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20 March 2021

Indiscreet (1958)


Directed by: Stanley Donnen
Starring: Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman,
Phyllis Calvert, Cecil Parker
David Kossoff, Megs Jenkins

When Devlin walked out with Alicia in his arms during the climax of Notorious you wondered what would happen to the two of them. Well, a dozen years later, you meet Anna and Philip and you know the answer.
 
But Anna Kalman (Ingrid Bergman) is no Alicia. Anna is a renowned stage actress with a successful career and many admirers. Unfortunately, she’s unlucky in love – she always seems to choose the wrong man. When she leaves a would-be suitor (“The one who looked like a Greek Statue.” “He talked like a Greek statue. I don’t think he knew more than a dozen words.”) and returns precipitously to her London residence (the furniture still swaddled in covers), her sister Margaret (Phyllis Calvert) is both exasperated and resigned.
 
 
You told me that he was good looking and danced divinely. That’s all a woman is entitled to. You can always read a good book,” says Margaret when Anna reminds her that men should at least be able to talk a little… simple sentences.

Margaret is determined that Anna not sit at home, moping, and insists that she go with her and her husband, Alfred (Cecil Parker), to a ball given by the Foreign Office. Anna is in no mind to, until she sets her eyes on the man who would be accompanying them – a certain Philip Adams (Cary Grant), prominent economist and a man that NATO has their eyes on for a plum assignment.

 
Given an ‘intelligent excuse’ by Philip (that if she didn’t accompany them, he would be the odd man out – at a banquet numbering 600 people), Anna agrees to go to the ball. Their attraction is immediate, reciprocated, and obvious. Margaret is thrilled (but she still quizzes her husband about Philip’s personal life and his prospects). 

When they return from the ball, Margaret contrives to leave Philip behind with Anna while she hustles Cecil out the door. The attraction between Anna and Philip is building up, and they soon establish that Anna likes a man with a drink in his hand, that Philip hates the Opera but loves ballet.

 
So Anna decides to invite him to front-row seats at a ballet performance. Alas, there’s one inconvenient fact that Philip thinks she ought to know – he is married. Initially taken aback, Anna tries to smooth over the awkwardness by complimenting Philip on his honesty. He’s a rarity, she tells him. “Men usually don’t mention at all that they are married. Or if it’s something you know, then they tell you they are misunderstood or separated and can’t possibly get a divorce.” Therein lies the rub – Philip is separated from his wife and can’t get a divorce. He leaves. It’s the only honourable thing to do. But before he reaches the ground floor, Anna has changed her mind, rushing to call him on the building intercom, making a date for the morrow.  

The date – front seats to a ballet – is filled with barely contained tension – her apartment is filled with the hot flush of warm, yellow roses; they dine in the intimate confines of a private club; they make banal conversation and time flies; they are late to the ballet so they give their seats up to a young couple and return to the club, where leaving their coffees untouched, they walk out, strolling through the city followed by her fans who seek her autograph and her driver (at a respectable distance).

When Philip walks Anna up to her apartment, the elevator seems to be their private bubble – they scarcely notice the attendant, so engrossed are they in each other. Never has so much intimacy been displayed with so little physical touch. Soon, Philip and Anna are inseparable, and Philip even takes the NATO job in Paris so he can meet Anna over the weekends.

The long-distance relationship continues, much to Margaret’s disapproval. (She’s discovered he’s married.) She’s even more disapproving when she learns that Anna knows Philip is married.


But Anna has no time for such inconvenient truths – she’s well and truly in love with Philip by this time, and it appears that the feeling is mutual. Philip is forever giving her expensive gifts – from diamond bracelets to yachts – racking up huge phone bills and spending every minute that he can with her.

But Margaret is right – the whole relationship is going to fall down like a house of cards. For one, Philip is being sent to New York. Secondly, he has a secret. What will Anna do when she finds out?

 
Based on Norman Krasna’s play Kind Sir, this light, frothy romantic comedy united two of cinema’s greats. The road to this casting was rather circuitous – Krasna wanted Stanley Donen to direct; Donen said he would if Cary Grant played the lead; Grant agreed provided Ingrid Bergman was cast opposite him; Bergman, who was then shooting in Great Britain for The Inn of Sixth Happiness, agreed if they could shoot in London.

What is interesting is that Grant and Bergman are not only 12 years older (from their earlier outing) but look their age. (Grant was 54 and still as breathtakingly handsome as ever; Bergman was 43 and drop dead gorgeous.)

 

The attraction that simmers between them is that of two mature adults who know what’s at stake – and are indifferent to it. Grant played Philip as a bit of a cad – but one with ‘honour’, however misguided. His ruse about being a married man is so that he doesn’t have to commit to any woman – but he tells them beforehand so they can make an informed choice. When he’s finally brought face to face with the consequences of his deceit, his dismay is hilarious.

Well, that was a cheap and shoddy thing to do,” he exclaims. And then when Anna proposes that they go on as before, he is shocked, shocked! that she would ask such an improper thing of him. “Oh, I tell you, women are not the sensitive sex,” he grumbles. “That's one of the great delusions of literature. Men are the true romanticists. 

Philip is middle-aged, jaded, cynical about love. But in Grant’s portrayal, you also saw a charming man who believes that relationship ‘rules’ are weighted to the advantage of men and wants to even the score without being forced to marry someone he doesn’t want to marry. His deadly smile intact, charm on full blast, Grant’s Philip is not loath to show that he loves Anna. And for someone who's a dull financier, it's interesting to see Philip loosen up when he realises he really loves Anna and would like to marry her.

  

Ingrid Bergman was mostly seen in dramas before this, and this was a role where she could cut loose, showing that she was not behind in comedic chops. As the woman scorned (“How dare he make love to me and not be a married man!”) she was magnificent (even if the script descended into farce), but it is as the madly-in-love Anna who chooses love over propriety that she sparkles.

 
Indiscreet was an important film for Bergman. For one, it showed she could do comedy, and what's more, laugh at herself. With Casablanca, Gaslight, Spellbound and Notorious, Bergman was at the pinnacle of her professional and personal glory when she went to Italy in 1949 to act in Roberto Rossellini’s Stromboli.  When she fell in love with Rossellini and left her husband and daughter for him, it made her box-office poison in Hollywood. So to have her play a homewrecker in this film and have fun doing it added a soup├žon of mischief to the character. 
 
 
Her ‘comeback’, however, was actually Anastasia (1956) – her bravura performance was a slap in the face to her detractors and won her a second Oscar – accepted on her behalf by Grant. (Bergman was filming Tea and Sympathy in Paris and couldn’t attend.)

Grant and Bergman had become very close friends since Notorious. In fact, Grant was one of the few colleagues who defended her against the scandal and kept in touch with her during those eight years she was away. The long-lasting and deep real-life friendship between them is visible in their comfort on screen. They are clearly enjoying themselves.

Both Bergman and Grant play their parts with the skill of the veterans they are, and their ease and camaraderie lift the script even when it meanders towards the end. But with the supporting cast (Phyllis Calvert, Cecil Parker, David Kossoff, Meg Jenkins) keeping the ball rolling on the dry humour, and plenty of tongue-in-cheek pokes at the propriety police, the resulting confection is a light, airy romance. 

So, if you want to watch a pretty film with pretty people clad in pretty clothes (Cary Grant in tuxes and tails, Ingrid Bergman in Dior gowns) going to pretty places, do watch Indiscreet.

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