Film in Focus
By Ed Garea and David Skolnick
Plucking the Daisy (En effeuillant la marguerite, Les Films Corona, 1956) – Director: Marc Allegret. Writers: Roger Vadim, Marc Allegret (s/p), William Benjamin (story). Stars: Daniel Gélin, Brigitte Bardot, Robert Hirsch, Jacques Dumesnil, Jacques Bouillaud, Jacques Fervil, Jacques Jouanneau, Mauricet, Yves-Marie Maurin, Madeleine Barbulée, Anne Collette, Gabrielle Fontan, Luciana Paluzzi, Nadine Tallier, & Darry Cowl. B&W, 101 minutes.
Take the basic formula for Irene Dunne’s Theodora Goes Wild from 1936, modernize it for the French audience, add Bardot and a little implied naughtiness, and we have the piece of fluff that is Plucking the Daisy.
The plot begins simply enough. The provincial town of Vichy is in an uproar by the publication of a shocking roman a clef about life in a town exactly like Vichy entitled Plucking the Daisy. But no one knows who wrote it, as the author is only known as “A.D.” Nevertheless, the book is a must have, if only to try to figure out who the characters are based on in real life. Even the stuffy, pretentious General Dumont (Dumesnil) marches into a local bookstore to purchase a copy. He’s told he’s too late; the book has completely sold out. Upon hearing the bad news, the general can only ask the bookstore’s owner if he’s in it. The owner tells him “no.” But when the general storms out, the owner confides to a customer that he’s in it.
Arriving home for lunch, General Dumont notices that someone has made him a present of the book, which causes him to continue his rant, denouncing the book as an example of modern postwar morality. When he asks who could have written such a thing, his daughter, Agnes (Bardot), confesses that she’s the author. “A.D.,” she tells him. “Agnes Dumont.” The general explodes, telling his daughter that it’s shameful to write such slander. She replies that her publisher has set up a news conference where she’ll come forward and identify herself as the novel’s author.
The general is gobsmacked. Such a revelation would seriously affect his social standing in town. But he knows how to deal with such insolence. He’ll send his daughter for a stretch at a convent school at Montlucon. Agnes, however, has other ideas, and at the train station where her parents come to see her off, she jumps aboard the train to Paris before they can react.
Unfortunately, she lacks a ticket for Paris and must try to avoid the conductor. He catches up with her, and just as all looks lost, a man named Roger Vital (Hirsch) comes to her rescue, giving her an extra ticket he has. Of course he has an ulterior motive – to get Agnes into bed. But the ticket he’s given her doesn’t belong to him. It belongs to his partner, journalist Daniel Roy (Gelin), who’s forced by the conductor to buy a ticket, plus penalty, on board. Once he gets a load of Bardot, he, too, is predictably smitten. They discover she’s going to Paris to stay with her rich artist brother. She tells Daniel that when she gets to Paris she’ll get the money from her brother to reimburse him for the cost of his ticket.
Once in Paris, Agnes takes a taxi to her brother’s place, but what she doesn’t know is that her brother Hubert (Cowl) is neither rich nor and artist. He is a rather surly tour guide at the former home of the great French writer Honore de Balzac, which has been converted into a museum. Finding he’s not there, she breaks in and makes herself at home. Feeling guilty about owing Daniel for her train ticket, Agnes takes what she believes to be a book belonging to her brother to a pawn shop, where she sells it for 180,000 francs. In reality, she has sold a signed first edition of Balzac’s novel Lily of the Valley. When she finally meets up with her brother, she learns the truth about him and he learns about her pawning the valuable book. He tries to get it back from the pawnbroker, but to no avail. While waiting outside the shop for her brother, Agnes spots a poster advertising a striptease contest, with 200,000 francs going to the winner. She decides to enter and win, thereby getting the money to repay the debt.
To hide her identity in case she wins, she hides her face behind a mask, using the pseudonym “Sophia.” Daniel, who along with Roger, is covering the event for their magazine, also falls for “Sophia,” totally unaware she and Agnes one and the same. At the end Agnes wins, Daniel discovers her identity, and as she’s already in love with him from their earlier encounters, brings him to meet her father. Daniel asks the general for his daughter’s hand in marriage, to which the general happily agrees. At the end of the film, we are told they lived happily ever after, and as many little daisies appear next to the two larger daisies, we are told they had lots of children.
The plot of Plucking the Daisy is clearly secondary to Bardot's sex-kitten persona with her pouty lips, wild hair and repeated teases that she will show some skin. While other women – with surprisingly unfit bodies – parade around with bare asses and breasts during a lengthy striptease scene, we hardly get more than a few seconds of a nude upper back from Bardot's character. Even during her striptease, which is played strictly for laughs, we don't get to see as much as a side boob. Instead, it's the crowd watching the show who see her briefly topless. The sight must be so magnificent because her character wins the contest even though she's clumsy and keeps exiting the stage.
Bardot was 22 when the film was made, but her character of Agnes is 18 years old, as if shaving off four years is supposed to make the older male audience watching this overly fluffy film feel guilty and lecherous for admiring a far-too-young beauty or happy and horny that this beautiful creature is on parade for our enjoyment. Her character is filled with contradiction. Agnes is somewhat of a prude yet she enters a striptease contest to win money to correct a mistake she made and writes a tell-all sex-scandal book.
But again the story, which is at times is as ridiculous as an episode of Three's Company, is secondary to Bardot's character. Her inexperience in front of the camera is obvious as she struggles at times to deliver the few lines she has in this film. It's not terribly important that her acting be that good as she is a young beautiful woman playing a younger beautiful woman who is immediately recognized by everyone in the film as being young and beautiful.
At its core, the film is a somewhat awkward love story in which Agnes falls for Daniel, a womanizing newspaper reporter who doesn't stop chasing women even when he says he's in love with her. Daniel gets most of his plum assignments for the newspaper by repeatedly making out with the assignment editor's secretary. The secretary knows she is being used, but she falls for Daniel's lines every time.
Daniel eventually comes around to loving Agnes, but not before again making out with the secretary. There's also an implication that he's having sex with a model, and he falls for Sophia, Agnes' striptease alter ego who wears a wig and a mask during the contest. That Daniel can't tell the difference between Agnes and Sophia, when he intimately touches both of them, tells the viewer that any relationship he has is superficial.
You don't watch this film for any deep reasons as there aren't any to be found. Bardot's character is innocent but sexy, and knows how to get the most out of men. At times, Agnes comes across completely naive – such as hocking a rare book that she believes belongs to her brother without even asking him – and at other times, she's quite intelligent, though the storyline that she's only 18 and has already written a well-read tell-all sex novel that generates a lot of buzz and is quickly becoming a best seller is approaching the realm of science-fiction.
Plucking the Daisy was advertised in France as “Une comedie Francaise de style Americain!” (A French comedy in the American style!) However, it’s a typical French comedy of the period with Bardot playing a role that was familiar to her fans. It was her 16th film in four years, her second one directed by Allegret, and the second one written for her by Vadim. On its release in the United States, it was also marketed under the titles Please, Mr. Balzac and Mademoiselle Striptease.
Bardot’s history with both Allegret and Vadim dates back to 1949 when the director was preparing a film based on a script by his young assistant Vadim. Both men had seen Bardot’s photo in Elle magazine and agreed she would be ideal for the starring role. Allegret offered her a screen test, which was successful. Vadim and the 15-year-old would-be actress fell in love, though the film was never made. Vadim asked Bardot’s parents for their permission, but they insisted the young couple should wait until their daughter reached the age of 18 to marry. On December 20, 1952, the couple finally wed with Allegret serving as best man at their wedding. Bardot made her film debut that same year in a supporting role in director Jean Boyer’s Crazy For Love.
Co-star Daniel Gelin was enjoying the height of his career when he made Plucking the Daisy. A popular and prolific leading man with almost 200 film and television credits, he also had an important supporting role in Alfred Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much, also released in 1956. During the course of his career he also worked with such directors as Jean Cocteau, Louis Malle, Costa-Gavras, and Claude Chabrol.
Although Plucking the Daisy was advertised as a French comedy in the American style, its delightfully jazzy bongo score by Paul Misraki anticipates some of the American sex comedies of the ‘60s. Were the movie about 20 minutes shorter with a solid striptease it would be far more enjoyable. Instead it comes off as somewhat tedious, held together only by the insouciance of its star, who with … And God Created Woman later in 1956 reached international stardom and came to symbolize the liberation brought on by the pursuit of sensualism in the newly emerging society that was postwar France.