Qui êtes-vous, Daisy Kenyon?

What do genres matter anyway? Today we call It Happened One Night the prototypical screwball comedy—a classification unknown and unknowable to its original audience. Indeed, Hollywood lore has it that Columbia regarded it as a poor prospect because an unnamed recent bus picture had flopped. If genre has anything to do with the rote categories that distributors and exhibitors used to keep the machinery of industry grinding on, then perhaps we can learn more about that film by thinking of it as a bus picture.

But this is about Daisy Kenyon, not the bus picture. To go by 20th Century-Fox’s pressbook—which served as readymade copy for harried newspapers and thus doubled as the proverbial first draft of history—Daisy Kenyon was a ‘romantic drama,’ but it’s a limpid love story, with self-aware summation often triumphing over romantic abandon. Broadly speaking, it’s a woman’s picture and, sure enough, has a woman at its center, but it defies nearly every expectation of that genre—it views love wearily and refuses moral schemas, never succumbing to the wrenching emotional and psychic investment that’s part and parcel of the best melodrama.