Cybill’s Defining Role: Daisy Miller

DATELINE: Top-Notch Henry James

cybill Perfectly Cybill!

As mentor to the star, director, creative  force, and whiz kid, young Peter Bogdonavich took dry Henry James and made a fast-moving, emotionally-moving film of a famous novella, Daisy Miller.

You could not find a more perfect American girl than Cybill Shepherd as Daisy: unspoiled, direct, and completely at odds with social conventions in 19th century Europe.

Caught between women like her scatter-brained mother (Cloris Leachman) and an American social doyen Mrs. Walker (Eileen Brennan), Daisy does not stand a chance if she ignores or simply teases Frederick Winterbourne (brilliant young Barry Brown, too soon gone to a premature grave), an American who is a permanent resident of Europe.

Whether it’s going on a tourist trip to Byron’s famous castle without chaperone, or worse, going to the place of the viral Roman fever at the Colosseum, Daisy is hell-bent on living her way. Extraordinary location filming makes this a treat.

Winterbourne resists the notion that her scandalous behavior is anything bad. Yet, he cannot convince others in his social set—and crumbles in their heavy pressure.

Rich Americans policed themselves to try to avoid any ugly American image. Fast-talking Daisy, flirtatious and coy, breaks all the rules in her nouveau riche niche.

If Daisy learns there is a social convention, she is hell-bent on testing its merits. What she does not expect is that she will be shunned by the Americans living abroad. To a social butterfly, as Cybill Shepherd delineates to a T, this is far more damaging than she expects.

Perhaps this quintessential American girl could bear all if only Winterbourne remained on her side. He is sorely tested, and ultimately as the laconic Barry Brown narrates, he has lived too long in foreign places.

Alas, it is Brown, the actor, who is gone too soon, based on the promise of this extraordinary film performance.