Saturday, March 28, 2009

Indiscreet (1958) [UR] ****

A film review by Jeffrey Kauffman for on January 16, 2013.

One might be forgiven for thinking that there was a bit of cynical marketing at work by casting Ingrid Bergman in a film called Indiscreet. It seems like pop culture chump change now, what with movie stars in and out of rehab, vicious voicemails to their soon to be ex-spouses or estranged children played with relish on the evening entertainment shows, and civil and criminal court cases piling up against various celebrities, but Ingrid Bergman's seemingly minor peccadillo of having an affair (and the perhaps more major peccadillo of conceiving a child) with iconic Italian director Roberto Rossellini wasn't just front page news around the world in the early fifties, it was cause for actual denunciations in Congress (could you imagine a Senator denouncing Lindsay Lohan nowadays?). Bergman's career, at least in the United States, seemed to be over. This was the woman who had been a virginal presence in everything from The Bells of St. Mary's to Joan of Arc, and in that perhaps less celebrity conscious and decidedly more star struck time, people tended to confuse performers with their roles.

It wasn't until 1956 that Bergman was able to rehabilitate her stateside image and career with Anastasia, winning an Academy Award which not so coincidentally was accepted by her longtime friend Cary Grant. Two years later Grant and Bergman would reteam for the first time since having made the Alfred Hitchcock classic Notorious, this time in a decidedly different and lighter offering, though one which it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out was probably engineered to trade on Bergman's supposedly shaded past. If Bergman in real life had been pilloried for having had an affair with a married man while married herself, Indiscreet posits Bergman as an actress searching for a soul mate who falls in love with a debonair man played by Grant, a man who pretends to be married and is therefore carrying on an affair. There's kind of a nudge, nudge, wink, wink aspect to this slight twisting of then recent history, and while Indiscreet was in fact based on a not very successful Broadway comedy called Kind Sir which had run for a few months in 1953 and 1954 with stars Mary Martin and Charles Boyer, the fact that the film adaptation garnered its indicative new name and star was most likely an intentional act on the part of producer-director Stanley Donen, who was certainly no fool and no doubt understood the subliminal messages being conveyed to a potential audience.

Writer Norman Krasna had a long if not particularly distinguished career, more in the world of film than on the legitimate stage. But Krasna's approach to his material in Kind Sir is probably the major reason the show wasn't a multi-season smash on Broadway and isn't the most fondly remembered film in either Grant or Bergman's long and storied careers. This is material that fairly screams farce, with a debonair bachelor pretending to be married so that he doesn't need to make a commitment. But Krasna takes an almost dramatic, even soap operatic, approach to this fare, and the results are not only rarely amusing (let alone funny), they fail to really provide much interest beyond the glamorous setting. The strange thing is Krasna was a rather splendid farce writer, as some of his other screenplays prove, so why he chose to craft a kind of creaky, weepy entertainment that gets by - sometimes just barely - on the combined charisma of its two legendary stars is a quandary. There's really not much else there to Indiscreet.

Indiscreet would seem to be a rather unusual entry in the filmography of Stanley Donen. It's neither an ebullient musical like Singin' in the Rain nor a comedically tinged thriller like Charade. Even within the second tier of Donen's oeuvre, Indiscreet is a decidedly middling entry, one that fitfully sputters to life in the final act when Bergman's character of Anna Kalman discovers that Grant's character of Philip Adams is trying to pull the matrimonial wool over her eyes, and decides to create her own bit of subterfuge. But even that effort falls short of any real laughs, and once again Krasna and Donen revert to dewy eyed close ups of Bergman weeping at the joy of having found happiness with a man who has gone to great lengths to avoid making a commitment to her. One can only assume Donen's attention was more absorbed with his film version of Damn Yankees! which was being done at around the same time. Who knows what was on Krasna's mind.

Indiscreet is a film that on paper looks like it couldn't possibly miss. How could a film helmed by Stanley Donen and starring Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant be anything other than a wonderful entertainment? Well, just watch Indiscreet to find out just how far on paper is from finished film. This is a slow and pretty dreary exercise in scattered titters and unnecessary melodrama. Something must have attracted these fantastically talented people to this project, but I for one am at a loss to say what it was. For those wanting a little old school Hollywood glamour, you could probably do worse, but the fact is just cherry picking any other Stanley Donen film will probably guarantee you'll do considerably better. [Kauffman’s rating: *** out of 5 stars]

Labels: comedy, romance

Blogger's comment: I've seen Indiscreet twice and appreciated it much more the second time. Bergman and Grant are incredibly talented and have great chemistry together. Part of the appeal of a light, romantic comedy like this, is that male viewers can put themselves in Grant's place, and female viewers in Bergman's place. And this is an aspect of the film that Kauffman's review completely ignores. It's also the reason that so often critics' ratings and viewers' ratings are so far apart. If you enjoy Bergman and Grant together, don't miss Notorious (1946).

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