Cinema: Gingerly Satire

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Inside Daisy Clover. Like a benevolent and protective barracuda, Hollywood Producer Christopher Plummer eyes the grubby 15-year-old Daisy he has plucked from a honky-tonk beach town, and tells her: "I'm going to make something out of you—money." He soon transforms Daisy (Natalie Wood) into America's Little Valentine, a musical-comedy wonderkin to someone like the young Judy Garland.

Occasionally Daisy quickens with fragments of myth-shattering dialogue, or sudden, almost surrealistic glimpses of the movie colony as a darkly gleaming horror-fantasy controlled by elegant zombies. But Hollywood self-satire is also a corridor of mirrors where movie makers are apt to start cringing at their own shadows. In adapting his novel to the screen, Scenarist Gavin Lambert softens the tone of merry irreverence and moves the action back to the comfortably distant 1930s. And Director Robert Mulligan never quite decides whether to play for heartbreaks or black humor. The strain tells on Robert Redford, a deft actor, miscast as Daisy's neurotic, one-night-stand husband who establishes his virility beyond reasonable doubt before being written off unconvincingly as a homosexual.

There may be a valid satirical point of view toward Hollywood half-marriages, or even toward attempted suicide. But Natalie, poking her head in and out of a hissing gas oven to answer phone calls, seems unaware that even the silliest comic character has to believe passionately in her own folly. Deep down, Inside Daisy Clover suffers from a similar lack of faith.