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Here's a nice surprise for fans of Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman -- a really stunning Blu-ray of one of their most elegant movies, set against London as a romantic, if rainy, background. Rising talent Stanley Donen directs Indiscreet from a screenplay by Norman Krasna (Hands Across the Table, The Devil and Miss Jones), adapted from Krasna's own play Kind Sir.
The luxurious romance hails from the end of the classic era; it's one of the last movies that presents its romantic stars dressed in tuxedoes and ball gowns in almost every scene. It's a direct precursor of the Doris Day/Rock Hudson sex comedies, yet still generates the sentiment of an old-fashioned screen romance, complete with a rhapsodic score. Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman apparently fall in love at first sight, even though her face happens to be covered with cold cream. The sign of sophistication is that nobody even mentions the cold cream. Doris Day would have flown from the room in panic, but both Bergman and Grant are too self-possessed and mature to acknowledge such a triviality. Indiscreet has more interesting man-woman issues to debate.
As if announcing its status as the ultimate entertainment for women of 1958, Indiscreet begins on a graphic of colorful flowers. On the rebound from a failed romance, London stage star Anna Kalman (Ingrid Bergman) meets a man too good to be true, international financier Philip Adams (Cary Grant). Philip is smitten with Anna as well, and an affair begins despite the fact that he's separated from his wife and cannot obtain a divorce. Philip takes a NATO job to be near Anna and they spend a splendid season together. Then Anna's sister and brother-in-law Margaret and Alfred Munson (Phyllis Calvert and Cecil Parker) discover that Philip has misrepresented his true marital status...
Indiscreet is a sterling example of a quality production of 1958. Newly readmitted to the ranks of bankable movie stars, Ingrid Bergman proudly plays a fictional version of herself, a famous woman of affairs who openly states that she's willing to abandon her acting career to follow the man she loves. Fittingly, in her first appearance she carries a box of Kleenex, perhaps letting us know that deep feelings are about to be exposed.
Anna Kalman's romance with the urbane Philip Adams is a good-natured fairy tale for frustrated housewives. She's rich and famous, he's rich and important, and when they walk together a chauffeured Rolls Royce follows at a discreet distance. Anna's wardrobe is by Christian Dior, and her apartment is a designer's dream. Anna and Philip are so well-to-do that he can fly in from Paris for weekends and rent an extra flat in Anna's building for the sake of convenience and propriety. He showers her with gifts, and buys a yacht for their getaways. He loves the ballet. The miracle beneath all this material wish fulfillment is that one look at Anna and Philip together convinces us that it's all for pure love. The lovers hold hands and smile, and our cynicism melts away. When chemistry like that works in a movie, little else matters. Writer Krasna shows the couple to be grace personified, when they give their best-seat ballet tickets away to a pair of deserving young sweethearts. Awwww.
As one would expect from a filmed play, this is an almost exclusively chamber-piece comedy. Phyllis Calvert and Cecil Parker are amusing relatives, matchmaking busybodies that have Anna's best interest at heart. In place of mistaken identity or misplaced jealousy, Indiscreet examines the testy politics of love versus absolute honest. We wonder about Philip's true nature, hidden behind Cary Grant's faultless charm. When they first meet Philip is clear about his status: "There is no Mrs. Adams." But a couple of hours later he reverses himself, claiming a misunderstanding. There is a Mrs. Adams but their estranged relationship is such a cliché that he doesn't expect anyone to believe it. By then it is already too late, as Anna is hooked. After only a couple of dates, Anna brings Philip back to her apartment, and not for a goodnight drink. In 1958 sex activity of this sort was usually reserved for serious dramas with a moral attitude, or the neotrash soaps like Peyton Place. In light comedies, something always interceded to keep the lovers out of bed.
(Spoilers) Anna has bravely accepted the fact that Philip cannot marry her, and is willing to change her entire life to please him. Is Philip a thoughtful romantic or a dishonest opportunist? Philip says that he lies because women aim for a marriage proposal no matter how much he protests that he'll never marry. "They even take it as a challenge", he complains. So when Philip meets a desirable woman, he claims that he's not available. This might work for a dazzler as charming as Cary Grant, in a fantasy where one's marital status can be hidden from outside scrutiny. In the real world Philip's dishonesty usually takes the form of a cruel scam on a gullible partner. Of course, there are always degrees of intent. How many girls and women tell their dates that they are 'just going out for fun', claiming to have a real boyfriend far away somewhere, to whom they're committed?
it is interesting that Indiscreet's central conceit is to have the suave Philip Adams bury his real marital status under a stack of prevarications and untruths. Anna's frustration stems from not knowing who she's being indiscreet with, or even if she is or isn't technically an "other woman." A few years later Stanley Donen would direct another Grant/Hepburn movie -- Charade. Its main mystery is the Cary Grant character's exact identity -- he changes names in almost every other scene. Grant's coy misdirections would seem to be prime romance bait for his female fans, who apparently want their dream men to lie to them.
Indiscreet is great viewing for fans of the marvelous Ingrid Bergman, who in each scene makes emotions flow across her face like waves. The real shame of Bergman's earlier 'morals banishment' from Hollywood is the six-year interruption in her mainstream film career. Cary Grant's personal brand of effortless charm is also in high gear, and his chemistry with Bergman is just as effective as their earlier pairing in Hitchcock's Notorious. Grant's work seems unnatural only when he's called upon to act unreasonably angry or jealous, attitudes that go against his accumulated screen persona.
Breaking away from musicals, Stanley Donen would continue with more sophisticated bedroom comedies: Once More, With Feeling, The Grass is Greener. His nuanced direction is highly responsive to character moods. Donen stages a square dance-like 'reel' at a formal party, a complicated scene that's a model of its kind. It gives Cary Grant an opportunity to do some comic dancing, just for third-act change of pace. Donen is also good with writer Kanin's clever visual jokes. Michael Gordon's Pillow Talk became famous for its split-screen phone call scenes, the ones that toy with the idea of the two distant lovers appearing to be in the same bathtub, or bed. Made over a year earlier, Indiscreet uses the exact same gag. "Side by side" in different beds, Grant appears to pat Bergman's bottom. The two lovers also 'clasp hands' across the split-screen line.
Olive Films' Blu-ray of Indiscreet is a beauty, a nigh-perfect transfer and encoding of a picture with warm, radiant colors. The last DVD disc was a pale, non-enhanced letterboxed Lionsgate offering from 2008. From the very start, Freddie Young's images of rain in London tell us we're looking at something special; he lights enormous interiours with ease and makes the stars look impossibly glamorous.
Under such conditions we're not perturbed that the disc comes with no extras. This is a fairly quiet release but word of its quality ought to be spread around.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Indiscreet Blu-ray rates:
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T'was Ever Thus.