Norman Krasna’s play ‘Kind Sir’ provided the basis for Stanley Donen’s Indiscreet (1958); an elegant champagne cocktail reuniting Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant, this time as a pair of enigmatic lovers who manage to live happily ever after in spite of themselves. Bergman’s sagging film career had been resurrected by an Oscar win for Anastasia just a scant two years before. Yet, Bergman’s role in Indiscreet, that of celebrated actress Anna Kalman, seems eerily to parallel her real life circumstances – perhaps even poke fun at those peccadillos with a wink and a nudge. Like Anna, Bergman unrepentantly threw herself into an extramarital affair, ostensibly unaware, or at the very least disinterested, in its repercussions.
Bergman’s romance with Roberto Rossellini in 1950 erupted into an international scandal that all but submarined her professional aspirations to continue acting in America. Public sentiment instantly turned against her and she was even decried on the floor of the Senate as a wanton who should be barred from ever returning to the United States. Bergman’s alter ego in Indiscreet doesn’t go quite so far down this rabbit hole; her liaison with ‘married’ economist Philip Adams (Cary Grant) tempered by the fact that Adams is a devilish rake misleading his leading lady. He isn’t married at all, merely pretending so that Anna won’t get any ideas about settling him down.
Still, and for its time, Indiscreet is pretty chancy stuff. Anna is introduced to us as a woman of means who has frivolously run off with, then just as freely ditched a Greek Ambassador, simply because he spoke broken English and spent more time and interest on other pursuits apart from her own. Anna, who resides in a fashionable apartment in London also has a faithful suitor on the side; considerably younger than she who courts and calls her on the telephone. Bluntly put: Anna has no shortage of male companions. Still, she’s bored – un-apologetically and without even the slightest moral contrition for being middle-aged, single and playing the field.
Anna’s rather frank and flirtatious pursuit of Philip Adams – a man met quite by accident – is just as impetuously guided. Anna doesn’t need convincing to accept an invitation from her sister, Margaret Munson (Phyllis Calvert) and brother-in-law, Alfred (Cecil Parker) to attend a rather lavish, but stuffy monetary conference. After all, it is an opportunity to sit and gaze with mounting adoration at Philip as he waxes about investment funds and rising stock options that, even when expounded upon by the luscious Cary Grant, are about as captivating as watching ceiling paint dry.
Anna throws herself into the depths of their passionate pas deux, even after Philip tells her that he is married. Alfred, who has been desperately trying to convince Philip to come and work for NATO finally secures his participation, but only because being stationed in London will afford Philip the chance to court Anna. Over the next twelve months the two become inseparable. Stanley Donen’s deft use of montage effortlessly flips through an album of snapshots illustrating the natural progression of love, culminating in Anna’s blissfully obtuse happiness; cause for mild concern from her ever-devoted servants, Doris (Meg Jenkins) and Karl (David Kossoff).
It stands to reason that Anna’s heart will eventually be broken. Philip has not offered to leave his wife for her. Alfred learns from Philip’s dossier that he is a single man and confronts him with this deception. But then Philip explains his predicament: that for any man to lead a woman on without divulging that he is married would be cruel. But to lie up front about a wife where one does not exist actually has the opposite effect; the man having laid his cards on the table, thereby giving the woman every opportunity to turn him out beforehand. In Anna’s case, her choice to remain content as ‘the other woman’ is entirely her decision, absolving Philip of guilt and responsibility. Alfred doesn’t entirely respect this analogy, but cannot bring himself to disavow it either. And herein, one immediately comes to appreciate the absolute necessity in a star like Cary Grant to play the part. Grant’s inimitable branding as the uber-sophisticate, chic yet easy going, positively oozes congenial charm. Any woman could forgive him anything.
However, when Margaret intrudes on this fool’s paradise, confronting Anna with the truth, Anna decides that one wily deception deserves another. She grows coy and aloof toward Philip, deliberately using lines he has heard in her latest stagecraft – her seductiveness now beginning to sound tinny and insincere. Next, Anna plots a confrontation. She invites a former suitor to late supper in her apartment, knowing beforehand that Philip is intending to surprise her there on her birthday. The ruse turns sour when the suitor suffers acute appendicitis and is unable to attend the trap. Anna is forced, rather unscrupulously, to use Karl instead – who is much too old to play the part. Anna’s plan doesn’t fool Philip and the two find it necessary to confront their fears head on; hers, a middle-aged insecurity to grow old alone, and his, commitment shy to remain faithful to any woman unless she believes there is no future in the relationship.
The button-down ultraconservatism of the 1950 would have shunned any flesh and blood couple attempting as much double entendre for the sake of their grand – illicit – amour. Curiously, this austere reviling of passion did not extend to fictional characters. Our lovers are hardly considered illegitimate – even if they are, as the film’s title suggests, very ‘Indiscreet’. But Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman are self-possessed and Teflon-coated; their sterling star personas extending far into the fictional realm of their alter egos. As such, their eroticism is more luxurious than ludicrous; even more rich and confident in its strength of sentiment.
Freddie Young’s soft focus cinematography does more than merely flatter its stars. It creates a sublime relaxation. The enchantment between Anna and Philip remains slightly blurry – seen through the reciprocated viewpoint of each other’s rose-colored glasses. At times Indiscreet can be visually arresting. But Young’s pastel approach to impure love does not subdue the glamour. Instead, it places the audience amidst this halcyon. We can fall for Bergman and Grant and their fictional counterparts because the visuals are an extension of their inner most desire for each other.
And Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant have that most intangible of all commodities essential to a celluloid romance licked – on-screen chemistry. You cannot quantify, label or manufacture it – even when the actors are clever about their craft and willing to partake. But once seen, chemistry cannot be denied. Bergman and Grant first appeared together in Hitchcock’s Notorious (1946): their relationship in that movie, tempestuous and predicated on a mutual contempt that reaches its deeper revelation only when one is placed in, and then rescued from, imminent peril by the other. In Indiscreet this narrative arch is subverted; the two beginning as friends, escalating to lovers, until one becomes determined to wreck all they have built upon together.
Primarily known for his collaborative association on MGM musicals starring Gene Kelly, Stanley Donen herein illustrates that his artistic eye and sense of critical timing are adept to handle a variety of genres. Donen would, of course, continue to exercise his creative brilliance throughout the 1960s in films like Charade (1966) and Two For The Road (1967). In retrospect, Indiscreet seems like a test run for these latter achievements; Donen experimenting within the boundaries of star power to deconstruct the fundamental flaws of a relationship. In this regard, Indiscreet is a very adult movie; adhering to time-honored elegance, but with Donen allowing his camera an occasional glance beyond the velvet curtain of this otherwise light-hearted love affair.
When Bergman’s Anna – still unaware that Grant’s Philip is unmarried - suddenly catches herself wishing aloud for their lives to be spent together for eternity, we sense that strange undercurrent to her moral ambiguity and sexual frustration simultaneously at play. When Anna discovers the truth about Philip and plots to give him a taste of his own medicine we become acutely aware of her willful desire, as powerful as passion, to wreck that mythology he has constructed for them without her permission, if for no other reason, than she quite simply can. These moody pieces of exposition elevate Indiscreet from trivial froth to eloquent sophistication. The net result is still a very stylish movie. But underneath all the Dior and diamonds are two people who would rather be let naked together and left quietly undisturbed.
Olive Films' Blu-ray is a vast improvement over the previously issued catastrophes on DVD from the now defunct Artisan Home Video label. For one thing, the 1:85.1 aspect ratio has finally been enhanced for widescreen TVs. Indiscreet gets a modest single layer transfer, and although colors and contrast improve, the image is still inconsistently rendered. Freddie Young’s softly focused images look fuzzy rather than creamy. Film grain is rather thick and unnaturally reproduced in spots, while practically nonexistent in other scenes. Colors are subdued, leaving most of the image rather flat. Flesh tones are pinkish in tone. Still, the visuals are mostly free of age related artifacts that utterly plagued the old DVD transfers. And the DTS mono audio is a vast improvement too; not nearly as strident or grating on the acoustic nerve. Both visually and aurally Indiscreet advances in all of the expected ways, but it still won’t win any awards. Without a complete restoration this is likely the best this film will ever look in hi-def. That’s a shame. Worse still, there are no extras. Regrets. Bottom line: recommended, but with modest reservations.
FILM RATING (out of 5 – 5 being the best)