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Indiscreet (1958)

Cover of "Indiscreet"
With the repairing of Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman, the script for Indiscreet could coast on the presence of the two stars alone, and the sad fact is, it does.  Despite being directed by the legendary Stanley Donen, and being written by Norman Krasna, the movie feels like a cold, talky stageplay brought to the screen.  Grant and Bergman are as dazzling as you’d expect them to be, but it takes far too long to get going, and feels content to have the pretty actors sit in pretty rooms talking about a pretty romance they could be having.  The third act twist breathes a little life into it, but overall it’s a disappointing vehicle for such a powerhouse reteaming.

Anna Kalman (Bergman) is an actress unlucky in love.  When she meets Philip Adams (Grant), Anna believes she’s found Mr. Right; the only problem is he’s married.  That’s what Anna’s been told, at least, when in fact Philip is secretly single.

Being released in 1958, Indiscreet suffers from coming out at a bad time.  If it didn’t have the Production Code breathing down its neck, the bite of the sexual farce could have been sharper; you can see where the script has been neutered.  If it had been put out a few years later it could have been a funny sex comedy in the vein of what Doris Day and Rock Hudson would come to epitomize.  Yes, we do get a few fun moments where Grant and Bergman are in separate beds, separated by split screen, with their hands lightly touching the edge of their respective frames, but that’s as racy as it gets.  Instead of them actually engaging in an illicit affair, or at least what Anna believes is illicit, we get a lot of coy implied sex like lengthy phone calls.  Donen seems to be in love with mise en scène because the camera trickery starts to stand in for actual plot progression.  There’s several sequences that make Anna out to be a living painting, framed by the ornate fireplace while bright pops of color mix the new with the old.  The desire to make everything look beautiful makes the characters look marvelous.  Bergman has never looked lovelier, and I hate to say it, but she looks significantly younger than Grant.  She’s dressed to the nines, and it almost feels like you’re watching a fashion show with Bergman as the main model.  All of this set dressing and emphasis on beauty creates a film with a wildly inconsistent tone that takes a long time to move.

Indiscreet is held up by the actors who spend quite a bit of time having monologue length discussions and laying in bed.  Thankfully, they’re Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant so it’s not too terrible.  1946 was the year Bergman and Grant were paired opposite each other in Notorious, and twelve years later we get them as better, wiser versions of themselves.  The actors have to work hard to make the movie comedic, and they imbue every conversation they have with all the talent they possess. For two characters unlucky in love, you couldn’t have found actors more fitting; Grant was on his third marriage and Bergman was in the midst of her scandal/romance with director Roberto Rossellini.  I did enjoy the quasi-dig at Bergman (at least it felt like a dig) where the audience is told that Anna is a famous actress, and yet they “don’t know me.”  Anna’s audience loves her persona, whatever that is within the film, but they don’t get the loneliness she feels.  I have to wonder if this is a nod to Bergman’s fans turning on her when she fell in love with Rossellini.  I find that Bergman is the better actor of the two in this film, a far cry from when her and Grant were equals in talent in Notorious.  When Anna looks at Philip, you can see Bergman looking at Grant with all the love in her heart.  Her eyes swim with love, and it’s moments like this when I wish that Bergman and Grant eventually married.  The director and screenwriter obviously realize that these two can performance romance with ease, and for the most part they’re the only two characters within the entire movie.  They create an isolated world, where they’re at ease with each other.

The third act presents the twist that Philip has been lying about being married.  Bergman’s temper tantrums are hilarious and remind me of her out-of-character dancing in Cactus Flower.  The later films in Bergman’s career, where she didn’t have to be the fey ingenue, is where she did her best comedy.  The way she throws her hands up in the air and condemns Philip, “How dare he make love to me and not be a married man” is amazing.  With all the praise heaped on Bergman, it’s apparent that Grant is coasting on his reputation in this role.  Sure, Grant’s character plays on gender roles and establishes that, yes, even men get flighty when they fall in love, but that doesn’t require a man like Grant.  He’s held back, obviously put into a role that Rock Hudson would be more comfortable in.  He’s got good chemistry with Bergman; that, and the publicity from their reteam, is the reason he’s here when he really shouldn’t be.

I’ll recommend Indiscreet to those wanting to see these two acting legends together on-screen, but the movie takes far too long to develop and Donen falls in love with the presentation that he never checks on the ingredients (i.e. the script).

Ronnie Rating:


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1950s, Comedy, Romance

Kristen Lopez View All

A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.

7 thoughts on “Indiscreet (1958) Leave a comment

  1. Your write up came up on Google in my search for whether the sets in the movie were “real’ places, or built for the movie. I didn’t get that information from your piece on it, but I felt I just had to disagree with you evaluation of the movie: I really loved it!

    Perhaps the dry, slightly subtle, English sense of humor, and the whole movie’s tongue in cheek poke on propriety, with its heavy handed hints about sex, and it’s formal dialogue, rather photographs of flesh and over-acted emotional fireworks of too many other movies, is lost on you.

    The supporting cast was wonderful too: it made a typical Disney script’s heavy-handed humorous secondary players seem heavy and ham-fisted.

    The whole thing is a marvelous light-hearted fantasy, very carefully and cleverly done – and your review seems to want to turn what is a wonderful light and sweet pastry into a three-course meal, apparently.

    • This is one of those films I really should rewatch after seeing the actors in so many other films. I know that Donen as a director has never gripped me, but I’m willing to give this a second look. Thanks for reading, and happy holidays!

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