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Indiscretion of an American Wife
Terminal Station

Indiscretion of an American Wife & Terminal Station
Criterion 202
1953 / B&W / 1:37 flat full frame / 72 & 89 min. / Stazione Termini / Street Date August 26, 2003 / 39.95
Starring Jennifer Jones, Montgomery Clift, Gino Cervi, Richard Beymer, Patti Page, Paolo Stoppa
Cinematography Aldo Graziati, Oswald Morris
Art Direction Virgilio Marchi
Film Editor Jean Barker, Eraldo Da Roma
Original Music Alessandro Cicognini, Paul Weston
Written by Cesare Zavattini, Luigi Chiarini, Giorgio Prosperi and Truman Capote
Produced by Vittorio De Sica, David O. Selznick
Directed by Vittorio De Sica

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Almost like evidence in a court case, Criterion presents both versions of Vittorio De Sica's glamorous romance crossed with a neo-realist movie, originally known as Terminal Station. Perhaps the failure of Umberto D. found him without producers, but getting involved with the meddling David O. Selznick wasn't a good alternative. David provided the stars, and personally involved himself in the film. De Sica's original version has its flaws, but Selznick took it upon himself to masscre the film with a re-edit and redub for America, with the then-sleazy title, Indiscretion of an American Wife.

Criterion has both versions, and supplies liner notes and a commentary that help show the differences in the two versions, that some people will find difficult to detect on their own.


American Mary Forbes (Jennifer Jones) wants to leave Rome to return to her husband and daughter in Philadelphia, but her illicit lover, professor Giovanni Doria (Montgomery Clift) finds her at the station and tries to get her to stay. She misses one train, but will she catch the next? Mary's nephew Paul (Richard Beymer) is suspicious of her new friend. Worst of all, when they find a vacant railroad car to talk and kiss in private, they're arrested and hauled up before the station's police commissioner (Gino Cervi). It's a slight 'indiscretion' that may turn into a scandal.

The only possible bad thing about the presentation of De Sica's version, is that it is clearly the English-language export version. Thus, much of the Italian, not just the background voices, is already dubbed into English. I suppose it's possible that Jennifer Jones and Montgomery Clift were dubbed into Italian on the domestic Italian version. It's a shame that a true bilingual version with alternating subtitles couldn't be put together, as watching these Italians speak phony English isn't very satisfactory.

De Sica apparently sought to set his borderline sordid romance in the middle of the mundane but teeming life represented by the train station. In his version, the context has equal emphasis against Jennifer Jones' anxiety and Montgomery Clift's desperation. Our focus is on the hundreds of people in the station, with the result that the film is halfway to being like Jacques Tati's weird Playtime. Various mashers like Paolo Stoppa stare at and follow Jennifer. Crowds of travelers bustle in every direction. All seem to comment on Jennifer's lapsed status as a housewife in good standing. Every cute kid reminds her of her daughter Kathy, back home in Philadelphia.

Selznick was by this time the perfect example of the spoilsport who ruins the game, changing the rules because he owns the bat and the ball. He hadn't had the chance to gum up The Third Man, but he took Michael Powell's impressive Gone to Earth and mangled it beyond recognition. De Sica wanted his cameraman G.R. Aldo to use his standard soft but natural lighting throughout this picture, even on the closeups of the actors. Suddenly there's Selznick, taking command by importing cameraman Oswald Morris to light and shoot all the closeups of his wife (who, we are told in the commentary, reportedly ran screaming at every sign of her husband's destructive interference). Thus we see minutes of deep-focus, naturalistic Italian photography, into which are cut shallow focus, diffused closeups of Jennifer with dramatic shadows on her face. Of course she looks great, but no different than we've seen her since Love Letters or Portrait of Jennie. The whole point to working with De Sica and the Italians was to try something new, an ambition smothered by Selznick. By this time in his career he was shooting himself in the foot 9 times out of 10, demonstrating an uncanny knack for lousy judgment.

Still thinking in terms of a glamour vehicle for Jennifer, when Selznick got control of Stazione Termini for America, he gutted it by 25 minutes. Some changes are subtle, but he also jettisoned many little set pieces, such as when Clift is confronted by a wedding party at train side (the bride is the maid from Umberto D.). The bride gives him a wedding cookie, and Clift tosses it to the ground as he walks away. It's a nice, needed comment on the character; Indiscretion of an American Wife underplays Jones'es indecision while making Clift seem just a spoiled brat, like the overeager (but unspoiled) Richard Beymer.

To gild his neutered lily and bring it back up to feature length, Selznick slaps on a short subject, Autumn in Rome. It's basically a music video of Patti Page singing the title song (not a bad one) in a Manhattan apartment. It's directed by William Cameron Menzies and shot by James Wong Howe, but it's still dull.

Audiences in Italy didn't like the mix of realism and Hollywood glamour in their version; the problems of Jones and Clift didn't amount to a hill of beans to them, and they preferred other vignettes, like the one about a workingman and his pregnant wife.

In the U.S., it was even worse, as preview houses laughed where they shouldn't and catcalled at poor Richard Beymer's earnest character (too bad, the same thing happened again for him in some screenings of West Side Story). Jones'es character was read as wishy-washy, and her and Clift's carefully modulated performances - they're as good as ever, by the way - went for naught. Being caught in the petty humiliation of trespass-necking in the railroad car was just the kind of miserable non-offense that might happen to an ordinary couple, but in Selznick's over-inflated romance, it plays as ridiculous. Star characters in movies walk away from major transgressions, and even 1953 average audiences would surely have no patience for Clift not to just punch somebody out and wrest his girl from the police.

With another disaster on his hands, and his career spinning to the ultimate waste of A Farewell to Arms, Selznick let the film be released with what has to be the most insulting trailer of all time, an ugly concoction complete with fake newspaper that grossly misrepresent the content of the film ads spinning up in our faces. The simple embarrassment in the train car is now a huge police case and scandal, and Clift dodging past a train is turned into a suspenseful shocker. In the trailer, Jones is a lustful tramp. It's really depressing, and must have made poor Jones and Clift sick.

There are some great things in Indiscretion of an American Wife / Terminal Station, namely the acting and several amazing takes, like a full two-minute silhouetted conversation in the train car. The photography and use of extras throughout are both marvelous. Cicognini's rhapsodic love theme is very good, although the movie would probably have benefited with a more spare sound track, if De Sica were allowed to follow through with his original concept.

Criterion's DVD of Indiscretion of an American Wife & Terminal Station is two separate movies cleverly packaged to invite close study. The commentary by Leonard Leff is a friendly and well informed mine of needed facts, while Dave Kehr's liner notes spell out all we need to understand the significance of the movies going in.

The transfers are fine. It looks as if Selznick took the original neg with him to America, because his version looks better. The re-editing is very well done, but the emphasis is changed so subtly that one will have to have eagle eyes to spot some changes. In a quick montage of parts of the station during a public announcement that Jones should pick up her bags, the American version sneaks in a shot of the 'illicit' train car, as if the lover's simple kissing and embracing there was some ground zero for lustful scandal.

The notorious trailer also looks fine. If you liked the movie, it will have you shouting in anger at the crass publicity wags of 1953 - it's almost as if Columbia studio head Harry Cohn (who released the picture) wanted to kick Selznick while he was down.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Indiscretion of an American Wife & Terminal Station rates:
Movie: Good --
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: Audio commentary on Indiscretion by film scholar Leonard Leff, trailer, Promotional materials
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: September 3, 2003

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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