Tuesday 28 October 2008

Indiscreet (1958)

Noted stage actress Anna Kalman is back from a winter away in Majorca, but it obviously wasn't up to what she expected it to be because she only lasted ten days. The colonel she wrote so enthusiastically of to her sister Margaret only knows about ten words and not the right ones, so back comes Anna to London to bemoan the situation to the servants who keep her hotel suite. As Margaret tries to persuade her out to a banquet that evening to lift her spirits, in walks Cary Grant and the world turns upside down.

Anna Kalman is played by Ingrid Bergman and Grant is a diplomat called Philip Adams, and the entire film is carried by their performances. Adams is as suave and dignified as you'd expect anyone played by Cary Grant to be, and with as much of his patented charm, and he's in London to speak at a banquet. Margaret's husband wants to hook him for a job at NATO in Paris and he couldn't have found a better incentive than Anna who is immediately entranced. She not only attends the banquet but sits there rivetted as he prattles on about hard currencies. Soon they're romantically entangled, he takes the suite below hers and flies back every weekend to be with her.

However he's also open about the fact that he is married. He's separated from his wife and can't possibly get a divorce, and the fact that this is the fashionable line of the year doesn't stop him from telling her and politely taking his leave. He would appear to be chivalrous enough to be honest and not willing to exploit a lady, but there are a number of twists and turns here, as you may expect for what might appear otherwise only a slight story and for material that began as a play by Norman Krasna, called Kind Sir. Krasna also turned it into a screenplay for Stanley Donen to direct. The few veiled Garbo references would suggest a tragic story but that isn't the intention.

Indiscreet is a decent play adaptation, one that doesn't remain stagebound. The story is very focused with everything tied into this one relationship, the cast is very small and there are very few speaking roles with only Grant and Bergman getting any substantial screen time. This gives them plenty of opportunity to flesh out their characters and they both give decent performances. However the story never engaged for me. I enjoyed the romance and how clever little touches brought the characters to life. There's much that rings very true here. Yet the shenanigans at the end seem forced and out of character, not wrong per se but a little hopeful nonetheless. Many would buy the last five minutes happily; I felt them a stretch.

I also enjoyed the way the film was shot with a number of scenes raising a smile purely in the way the camera moves or the scene was set. However there's only one really innovative and clever setup, when Adams first rings Anna from Paris. This phone call has become a nightly ritual as Big Ben chimes midnight, but it becomes special because of a clever use of split screen. He's in bed in Paris and she's in bed in London, but they appear very much to be in the same bed next to each other, their movements seeming to interact. Separated physically, they're nonetheless very much in the same mental space. I've been there before and treasure both the feeling and this attempt to put something so insubstantial on screen. It's also certainly one innovative way to get round the Production Code.

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