Indiscreet (1958)


Oldie rom-coms are the best. No, I don't mean watching Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin getting it on. I mean, old fashioned. My goodness me, they play fast and loose with pace, feature outrageously aspirational wardrobes and simply smoulder and ooze charisma from every movie minute. What's not to like: Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman. I mean. 

With a reputation for making easy breezy films, director Stanley Donen, has proven that 60 years on Indiscreet still appeals to an adult audience with a half a brain. Actually, you really do need a brain, as unlike modern rom-coms where Katherine Heigl sums up what's happening every five minutes, this movie allows you to piece together the plot holes like a puzzle. 

Talking of that plot, there's something Shakespearian about it. Really. It's just missing a twin to add to the screw ball comedy of it. So what gives? Famous theatre actress Anna Kalman (Ingrid Bergman) has resigned herself to her single life, believing that she has missed her chance at meeting a husband. Weary of socializing in Europe, she returns to her London flat, where her sister Margaret (Phyllis Calvert) and diplomat brother-in-law Alfred (Cecil Parker) invite her to a banquet. She declines until Alfred's banker friend, Philip Adams (Cary Grant), arrives and... surprise, surprise their romance begins, but, (here comes the jeopardy), he's already married! 

We learn quite quickly that the absurdly dashing, playboy politician, Phillip is a bit of a bastard. A bounder. A cad. A stereotype missing from modern cinema. He pretends he's bound in a loveless marriage of convenience, so to avoid women seeking a long term commitment from him. He's unapologetic. Normally, you'd dislike such a character, but his caprice is matched by Anna, a pampered, indulged starlet who takes what she wants. The in joke here is the institution of marriage, not either being duped by the other. 

There's lots of tounge in cheek comments lurking in this film, and Anna's brother in law, Alfred delivers the lions share. Blink and you'll miss it, for his performance is fabulously understated - "There is no sincerity like a woman telling a lie."

Anna is a character who cares not for convention and it's best summed up when she discovers the truth of Philips marital status "how dare he make love to me and not be a married man." She's a woman who enjoys her 'sparkle' of fame, money and men with no apology. A refreshingly liberal and un-achored woman for a 1950s audience. The irony here, is that Ingrid Bergman is kind of playing herself, having ostracised herself from Hollywood by having an affair with Italian director Roberto Rossellini. Sweet revenge to bite your thumb at the conservative values of the day by making them laugh at the idea of monogamy.


Of course, this subversive subtext is covered up slightly by the usual melodrama we'd expect. Anna, kneeling before Philip begging forgiveness at her suggestion they get married. Her mooching about the house, waiting for his call. She can't eat. She can't sleep. She can only swoon and mope... around her gorgeous penthouse apartment, drinking champagne as she pleases, socialising with who she wants to, dressing herself head to toe in designer garments. I rather feel, Ingrid with a nod and wink, was listening to Destiny's Child 'Independent Women' as she hams up the portrait of pining, love struck lady.

Equally mocking in tone is Phillip who bemoans Anna's indifference to his sappiness; "Oh, I tell you. Women are not the sensitive sex. That's one of the grand delusions of literature. Men are the true romanticists." This made me laugh as he's right, the great 'canon' of English Literature includes scant little from female poets and novelists. A fact that came out recently on Poetry Day on Radio 4. Featured on Woman's Hour was an audio treat delivered by Andrew Marr written by Shakespeare's contemporary Aemilia Lanyer. Never heard of her? Nope. Hardly anyone has. But check out these lines for some meter bashing, poetic awesomeness. 

Then let us have our liberty again
And challenge to yourselves no sovereignty
You came not into the world without our pain
Make that a bar against your cruelty
Your fault being great, why should you disdain?
Our being your equals, free from tyranny
If one weak woman, simply did offend
The sin of yours hath no excuse, nor no end.

I digress. Stick with me, it links back to the film. Lanyer in the 16th Century was ostensibly saying women are just as bad as men, and this is the joke in Indiscreet too. This is a wonderful, intelligent film, full of subtly brilliant one-liners. Bergman and Grant prove they can do drama (Notorious) as well as they can do comedy. Balancing a sharp and satirical script are moments of hilarious slapstick like Cary Grant dancing. Oh my. Wipe the tears. Just look at his face! Even he can't believe he's doing this.

Although this film wasn't as popular as his other successes, (Singin in the Rain, to name but one), it is still well crafted. Also, a film where the wardrobe department raided vintage Dior is a delight to watch!

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