“There is no sincerity like a woman telling a lie”
Stanley Donen’s Indiscreet (1958) not only reunited Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman after their work in Hitchcock’s Notorious (1946), but was also one of the first films to introduce the revolutionary split screen. Based on Norman Krasna’s 1954 play Kind Sir, this British romantic comedy presents a thrilling and revolutionary story – for its times.
Esteemed actress Anna Kalman (Ingrid Bergman) finds men rather dull – and their excuses for trying to start an affair with her beyond unimaginative. It’s not until she meets Philip Adams (Cary Grant), a diabolically handsome – and equally unavailable – gentleman that she feels inclined to overstep certain conventions and social norms in order to follow her heart. When her sister Margaret (Phyllis Calvert) and brother-in-law Alfred (Cecil Parker) discover the truth about Philip, the needless compromises she has had to make surface, leaving her to prove just how clever and vindictive a wounded woman can be.
It’s almost a miracle that the film came to be, seeing as Stanley Donen only agreed to direct it on the condition that Cary Grant would be in it. The latter conceded, but only if his co-star was Ingrid Bergman. The actress agreed, privded that the film could be shot in England, as she had a work commitment in Paris. Therefore, a few changes were made to the film, which differentiate it from the play it’s based on.
Ingrid Bergman commands attention, masterfully manipulating our emotional investment in Indiscreet. Her hope resembles the innocence of a child, and her sense of betrayal tears through the soft fabric of stability in her life. The only thing her character seeks is honesty, regardless of the rules she is asked to break. When this gets taken advantage of, we can’t help but match her indignation. Ingrid Bergman’s passionate portrayal of Anna may have something to do with the actress’ personal life. During the filming of Stromboli (1950), Bergman began a love affair with the Italian director Roberto Rossellini – while married to Aron Lindström. What ensued was a scandal of national proportions, with a US senator calling her “a horrible example of womanhood and a powerful influence for evil”. Consequently banned from Hollywood, it wasn’t until her role in Anastasia (1956) that she made a triumphant comeback.
Perhaps this experience fuelled her zeal for the role, which combined elements of not only mutiny against the rigid social construct of marriage, but also the treatment of a woman bold enough to push against the constricting walls of foreign expectations. In a way, the film is exceptionally feminist – fighting for the free will of both women and men. In a conversation with Alfred, Philip divulges his heart, presenting his equally logical and fervent reasoning for not wishing to marry. This offers an enlightening insight into the social conventions of the past. In the 1950s, women felt trmendous societal pressure to focus their aspirations on marriage. Men, too, were perceived as odd if they failed to find a woman to settle down with, as Cary Grant’s character avidly argues.
On the flip side, Indiscreet is brilliantly comedic. Cary Grant skipping around during the ball is possibly the most heartwarming scene in the film, presenting the jovial lighthertedness of a man in love. The screen bursts with crispy roses and sleek fabric, unveiling rich costume design by Christian Dior and Pierre Balmain. It adds to the film’s overall air of opulence, which stands at odds with the crawling emotional intelligence of its characters. However, instead of being infuriating, the story feeds off this juxtaposition, making the upper class as relatable as it is often pitiable. A delightful watch that might just make us believe in the fragility of love once again.