On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1972)

Paramount

Alan Jay Lerner’s On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, which premiered on Broadway in 1965, served as a star vehicle for Barbara Harris.   Like Minnelli's Goodbye, Charlie, it’s a tale of reincarnation, shifting back and forth between Restoration-era England and present-day New York.   The story concerns a love affair between a psychiatrist and a chain-smoker named Daisy Gamble, who discovers in therapy sessions that she is the reincarnation of a woman named Melinda Wells.

Some context is in order: In the late 1960s, the country was in the midst of the Vietnam War and the anti-War movement. Hollywood, however, ignored the changing context and its zeitgeist, deluding itself that the public was nostalgic for the old studio fare.  It was easy for an old-timer and inflexible filmmaker like Minnelli to absorb this mindset.

 

In 1964, My Fair Lady, the last classic musical, swept most of he Oscars.   The following year, The Sound of Music grabbed all the important Oscars and the global box-office.   Instead of viewing these films as exceptions, Hollywood viewed them as the rule.  These two films spawned a cycle of anachronistic musicals that tried to revive the declining genre with Broadway hits, most of which had distinct British flavor. 

 

The studios acquired any show that had a Broadway pedigree, such as Camelot, Funny Girl, Hello, Dolly! and Oliver! Joshua Logan directed Camelot and Paint Your Wagon, whose greatest “distinction” was casting Clint Eastwood in a singing role!  Rather dull and archaic, most of these pictures failed at the box-office.  Doctor Dolittle, with Rex Harrison, almost bankrupted Twentieth-Century Fox.

 

Broadway highlights, such as Man of Lamancha, Mame, and Sweet Charity, were all made into big-screen entertainment.  Gene Kelly directed one of the most mediocre musicals of the cycle, Hello, Dolly! starring Streisand.   For some reason, Kelly he kept the news to himself.   Minnelli was upset that, while socializing with Kelly, the actor never bothered to mention the upcoming project, let alone ask for his advice.   The new cycle was retro not only in terms of material but in other ways too.    To make these movies seem like special events, the films began with tickets sold on a reserved-seat basis, with full orchestras playing the overtures in the pit against lush curtains before the actual movies unfolded.   

 

Like Gigi and My Fair Lady, On Clear Day revolves around a cynical, middle-aged professor awakened to the possibilities of love by his protégée.   However, On a Clear Day lacks the pedigree of either musical, which draws on prestigious source material, such as Collette’s witty novella in the case of Gigi, and George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion in My Fair Lady.

 

The stage production of On a Clear Day was criticized for its clumsy story.  The lead role called for a singing personality who could play a period role as well as her modern-day transformation.    While the hypnosis sessions called for an actress who was a cookie, the period tale called for an irresistible seductress.   Streisand seemed ideal for the dual role, though, despite meteoric rise to stage stardom, her big-screen appeal was not entirely proven yet.  Nonetheless, holding that Streisand was indispensable, Paramount delayed its plans for producing On a Clear Day until 1968, when Streisand became available after the London run of Funny Girl.  On a Clear Day will not be released until 1970, by which time Streisand had won a Best Actress Oscar for Funny Girl.

 

Unfortunately, a great deal had happened in American culture between 1968 and 1970, when On a Clear Day was released.   Lerner made brief allusions to the prevailing students’ unrest, but overall, his script was archaic and stiff.    The only concession to the counter-cultural times was the addition of a new character, Daisy's stepbrother, a semi-hippie with sideburns and a guitar, played by Jack Nicholson.

 

Unlike a tyrannical director like William Wyler, who didn't tolerate any artistic input from Streisand in Funny Girl, Minnelli encouraged his star to talk and was totally open to her ideas.   Enraptured by Streisand, Minnelli made a special effort to make her shine in her solo songs, in the way he had serviced Lena Horne and Judy Garland in his old Metro movies.

 

Indeed, in his N.Y. Times review, Vincent Canby wrote: “The high point of the film, and one of the most graceful Streisand moments ever put on film, is a royal dinner at which Minnelli’s camera explores Miss Streisand in loving circling close-up while her voice is heard.   Nothing is allowed to get in the way of Miss Streisand, but Minnelli has not been completely inhibited by her.   He handles her with an appreciation of her beauty and of the largely unrealized possibilities of her talent.”  However, Minnelli’s passive, laisse-faire attitude stranded the other performers.  Montand struggled with his role from beginning to end, and Jack Nicholson really hated his director.

 

Covering two different centuries, the film suffers from a severe identity crisis. Minnelli’s preference for the 1812 era is obvious, as Joe Morgenstern pointed out in Newsweek: “Minnelli and his photographer Harry Stradling whip up some lovely old fluff in the regression sequences.  The décor is sumptuous, the extravagance justifiable, the tone slightly self-mocking.   But Minnelli and Stradling, custodians of a defunct tradition, bring a negligible sense of style or pacing or humor to those modern sequences which constitute, alas, most of the movie’s running time.   They, far more than poor Daisy Gamble, are haplessly trapped in the present.”

 

The whole film suffered from old cliches.   On Clear Day grafted its songs onto a sitcom plot of how Dr. Chabot hypnotizes Daisy to awaken her former self.   The film’s whimsy is based on the notion that Daisy and Marc are karmic lovers whose incarnations clash: He yearns for Melinda that was, and she pines for the shrink that is. 

 

Minnelli alternates close-ups of the stars in their shared scenes, but he seldom shows them in the same frame together.   The lack of chemistry between the two stars did not help either.   Streisand was already a self-contained star, lacking rapport with most of her leading men.    Removed from his French locale, Montand is unable to show his debonair on screen, and his concern with delivering his lines in an acceptable English accent came at the expense of acting.    Miscast as the coolheaded intellectual with a skeptical mind and romantic soul, Montand seems too square and prematurely middle-aged.

 

Minnelli’s fascination with spoofing plays is also evident in this movie.   There is a send-up of a song from the recent hit musical Oliver! a cartoonish Dickensian account of Melinda's orphanage upbringing, a parody that’s sumptuously lit and designed.   In contrast, the contemporary episodes are done in a solid fluorescent flair against fake sets.   But Minnelli has hard time showing what passes as chic any more, and his escapist glamour doesn't gel with the movie's subtext.

 

Dr. Chabot's study is an office of marble steps and woodsy bookshelves.  The expansive aerial shots of New York City and the frantic jump cuts of Montand's big moment are meant to show that Minnelli was au courant.   In one of the few outdoor scenes, the final fadeout, Streisand sings her farewell against expanse of pink and gray clouds.  

 

Critics thought that her lyrics, “I’m out of date and outclassed by my past,” could be applied to the film itself.    Streisand's exuberance notwithstanding, On Clear Day showed that Minnelli was out of touch with the times, both cinematically and socially.    The harsher critics labeled the film “On a Clear Day You Shouldn’t See This Ever.”   Minnelli’s clout with the Hollywood establishment was rapidly slipping. On A Clear Day, as Minnelli recorded, “made respectable money at the box-office but not enough to excite the bean counters.”

 

To be fair, the film did get some decent reviews. Saturday Review’s Arthur Knight praised the direction: “What Minnelli does so well is to search out the essential qualities of his star performers, to frame them in ways that heighten the intimacy between them and the audiences and to surround them with an aura of glamour that makes them at once larger than life and very real.”

           

Cast:

 

Daisy Gamble (Barbra Streisand)

Dr. Marc Chabot (Yves Montand)

Dr. Mason Hume (Bob Newhart)

Warren Pratt (Larry Blyden)

Dr. Conrad Fuller (Simon Oakland)

Tad Pringle (Jack Nicholson)

Mrs. Fitzherbert (Pamela Brown)

Winnie Wainwhistle (Irene Handl)

Prince Regeant (Roy Kinnear)

Divorce attorney (Peter Crowcrof)

Clews (Leon Ames)

Millard (Paul Camen)

Wytelipt (George Neise)

 

Credits

 

Produced by Howard Kock and Alan J. Lerner

Assistant Director: William McGarry

Screenplay and lyrics: Alan J. Lerner, based on his musical play.

Cinematography: Harry Stradling

Production design: John de Cuir

Set Decoration: George Hopkins, Raphael Bretton

Music: Burton Lane

Choral arrangements: Joseph J. Lilley

Music arrangements and conducting: Nelson Riddle

Songs:  “On a Clear Day,” “Come Back to Me,” Hurry, It's Lovely Up Here,” “What Did I have That I Don't Have?” Love With All the Trimmings,” He Isn't You,” “Melinda,” “Go to Sleep,” lyrics by Alan J. Lerner.

Editing: David Bretherton

Costumes: Cecil Beaton, Arnold Scaasi

Choreography: Howard Jeffrey

Print process: Technicolor

Sound: Benjamin Winkler, Elden Ruberg

Makeup: Harry Ray

Hair stylist: Frederick Glaser

 

Running Time: 129 Minutes