In 1952, Director Vittorio De Sica shot the film Terminal Station and screened the 90 minute production to audiences who found it less than perfect. Because of the bad reviews, the producer of the film, David Selznick, decided to re-edit the film without the director's permission. The result was the 63 minute Indiscretion of an American Wife. Criterion presents both films in their latest DVD efforts.
Both films tell the same story. Mary (Jennifer Jones) is leaving Rome in a hurry, but her lover, Giovanni (Montgomery Clift), tries everything he can to get her to stay. He knows their passion is strong so he uses that against her. But her guilt over cheating on her husband and possibly hurting her young daughter is a powerful roadblock to Giovanni's attempts to keep her in his arms.
At first glance, the differences between the two films are subtle. It's almost as if Selznick nipped and cut the excess from the film, hurrying the pace of Indiscretion. However, I feel that he cut out a bit too much. De Sica intentionally added long shots of the train station and included a large number of travelers. Although not essential to the plot, I feel they are a key to the texture of the film. Trimming these scenes detracts from the shorter film because it no longer has the same feeling of a setting that Terminal has.
However, that's not to say Indiscretion is necessarily the lesser of the two films. Selznick listened to audiences and quickened the pace by reducing Mary's meandering along the station's hallways. He also trimmed scenes so the passion and chemistry between Jones and Clift is more powerful.
The emotional turmoil Mary feels is paramount to these films. She's constantly at war with herself. As if to drive the point home, the station is practically overrun with priests, nuns, and children—all pure and good. Meanwhile, men are always gawking, as if she's got a tattoo that proves she's an adulterer. Neither film does a perfect job portraying this inner anguish and both are flawed in their own way. Only with additional shots or a more involved screenplay could either cuts be a definite improvement over the other.
Luckily for audiences, both cuts are presented here. This allows fans of the film to determine for themselves which cut is better. Looking at them together opens the door to conversations and debates. It also lets us get a look at how minor trims can affect the feel of a movie. It's the thought provoking nature of this DVD presentation that makes this disc worthwhile.
Criterion presents both versions of the film in the original aspect ratio of 1.33:1. As always, Criterion has done a fine job with this transfer. The black and white images look great with solid detail throughout, even into the backgrounds (which there are lots of). There are a few instances of softness, but I believe this is from camera work, not issues with the transfer.
Artifacts are the only problem with this transfer. Apparently, Criterion couldn't get all of the blemishes, scratches, and lines out of the print. Luckily, however, the problems aren't necessarily distracting, although they are noticeable.
This dialog driven film sounds great considering its age. Presented here in 1.0 Dolby Digital, the voices are generally crisp and clear on both versions of the film. Some dialog is garbled in Terminal Station and cleaned up in Indiscretion, but this is no fault of the DVD track. The music sounds great if not a tad tinny, but that's to be expected.
THE BONUS FEATURES
The best feature on this disc is the commentary by film historian Leonard Leff. Leff offers great information with plenty of detail, and he delivers it in a manner of a friendly old teacher discussing his favorite subject. Although he digresses into matters that don't pertain to this films, all of his comments are thought provoking, which makes the films come to life in a way I wasn't expecting. It's the type of commentary that will instigate much conversation amongst those who enjoy one version of the film more than the other.
You also get a promotional gallery that features some cool posters and print ads for the American version of the film.
Based on the movies alone, I might not recommend this DVD. But Criterion has really put together a great disc that allows viewers to see how minor editing can affect a film and to debate the merits those edits. With a $40 price tag, I can't exactly recommend a blind purchase, but film historians and fans of this film will definately find the commentary and presentation well worth the price.