance is rooted in shallow lust. "Cozy & Tosh" is scuttled for a new song, "Love with All the Trimmings," that's heard in voice-over while Streisand (in a turban to compete with the Brighton Pavilion) and a blonde John Richardson make goo-goo eyes at each other across a lengthy banquet table. Its silliness is matched by the overwrought song arrangment. 

Daisy's next session takes on a different tone altogether--filmed and narrated in the wry style of Kind Hearts & Coronets, she recounts her childhood with a poisonous wit, laid over images of cartoon mischief in Dickension detail. (They surround her with very tall adults to drive home her scale as a child) The tyke Melinda blackmails her way to financial solvency and snags an old Lord in marriage until love-at-first-sight sets her singing madrigals in her head; or appropriating Tentrees one number, "She (now "He") Wasn't You," Fair enuf, it is Streisand--and we need an album. But then we come to Daisy's big moment of confusion and joy over the doctor's interest in her. Yes, it's "On the S.S. Bernard Cohn" and you can feel it coming. It's even underscored in a scene the two have over drinks. You can hardly wait. . . and here it comes. . .  Only it doesn't. And that's the moment from which the movie never recovers. For years, I maintained that the song was actually filmed but cut from the final print; but I've never seen any evidence, alas, to support that. (Fantastically, Youtube has a clip of Harris performing the great song in an extended excerpt of scenes from the show off an old Bell Telephone Hour TV special.) In its place is another solo for Babs, a self-duet/debate written for the film, "Go to Sleep," that's cute, but not half as delightful as "Bernard Cohn."

What can be said of Montand's sleepwalking croon of "Melinda" other than it further drags the film down, as does all the brouhaha about academic uproar in exploring mysticism and reincarnation. Dr. Chabot (he gets renamed for the movie) is nearly sacked, but for the $ of a wealthy university benafactor--all this told us by college prez, Newhart, rather than seen; eliminating the tangential, but lively song/scene with the Onassis-like billionaire hoping to leave his fortune to his next incarnation. In later productions, Lerner re-directed the song, "When I'm Being Born Again" to the doctor's students fantasizing--but the Greek-flavored melody makes little sense in that context. The film could've benefitted with this detour had they brought in Anthony Quinn or another big personality for a cameo with some amusing visuals (of his next life as a spoiled child.) I wish I could say they made the most of Daisy's terrific second act solo, "What Did I Have?," which has been reconfigured entirely for Streisand. (Eydie Gorme had a modest hit with it long before the movie--as with everything nowadays, available on Youtube. She could've been a credible Daisy as well, opposite hubby Steve Lawrence--at least on stage.) But the song's original, more natural, tempo--a sort of sauntering ballad--has been reset in two different speeds: slow and contemplative at first, then a runaway train on the second go-round. Neither of which do the melody the justice it deserves.
Perhaps "Come Back to Me," best illustrates the missed opportunities of the movie. The right ideas are here, with helicopter shots of Montand on top the original Pan Am building, and scenes of the populace mouthing his words to drive Daisy crazy (each bit here has her dressed--by Arnold Scaasi as if for a Vogue photo shoot--and sets her fleeing like a gawky ostrich). But the number is not executed very artfully--not in continutiy, editing, or vocal synchronization. And its symptomatic of Minnelli's general decline in putting a film together. The picture also has a schizophrenic visual palette. 

A smattering of robust Minnelli tableux in scenes filmed at Brighton's Royal Pavilion; but dullish New York locations, and quickly dated-looking office sets. But Daisy's soundstage rooftop garden is a surprising bit of art direction enchantment. Its also the only place a stoned looking Nicholson pops up in two scenes like a magic mushroom. The film ends with a version of the title song from each of the two stars. Montand first, to croon his Gallic cabaret rendition, then Barbra to cap the movie superimposed on mile-high clouds to drive home the point of eternity. Vocally, she nails the song in an arrangement that would become standard for female vocalists to copy ever after; but as a piece of film it doesn't nearly match the Dolly parade or Funny Girl tugboat sequence. Nor did the film match those other's grosses, racking up a modest $5,350,000 in rentals. Paramount didn't go for a Roadshow release, which had become the standard route for most musicals coming out of Hlwd (and the previous 8 Bway transfers) albeit with diminishing returns. It was a realistic marketing strategy but also a sign of lowered confidence. Streisand would score better with a straight comedy released six months later, playing, somewhat improbably, a loudmouth whore in The Owl & The Pussycat. Her film career would soar thru most of the '70s. And tho she would film other musicals, including a lukewarm sequel to Funny Girl, she would never take on another Bway musical on stage or screen. As for Clear Day, in the end the soundtrack (recorded prior to filming) provides highlights the film doesn't live up to.

Next Up: Song of Norway

Report Card:   On a Clear Day
Overall Film:  C+
Bway Fidelity:  C+
Songs from Bway:  6
Songs Cut from Bway:  6
New Songs:  2 (by Lerner & Lane)
Standout Numbers:  "On a Clear Day"
               (Streisand--vocal only)
Casting: from just right (Babs) to indifferent        
        (Montand, Blyden) to bizarre (Nicholson)
Standout Cast: Streisand
Cast from Bway:  None
Sorethumb Cast:  Jack Nicholson
Direction: Over-the-hill Minnelli
Choreography:  Virtually none
Ballet: None
Scenic Design:  Detailed if less than awesome
Costumes: Period couture by Cecil Beaton
               Modern dress by Arnold Scaasi
Standout Set: Daisy's rooftop garden
Titles: Endless color-changing op-art tunnel
Oscar noms: None
Camp Hall of Fame: "Love with All Trimmings"               
               means never have to say anything           
               when smouldering looks will do

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