' ' Cinema Romantico: Friday's Old Fashioned: Indiscreet (1958)

Friday, June 25, 2021

Friday's Old Fashioned: Indiscreet (1958)

In 1946 Ingrid Bergman starred opposite Cary Grant for the first time in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Notorious.” Though an indelible pairing, they did not duplicate until it a dozen years later for director Stanley Donen in “Indiscreet.” Why such a long wait? Well, Bergman was exiled from America, of course, after her affair with the also-married director Roberto Rossellini, which sent the American tabloids into a UK-style frenzy, prompted a U.S. Senator to arrogantly denounce her as a “vile free-love cultist” and turned the American public, livid that her ostensible saintly image proved otherwise, against her. She was essentially forced out of Hollywood. After separating from Rossellini, she returned to Hollywood in 1956 for “Anastasia” and then again for “Indiscreet.” The title makes it sound like a reaction to the absurd scandal Bergman was forced to endure and, well, it sort of is. But rather than rendering it as a screed or even a satire, Donen creates a full-fledged romance with comedy mixed in. It’s telling, after all, that Bergman plays an actress in the film, which does not seem so crucial until the conclusion comes to pass, which despite its screwball elements is notable for just how much true emotional power it contains, Bergman blending humor and melancholy so deftly that by the conclusion, I was kind of in awe.

Bergman’s Anna Kalman has, as such characters will, given up on love, signified in how as the movie opens she’s staying in for the evening with cold cream on her face and drinking a cold glass of milk at her breakfast nook. Even when her sister, Margaret (Phyllis Calvert), tries convincing her to go out for the evening, she declines. At least she declines, that is, until her brother-in-law’s, Alfred (Cecil Parker), work friend, Philip Adams (Grant), appears at the door. If up until this point Donen has emphasized the set design, gloriously mismatched color photograph frames and eye popping pillows on the plush couch, suddenly, in a single shot, our attention is drawn away from all that extravagant ornamentation to Philip - nay, Grant - emphasized in how Donen frames him in a long shot, as if his mere presence puts everything else in the room aside. Indeed, Anna just stands there, virtually gawking, momentarily forgetting she has cold cream on her face, a moment remixed several scenes later when they have breakfast together in the same nook, where he gawks at her. Both these moments may as well as speak for us, the audience, since much of “Indiscreet” is just about that - gawking, at Bergman, at Grant, at Bergman and Grant, movie stars. [Faints on fainting couch.]

Famously, to get around censors who did not want Grant and Bergman to share a bed onscreen, Donen employed split screens, with the characters talking by phone from their respective sleeping places instead. Even better, though, is a sequence preceding these split screens. After a night out, Philip and Anna return to her apartment building, taking the elevator up, turning toward one another and just standing there, looking at one another, making love with their eyes, you might say. When the lift stops, he escorts her to the door where she asks if he wants to come in for a drink. “Yes, I would,” Grant says in a voice so libidinously emphatic it’ll knock your socks off. Then, they enter her apartment and close the door behind them, the camera pulling them back, providing them privacy that somehow makes it feel even more carnal, like you’re imagining what’s going on behind that door. It’s a reminder that while censors were undeniably drag, directors evading their demands could make for more creative, even higher, art.

It’s all so perfect, it can only go wrong, and so it does. If Anna deems Philip transparent, there is deep irony in this observation, given that his wife, the one from whom he claims to be permanently separated but unable to divorce, is a confection to ensure he can have a relationship without the eternal responsibility. If it feels manifestly like a reaction to Bergman’s real word problems with American prudes, a helpful reminder that ostensibly dignified men can be pigs, the screenplay by Norman Krasna, based on his play, also elegantly carves it out as a commentary on performance. If Philip has been giving one, now so will Anna, the professional. First, she understandably blows up. “How dare he make love to me,” she intones, “and not be a married man,” storming into her bedroom. But she when she reemerges, she is cool, collected, and in character; she is ready to give her own performance. And so she does, the screwball antics of the denouement belying the way her turn brings out the truth. 

No comments: