Please Note: The stills used here are taken from an earlier DVD release if the film, not the Blu-ray edition under review.
This is the fourth time I have watched Indiscreet. Part of me is confused why I have watched it so many times, because I wouldn't exactly say I like it. I mean, I want to like it, because it's directed by the guy who made Charade and it stars one of my favorite onscreen couples. Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman were soooooo good in Notorious, one of my favorite romantic films, it only makes sense that I would want Indiscreet to be equally as impressive. My guess is I keep coming back to it in hopes that I will like it more, thinking maybe last time I saw it I was wrong, that it's really excellent.
Either familiarity is breeding content, or there is something to that theory. Because I do like Indiscreet a little more each time I see it. Like maybe it's an icy cold bath that I am becoming acclimated to. Or maybe it's that Indiscreet is a mature romance, and so the fact that I am almost back to wearing diapers means I am gradually becoming old enough to appreciate the pleasures on offer here. Most filmmakers (and storytellers in general) gravitate to young love for no better reason than young folks (sorry, you guys) are impulsive and not all that worried about tomorrow and so they rush into things with a passionate vigor that the multiple-times bitten, proportionately shy older types can't muster. We all want to be lusty and impetuous and spontaneous, and so we watch rom-coms and TV shows set in high school and eagerly await the next staging of Romeo and Juliet with the newest, freshest faces.
By comparison, Indiscreet is passionless, reserved, and overly polite. Put this 1958 motion picture against the latest blushing love story about kids losing their virginity and it looks like some dude riding a burro around the perimeter of a NASCAR track--while the race is happening.
But then, that's all a matter of perspective. That ancient fart on the donkey might think he's really hauling ass (pun?), and he's paying those fueled-up racers no mind.
Stanley Donen's production of Indiscreet is taken from a screenplay by Norman Krasna (White Christmas), who is adapting his stageplay Kind Sir (now there's a polite title). Ingrid Bergman stars as Anna Kalman, a veteran stage actress who has been more successful finding romantic parts to play than she has been finding romance in her own life. Anna has returned to London early, abandoning a vacation in Majorca, much to the surprise of her sister (Phyllis Calvert, The Man in Gray) and brother-in-law (Cecil Parker, The Lady Vanishes). Fearing that she's in a melancholy humor, they insist that Anna go to a banquet with them. The speaker is a handsome American by the name of Philip Adams (Cary Grant). When Anna sees him, she gives in.
Naturally, the two of them hit it off, but there is one obstacle in their way. Philip is in a marriage he can't get out of. He moves to Paris to work for NATO, putting him close enough to Anna for many a secret rendezvous. They try to keep it all on the down-low rather than cause a scandal, even though Anna's fame makes her easily recognizable. Donen and Krasna stage this courtship as extended conversations in empty clubs and quiet drinks in Anna's apartment. Passionate embraces are left for off-camera, sex is entirely suggested. For two people engaging in infidelity, the depiction of said transgressions is positively timid.
What I am starting to realize, though, is that timidity is its own strength. Is this maybe what grown-up relationships are really like? Certainly Indiscreet suggests that the bond between Anna and Philip is all the stronger for how carefully the mutual seduction is played. While the early scenes suggest that Bergman and Grant have lost all the chemistry that made them so delicious in Notorious--a film that, when you really think about it, is so romantic partially because the pair are at odds through most of it, and there is a delayed gratification of our own lust as an audience waiting for these two beautiful people to get past the roadblocks--this is deceptive. Donen is accumulating a larger treasure by letting them settle into one another as two people really should. The chemical compound becomes more solvent the more time they spend alone. He's dashing, she's elegant, forget about it! (Also forget that his English accent sounds fairly obvious around other Brits, or that there is never an explanation why she has a Swedish accent and her sister does not. It's old Hollywood!)
If we accept this theory, then it explains why the screwball turn in the third act is not very screwball at all. (For the life of me, no mater how many times I see this movie, I never remember that the twist is there.) In fact, the way the resolution fizzles, it's decidedly anti-screwball. These older lovers are incapable of pulling off deceitful schemes, it's all too silly, and so it falls apart. Holy cow, I think I just figured it out. That's what Indiscreet is all about, isn't it? Being old enough to realize the stupid games we played in our youth, the idiotic courtship rituals and the false bravado, were just covering up for the fact that we were too immature to just be ourselves and say what we felt.
In which case, I've misjudged Indiscreet, and it's absolute genius.
Indiscreet has always seemed to be one of those older movies that lay just outside the perimeter: maybe not quite public domain, but not in the upper echelon of studio pictures that got protected and restored on a regular basis. I know I have seen it on both VHS and DVD (part of the Cary Grant set reviewed here), and it has always appeared to have been treated rather shabbily. Faded colors, hazy resolution, poor framing.
Olive Pictures is responsible for this Blu-Ray release. They have built their reputation on rescuing neglected motion pictures. While their resurrection of Indiscreet is not entirely triumphant, it is easily the best home video version I have seen. They give the film a proper HD roll-out with a 1080p transfer framed at the proper 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio. The basic elements are in good shape, with little in terms of scratches or spotting. That said, the colors still look muted and the overall resolution is soft. At times the grain is overbearing, and in the opening credits, there is almost this weird transparency to the image, which the shimmery surface only seems to emphasize. The overall mastering looks very conscientious, though, I don't think this is a fault that lies at Olive's doorstep; my guess is they did the best with the materials provided. And, I can't stress this enough, they've taken what is usually a substandard looking picture and at least pushed it into being above average, so we're getting there.
The DTS-HD Master is in mono and likewise does a decent job of preserving the original soundtrack. I find nothing really to complain about here. Maybe the occasional metallic-sounding sequences crop up, but, overall, everything is a-okay, just not spectacular. Serviceable, but in a good way.
None to speak of.
Okay, I'm coming around on Indiscreet. Chalk it up to the vagaries of old age. I'm not necessarily softer, but rather more open to alternative points of view and forgiving of a calmer temperament. Cary Grant is debonair, Ingrid Bergman is a vision, you can grant a fellow some lee-way for wanting the best from this coupling. What seems flat on a superficial glance has begun to slowly reveal hidden depth. The Blu-Ray ranks high above all previous home releases, but, sadly, still lacks punch--which may be in keeping with the overall demeanor of this Stanley Donen drama. Recommended, to be sure, but proceed with caution. Get a little gray in your hair first.
Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with Joelle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent project is the superhero series It Girl and the Atomics and the futuristic romance A Boy and a Girl with Natalie Nourigat. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.