On a Clear Day You Can See Forever is one of those movies which is kind of awful, yet at the same time awfully hard to resist. Not being a huge fan of Barbra Streisand, it's hard to explain, but let me try. Whenever this daffy musical comes on, however, I find myself weirdly pulled in by it - exactly like Barbra's character, the easily hypnotized Daisy Gamble. Did director Vincente Minnelli plant subliminal messages in this thing, or what?
Streisand's 1970 musical represents the ultimate clash between old-style Hollywood production and "hip" New Age metaphysics. It's a relentlessly square, misconceived, bloated affair that nevertheless has had a durability that's escaped other big-budget musicals of the day (do you ever hear people going on and on about how fantastic Darling Lili is? I think not). Except for a few tweaks to the package design, Warner Archive's recent made-on-demand DVD version appears to be an exact duplicate of Paramount's out of print 2005 edition of this two-hour monument to self-affirmation.
With a tuneful if not-so-memorable score by Alan Jay Lerner and Burton Lane, On a Clear Day began as a modest-sized Broadway hit best described as "My Fair Lady with reincarnation." When Paramount readied it for the screen during the show's 1965-66 run, they envisioned the property as a grand spectacle starring Audrey Hepburn (who wisely turned it down). Exit Audrey, enter Barbra - who seemed just right as Daisy Gamble, a kooky co-ed with paranormal abilities who falls in love with an older psychiatrist, Dr. Marc Chabot (played by a curiously distracted Yves Montand). In the film, Daisy approaches Dr. Chabon for help to quit smoking on orders from her boring, careerist boyfriend Warren (Larry Blyden). After a brief consultation, however, Dr. Marc discovers some extraordinary qualities in this scatterbrain who can make flowers grow and sense incoming phone calls. Under hypnosis, Daisy becomes Melinda Tentrees, a haughty orphan turned noblewoman in early 1800s England. As Dr. Chabon repeatedly plumbs Daisy's psyche to learn more about Melinda and her scandalous life, he becomes convinced that Daisy is regressing to a past life when becoming Melinda. This revelation comes as a shock to Dr. Chabon's logic-minded colleagues (including Bob Newhart!), and after the story goes public the college where he teaches is swarmed with student protesters. Dr. Chabon even starts to fall in love with Melinda, although it perplexes him as to why she ended up reincarnated as a dud like Daisy. When the now-smitten Daisy stumbles across the doctor's tape-recorded conversations with Melinda, she suffers an emotional crisis ("He wasn't interested in me. He was interested in me!") that even her psychic abilities can't fix.
On a Clear Day is a bloated, draggy mess, the cinematic equivalent of Richard Nixon in a Nehru jacket. Barbra Streisand completely owns the film, however, and her uniqueness plays a big part in the watchability factor here (people who don't get her appeal won't find much to dig here). This was her third film, another gargantuan Broadway adaptation, yet it was also her first contemporary-set story and the first time she worked with a director who was receptive to the assertive young actress-singer's input. One gets the vibe that Vincente Minnelli saw a Judy Garland quality in her, with so many scenes (especially the Melinda Tentrees sequences) deliberately made to highlight the Star above all else. Streisand delves into it with verve and poise, but she interprets Daisy as something different from how the role was conceived. While Broadway's Daisy was a socially inept wallflower, Streisand makes her her a lovable kook whose Special Snowflake eccentricity makes her an outcast (her mod Arnold Scaasi wardrobe doesn't help at all). It makes you wonder why she'd get involved with a wet blanket like Warren, and Dr. Chabon isn't much of an improvement. Yves Montand's noticeable lack of interest in Dr. Chabon makes an icy pair out of him and Daisy. The character regards Daisy as a "little nothing of a creature," when she's actually a pretty hep chick. Oddly enough, Streisand has the best sexual chemistry with Jack Nicholson in the tacked-on role of Daisy's sitar strumming hippie half-brother, Tad.
Streisand's presence notwithstanding, there's a lot about On a Clear Day which clearly stymied Minnelli. He seemed to have put the most effort into the flashback scenes (those Cecil Beaton Regency-era costumes are fantastic), but the modern-day portions that make up the film's bulk drag it down. The film's interpretation of late '60s campus life is laughably square, yet the film is so beautifully made in other areas that it renders the whole project into a grand yin and yang of craftsmanship and dorkiness. Nelson Riddle's orchestration on the music is gorgeously done (not dated in the slightest), yet many of the numbers (such as Montand's big moment, "Come Back to Me") are clumsily staged. The set pieces as overdone as anything else here, yet the clash between woodsy tradition and contempo '60s styling in them fascinates. I'd even maintain that the rooftop terrace atop Daisy's apartment building is one of the best examples of production design ever done - a grand multi-level set with nooks, crannies, and insane details (smoke coming out of the background chimneys!).
While Paramount originally conceived On a Clear Day as a deluxe roadshow release, the failure of Paint Your Wagon convinced them to scale down the production. By the time it came out in the summer of 1970, the film's overture, intermission and a handful of film musical numbers were scrapped. While all that would make for a nifty batch of extras on a home video release (the deleted musical numbers survive on audio), this Warner Archive product is a simple re-do of the bare bones DVD put out by Paramount. Maybe in the next life, huh?
Comin' up roses … the DVD's 2.35:1 letterboxed image preserves the film's Panavision photography nicely, with vivid colors and well-balanced textures coming through beautifully on this transfer. There are a few instances of age and wear on the source print, but for the most part it looks spiffy.
This edition appends the 5.1 Stereo Surround mix made for the 2005 DVD, along with separate audio tracks in English and French mono. The dialogue sounds nice and clean, while the musical numbers appear to be mastered separately off pristine soundtrack album recordings. The spacious mix on those sequences sounds absolutely sensational, although the heavy bottom on them caused some vibrating distortion on our home theater system.
As explained above, there's a lot of tantalizing potential bonus material that could have been included here. Not even a trailer for this no-frills release.
Dated whimsy, leaden yet weirdly watchable, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever comes across like a huge whiff of floral-scented air freshener. Barbra Streisand's enthusiasm helps to overcome a lot of the source material's shortcomings (seriously, she's like buttah). For those who already own the 2005 Paramount DVD, Warner Archive's made-to-order edition is a near duplicate. Recommended.
Matt Hinrichs is a designer, artist, film critic and dilettante-of-all-trades in Phoenix, Arizona. 4 Color Cowboy is his repository of Western-kitsch imagery, while other films he's seen are logged at Letterboxd. He also welcomes friends on Twitter @4colorcowboy.