Thursday, May 14, 2020

On a Clear Day You Can See Forever

Paramount, 1970
Starring Barbra Streisand, Yves Montand, Jack Nicholson, and Larry Blyden
Directed by Vincent Minnelli
Music by Burton Lane; Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner

Streisand was on a roll after the success of Funny Girl, and while Hello Dolly! ultimately lost money, she wasn't the reason. Vincent Minnelli, admiring the success of huge historical musicals like The Sound of Music, wanted to turn the 1966 Broadway fantasy into a three-hour movie epic. Paramount initially agreed, until they saw the results and cost, and slashed the running time. Was all the tinkering worth it? Let's start on the roof of an apartment building in New York, as Daisy Gamble (Streisand) sings to her plants and makes them grow, and find out...

The Story: Daisy goes to psychiatrist Marc Chabot (Montand) to cure her of a five-pack-a-day smoking habit. Her fussy fiancee Warren (Blyden) is hoping to get an important job with benefits, and his wife has to be perfect. After she goes under, Chabot discovers through questioning that she lived a previous life during the early 1800's as Lady Melinda Winpole Wayne Tentrees, a temptress who dropped one husband and used her ESP to make her second husband very rich before he betrayed her. He also learns that Daisy herself has ESP; she's able to make flowers grow with her singing and knows when the phone rings before it does.

Chabot is fascinated by Melinda and starts bringing her out even when Daisy isn't there. His theories on reincarnation aren't as well-received and get him into trouble with school dean Dr. Mason Hume (Bob Newhart). The school wants him to drop the research and spare them further embarrassment. Daisy has no idea what's going on until she hears one of his recordings of their sessions. She's livid that he loved her former self, not who she currently is, and refuses to come back...until he calls her one last time...

The Song and Dance: Streisand dominates this very strange musical fantasy. She sings the vast majority of the music, including the hit "What Did I Have That I Don't Have?" and a reprise of the standard title song. Minnelli always did do wonders with color, and this movie is no exception. It starts off with stunning time-lapse photography of brilliant flowers growing thanks to Daisy's voice, and there's the sumptuous scenes of Regency England (filmed in the real Brighton and East Sussex).

Favorite Number: The time-lapse flower number opens the film, with Daisy encouraging the plants to "Hurry Up! It's Lovely Out Here." Melinda's first song is "Love With All the Trimmings" as she seduces Lord Tweltrees at a royal banquet...and later after she gets him. Daisy tries to "Go To Sleep" after a date with Marc, but all she can think of is him and how different he is from Larry as she tosses and turns in her colorful bedding. "What Did I Have That I Don't Have?" is an angry and heartbroken Daisy wondering how Marc fell for someone who is only in her head after she hears the tapes, and Streisand really powerhouses through it. "Come To Me" shows off New York in its late 60's glory as Marc sings for Daisy to come back to him wherever she is...and somehow, half the city is able to sing along and try to convince her to return!

Trivia: The movie was originally over three hours long, but Paramount ultimately wasn't happy with the results and made Minnelli lose almost an hour of footage. Among the casualties were a duet for Streisand and Nicholson as her ex-stepbrother Tad (Nicholson) "Who Is There Among Us Who Knows," Daisy and Warren's duet "Wait 'Til We're Sixty-Five," and two chorus numbers in the Regency segments.

The original Broadway show debuted in 1965 and ran for almost seven months, not bad for the time. A slightly revised version turned up in an Encores! concert with Kristin Chenowith as Daisy/Melinda in 2000. The show got a far heavier revision in 2011 that turned Daisy into David Gamble, a gay flower shop owner who had been a torch singer named Melinda in a previous life. That wound up being one of the bigger flops of 2011, running less than a month.

What I Don't Like: This fluffy little story should not have been drawn out for two hours, let alone three. No wonder most revivals to date haven't made sense of the plot. Montand and Streisand reportedly didn't get along and have zero chemistry, which may be why this one of the rare musicals where the leads don't end up together and are perfectly happy with that. (Granted, the stage version did toss them together, so they get a little credit for not going for the obvious ending.)

Montand can't really sing or provide the necessary "oomph" to his two big numbers "Melinda" and "Come To Me." Nicholson and Newhart are barely in the movie and don't do much when they do appear. Most of the Regency sequences are really more there to show off the fancy costuming than anything, and said costumes are gorgeous but really smack more of the early 70's than the early 1800's, especially the turbans many of the ladies wear.

The Big Finale: Recommended mostly for fans of Streisand and the epic Broadway adaptations of the late 60's and early 70's.

Home Media: Easy to find in all major formats; the DVD is currently available via the Warner Archives.

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