We are now in the Holiday Season. If you’re lucky this means you might have some spare time or have a need to escape familial obligations to get some alone time with your favorite movies. If you are like me you have probably already watched your all-time-favorite movie more times than you care to publicly admit. I love movies. Some of the movies I love the most are often times my own little secret. Yes, I do enjoy a great bad movie! You know what I mean. Every once in a while a major studio finances and produces a big budget movie in which a great deal of talent is blended with a mix of a blend of great and devastatingly bad ideas — all of which synthesize to form a film so very bad it manages to work it’s way ’round to being awesome.
Sure, it’s a bad movie. But it can often be more fun than a barrel of tiny plastic monkeys.
In 1970 Paramount Studios was about to release a big budget 3-hour Hollywood movie via what used to be called a Roadshow Theatrical Release starring an actress/singer who, despite the odds was about to become one of the most successful movie and recording stars the world would ever know.
That star? Barbra Streisand. The movie? On A Clear Day You Can See Forever. As the film was based on a major hit Broadway play and directed by the iconic Vincente Minnelli with a screenplay Alan Jay Lerner, it seemed a very safe bet. But then the studio actually saw the movie.
The concept of a Roadshow Theatrical Release still exists but only in a vague sort of strategy. Now films might be released via the “selected theaters” tagline. Up until the end of the 1960’s, big studio films were often release to only a few major cities. These releases would often be mixed with star appearances, slick film programs featuring screenshots and PR-related writings and often selling limited issue soundtrack albums. The hope being that word-of-mouth would motivate millions across the country to twitch with excitement waiting for the movie to finally make it to their home town. In other words, these epics were promoted not as simple movies, but events. It had worked well for Hollywood but would soon be pushed aside with the arrival of the 1970’s and a whole new kind of Hollywood. BBS, anyone?
The great Howard W. Koch had helmed the production of On A Clear Day You Can See Forever, but most likely quickly regretted that decision. Paramount ignored Vincente Minnelli and cut the comedy musical down to a running time of approx. 148 minutes. As time would soon reveal, many of these cuts were most likely a bit of mistake. Not so much for the success of the film, but for the historic moments that the studio not only let fall on the editing room floor — were quickly swept into the garbage. The cut scenes no longer exist as far as anyone knows.
When the “deal” to make On A Clear Day was secured in 1966 and filming began, William Wyler’s film adaptation of Funny Girl had yet to be fully unleashed to most of the public. And her second film, Hello Dolly, was still being edited. It is said that Hollywood power-brokers heaved a sigh of relief felt by everyone in Southern California when it turned out that Barbra Streisand was not only a success on screen — she would win the Academy Award for Best Actress. Though success was no new thing for Streisand, she had yet to secure the support of the Hollywood Mainstream.
However, within less than 5 years she had gone from unknown NYC nightclub singer to Broadway, TV and Recording sensation. To read accounts and history of it now, it seems that Barbra Streisand was singing in gay NYC nightclubs and living over a smelly fish market one minute, on Ed Sullivan the next, on Broadway a few minutes later, receiving Grammy’s an hour later and then securing the Oscar within a week. By 1970 she was a full blown household name, but her ability to pull movie audiences in was still somewhat of an unanswered question.
Funny Girl would be a mega-hit. Hello Dolly had the young woman playing a middle-aged widow who becomes obsessed for the affections of Walter Matthau. While it was a bit odd to have cast Omar Sharif as a Jewish Gambler opposite Streisand in Funny Girl, it worked. But having a woman not even yet 25 to take over Carol Channing’s role opposite a talented but most certainly no crooner or ladies’ man, Matthau, was more than a bit of a stretch. Even still, Streisand seemed to get the joke. She mugged and belted her way through it unharmed. Gene Kelly’s overly ambitious artistic vision and budget would cause Hello Dolly to fail. It should be noted that the movie did make money. It just didn’t make as much as Twentieth Century Fox spent. Insecure and feeling pressure that one can only imagine, Streisand was well aware that she was almost being set up to fail. By the time cameras were rolling on A Clear Day the future was way too unclear to see forever.
A country divided over a war, reeling from Charles Manson and cultural revolutions from all perspectives — The Hollywood Mainstream was confused.
Yves Montand was a great French actor and a successful French singer. At one time he was considered a very hot as a leading man who even shared the screen with Marilyn Monroe. But by the time On A Clear Day would come out, his days as a hot leading man were coming to a close. And while he could sing, English was not a particularly great choice to have him musically interpret.
Add to that a character of 22 year age who is “goofy, charming and funny” soon to be young corporate wife would fall head over heels in love with him seems odd. All the more odd when one considers that she has her brief and now ex-step brother played by still relatively unknown Jack Nicholson. Yes, Jack Nicholson is flirting hard with Streisand’s Daisy — she is engaged to the hopelessly square Larry Blyden. Even with a hot John Richardson playing a past life love, her heart still yearns for the deeply cruel, hard-to-understand crooning and manipulative psychiatrist played by a middle-aged Montand. The character ultimately always prefers her abusive psychiatrist.
Fresh from the drive-in treat of Psych-Out and the on-location shoots of both Easy Rider and Head, Jack Nicholson needed some cash. So his agent got him the supporting gig of “Tad” which would feature a dance and full-on singing duet with Barbra Streisand. He was fine with taking a break from the soon to be powerful BBS and his upcoming shoot of Five Easy Pieces to work with a legendary filmmaker and that funny girl from Brooklyn.
Without question, the heads at Paramount had no idea what a big deal Nicholson was about to become when they cut out nearly all of his scenes and his singing and dancing duet with Streisand. All the more painful, Paramount destroyed deleted footage. Nicholson is rendered to a minor role and all footage has been lost. A bit of the duet can be found somewhere on the YouTube universe, but it is muddy and incomplete.
Another painful loss on the cutting room floor was a supporting comedic performance from then Comic’s comic, Bob Newhart. Although he still has more than a few funny moments, Newhart’s supporting role is largely small within the scale of this musical’s odd plot. There was a certain logic to cutting comedy subplots when they had the popular singer singing. Barbara Harris had enjoyed a great run on Broadway as Daisy / Melinda. Her Broadway performance was noted for her comic abilities vs. her singing skills. Much of the wit was reduced by the time the Paramount editors did their duty. The thing is that much of the comedy was lost to focus on the musical numbers written by the late Burton Lane. And the studio had nabbed the great Nelson Riddle to re-arrange and amp-up the melodies of the music. And to both their credits, the music is solid. Even still, it seems a horrible idea to cut out much of Newhart’s comic abilities.
As solid as the music is, Vincent Minnelli and his cinematographer, Harry Stradling Sr., seemed far more interested in pretty colors, outrageous set designs and fashions beyond the wildest late 60’s imaginings. To say On A Clear Day is in color would be an understatement. This movie is so saturated in color it often hurts the eyes.
As for the fashion designs: Arnold Scaasi designed all of the modern-day and future outfits. Yes, future fashions.
You see this musical is about reincarnation and many things paranormal. Once again, Paramount cut out the future sequence. All that remains are some on-set photograph stills and a brief mention of the year 2038.
From what can be told, for Scaasi, the year 2038 meant transparent pantsuits and extreme bell-bottomed stereophonic drug-induced color schemes. But fear not, plenty of “modern” outfits are presented full-on.
Of course, “modern” in On A Clear Day You Can See Forever is restricted to 1968 or more accurately, Minnelli’s idea of modern.
Streisand’s Daisy is not wealthy but she lives in a dream apartment that changes spaces and features an enormous deck upon which she and her ex-step brother and fiance can lounge while she wills flowers and neon-bright green plants to grow in spastic arrangements.
Oh, and this college drop-out only wears Scaasi.
Daisy’s clothing is not modern even by late 1960’s standards. There is nothing cool about her wardrobe. An odd mix of sailor outfits and tightly constructed short skirts with head gears of all sorts — even a brown dress is morphed into an alarming sort of “brown” smash of color. Oh, and everything matches.
If a dress is covered in migraine-inducing stitches of neon bright flowers, you can bet and will soon be shown that the inside of the coat and the hat/head gear will match exactly.
Even Daisy‘s walls match her undies and bedding.
Daisy also seems to be constantly sporting a wig that seems to sprout from her forehead into a hard hair bubble. Streisand’s carefully manicured nails are not so much like buttah but more like looming weapons of shredding threat. No Plain Jane 1969 College “Girl” would ever be able or much less want to dress like Barbra Streisand’s painfully out-of-place character.
This isn’t 1960’s NYC. This is 1968 Hollywood’s idea of what NYC should be — actually, worse yet, this film presents Vincente Minnelli’s color-happy concept of 1960’s NYC!
For the past, the iconic Cecil Beaton was hired at a great expense to create Streisand’s past life visage, Melinda.
Lush and erotically spewed from the finest fabrics, Streisand’s past life wardrobe is over-the-top, but fetching. There are even a few moments with the film’s obsession with loud colors calms to allow Beaton’s designs to work.
Interestingly, these designs work on Streisand. However, the studio fretted.
The feeling seems to have been that these costumes were more suited for Elizabeth Taylor or Catherine Deneuve than the kooky girl with the astigmatism. They failed to think of the fact that Streisand’s look was not all that drastic a departure from those of Sophia Loren or Monica Vitti.
The film is actually most remembered for the glam photography of Lawrence Schiller. Working closely with both Cecil Beaton and Frederick Glaser, these designs were actually rendered beautifully. Sadly, not too much of them can be notices in the radiant glow of Vincente Minnelli’s film.
Ok. So Daisy is about to get married but she has this problem with cigarette addiction. She smokes like a chimney. Literally, like a chimney. Streisand emits enormous amount of smoke. In fact, she might be holding a small smoke machine instead of a cigarette.
In reality she has far more serious problems. She is about to marry the dullest man on the planet — played brilliantly by Larry Blyden (who was also largely cut from the movie) She is really in love with her hot-to-trot ex-step brother who is forever waiting on her rooftop garden to offer her a cig, an ear and sappy sex eyes. Oh, and her ability to magically make plants grow really worries her fiance. They do grow fast. Plants sprout with a single wave of Daisy’s amazing nail-armed-hands. Not to mention the fact that she knows when someone is thinking of her or about to drop in or call. In other words, she has E.S.P. and is a clairvoyant. She also seems to have an endless amount of money that allows her to have a completely different wardrobe every few minutes. It all matches – not just unto itself but to Daisy’s surroundings. Daisy is constantly surrounded by garish colors and silly men.
And yet — There is nothing cool about Daisy. She wears an early 1960’s kind of wig. Or if it isn’t a wig it would appear to be a sort of stiff hair bubble. Daisy might be 22 but she dresses in a way that that a late 1960’s upper-class housewife on a steady diet of sugar and narcotics would deem appropriate. But it is her addiction to cigarettes which she refers to as “weed.” that leads her to Dr. Chabot, a mean French psychiatrist who is teaching for a year in NYC.
She seeks out his assistance from the professor because he can magically hypnotize any and everyone to do or not to whatever he wants. Turns out he is exceeding good at hypnotizing. He accidentally hypnotizes Daisy and discovers that she has been reincarnated.
He hates Daisy. I mean he profoundly dislikes her beyond reason.
He loves and even seduces her former life British seductress-self, Melinda.
Melinda has some very nice clothes and long wigs. Interestingly she has similar tastes in manicures. She looks great but is lavishly excessive. One minute she looks like a repressed dominatrix, then a bejeweled sex kitten rubbing drinks and things on her boobs. A scene or two later and she kind of looks like an Egyptian wanna-be floundering about with a harp.
The love of her life is a dandy who uses her for her money. Melinda‘s life takes a nasty turn yet she is unable to fight her attraction and love for the phonetically challenged Dr. Chabot. They are dancing, singing and getting it on inside Daisy‘s hypnotized head. This is brain rape!
Daisy is a New Yorker of the That Girl type only not so thin and without the nose job. Melinda is a wealthy British grifter. Both seem to fall for mean men. And trust me, Yves Montand’s Dr. Chabot is mean. Not only does he dislike Daisy, he seems to truly hate her.
He tapes his “sessions” with Daisy which are really only a way for him to sneak into her head and get off with her former past life persona, Melinda.
Like both Daisy and Melinda he has the habit of singing his feelings out lout. Only thing is that when he sings he mis-pronounces the English language and often seems more than a little off-key with orchestrations better suited for Frank Sinatra.
No matter how many or nosey Dr. Chabot gets, both Daisy and Melinda love him. Daisy gets fed up and figures out that she has been getting mentally date-raped but is more upset that the mean old dude is more interested with her former life than her current one. Enter self-doubt and brief existentialism. Dr. Chabot continues to rape Daisy‘s psyche by singing out from the top of the Pan Am Building. In between both Daisy and Melinda sing some great songs. Daisy is funny. Melinda is sexy.
There is a future for both but it seems to promise a whole lot more singing, loud colors and a mean old dude.
What can I say? On A Clear Day You Can See Forever is one of those movies that should be bad, but pushes past that to become a guilty bit of fun. One does not need to be a Streisand fan to enjoy her here. The film captures the icon in her mid-20’s doing what she does best: be funny. The persona of Superstar had not yet slipped into her being. She is simply funny and is given and takes full advantage of all comical moments offered. She also has some great songs to sing.
Bob Newhart may have been edited to a short time on the screen, but he uses those moments to full effect.
And it is funny to watch Jack Nicholson attempt to fit into the mishmash of ideas and personas. One gets the feeling he might be nursing a hangover for the entirety of the shoot. It is even more fun to watch Yves Montand as he attempts to figure out why he has been cast.
The film is odd, loud (both visually and aurally) but it offers just enough comedy and great tunes to make it good. It is hard not to be entertained both from “camp” and genuine moments. Even the title sequence is loud mixed with an out-dated chorus of singers — yet impossible not to watch and listen. The movie is a fun view.
Turn off the lights. Avoid hallucinogenics as this film’s set and costume designs promise for a pretty bad trip. The movie is pretty much a trip unto itself.
If only we could see Nicholson and Streisand dance together and sing.
If only Yves Montand would stop seeing and just slap Daisy. He really wants to beat her up. He is mean!
And, if only we could see a bit more of Bob Newhart squirm.
This is a movie out of place and without a time to call it’s own. Forever odd and painfully miscast, this movie thrives. Oh, and Barbra Streisand belts out a song only to be projected into the heavens spanning all of time.
Seriously, this is the concept and it both funny and interestingly effective.
On A Clear Day cost over $10 million to make and more to promote and distribute. Despite a hit song, the album was the first flop of Streisand’s stellar recording career.
The movie was a hit, but not hit enough for Paramount to make any real money until the advent of VHS.
Streisand’s next film would be a far smaller budgeted adult comedy that would aid in securing a place at the table of Hollywood Power. It would be 1972 before she was allowed to use her own hair.
On A Clear Day is considered one of the final Traditional Hollywood Movie Musicals, though that credit should probably go to Hello Dolly. There is nothing traditional here and it was a minor hit. And of course, this would be the movie just before both cinematic careers of Streisand and Nicholson would become the things of legend. Newhart would become a major player in the world of television comedy. Nelson Riddle would continue to be the master of standards. Yves Montand would go on to some great French films late in his career.
And, For a surprisingly fast-paced 148 minutes you can watch them all co-mingle in a strangely entertaining surreal universe of color.
Matty Stanfield, 11.29.2015