Friday, April 17, 2015

Classic Films in Focus: INDISCREET (1958)

Stanley Donen's 1958 romantic comedy, Indiscreet, reunites stars Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman, who had famously paired up for Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious in 1946. Unlike the earlier film, or other Grant outings with Hitchcock, the Donen picture more or less eschews action to rely almost entirely on the considerable charm of its leads. Norman Krasna's screenplay shows its theatrical roots as an adaptation of Krasna's play, Kind Sir, with most of the action in a single room and a lot more conversation than anything else, but Grant and Bergman make the proceedings interesting enough to watch, even if the slow fuse of the plot takes entirely too long to reach its destination.

Bergman plays successful stage actress Anna Kalman, who despairs of finding a worthwhile, unmarried man. Her sister, Margaret (Phyllis Calvert), and brother-in-law, Alfred (Cecil Parker), introduce her to the temptingly attractive Philip (Cary Grant), but he quickly confesses that he, too, possesses a wife. Anna enters into a romance with Philip in spite of his inability to get a divorce and soon begins to yearn for more than an illicit affair.

You'll end up scratching your head in bewilderment if you're looking for a moral to Indiscreet, and it's certainly not progressive in terms of its portrayal of Anna, a successful, celebrated star whose girlish neediness stands in strange contrast to her supposed experience and social standing. The reversals of the third act don't clarify any of these issues, although they do at least rouse Anna to action and give the lovers something to do besides make eyes at each other. Bergman is lovely, and Grant is charming, and that's sufficient for the film's modest ambitions. The problem of Anna's celebrity, hinted at when autograph seekers pursue her through every excursion, is never really developed as an aspect of the romantic relationship; Philip's employment in a sensitive NATO undertaking is also suggested but not really delved into as an issue that might complicate an adulterous affair.

As is often the case with this kind of romantic comedy, the supporting characters are more interesting than the leads, with two pairs of spouses acting as foils to the besotted lovers. Phyllis Calvert gives an especially good performance as Anna's protective older sister. Margaret is wiser and much less romantic than Anna, as her marriage to Alfred reveals; their relationship relies more on long-standing camaraderie than sexual chemistry, but they don't seem unhappy together. The more obvious comedy is left mostly to David Kossoff and Megs Jenkins as Carl and Doris, Anna's devoted servants, and they make another couple whose practical, everyday relationship provides a contrast to the perpetual Valentine of Anna and Philip's affair. The older couples sense that Anna's swooning ecstasy can't last, especially with an unobtainable man, but the film still seems to encourage us to think that the classical romance, adultery and all, is the preferred mode.

For a more exciting endeavor from Stanley Donen and Cary Grant, see Charade (1963). Donen is also remembered today for Singin' in the Rain (1952), Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954), and Funny Face (1957). For more of Cary Grant in the 1950s, try To Catch a Thief (1955), An Affair to Remember (1957), and North by Northwest (1959). Ingrid Bergman won Best Actress Oscars for Gaslight (1944) and Anastasia (1956), but she is certainly best known for her role in Casablanca (1942). You'll find Phyllis Calvert in Appointment with Danger (1951), and she and Cecil Parker both appear in The Magic Bow (1946).