Blog Directory CineVerse: A 1950s romcom far from Notorious

A 1950s romcom far from Notorious

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

As a fairly representational romcom from the 1950s, you can do a lot worse than Indiscreet, released in 1958 and brought to life by director Stanley Donen and screenwriter Norman Krasna, who adapted it from his own stage play titled Kind Sir and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay. The film stars the legendary Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman in the lead roles, accompanied by Cecil Parker and Phyllis Calvert. The picture tells the story of Anna Kalman (Bergman), an actress who finds herself entangled in a romantic affair with the charismatic diplomat Philip Adams (Grant). However, Anna soon discovers that Philip is married, leading to a series of humorous misunderstandings and complications.

Click here to listen to a recording of our CineVerse group discussion of Indiscreet, conducted last week.

Indiscreet thrives on star power. It reunited two iconic Hollywood actors, Grant and Bergman, in their second and final collaboration, after their first appearance together in Hitchcock’s Notorious. Both actors were renowned for their on-screen charm and charisma, and their chemistry in the film adds to its appeal.

Consider that the romantic comedy subgenre was immensely popular during the 1950s. Indiscreet combines elements of romance, humor, and wit, creating an entertaining and lighthearted experience for the audience. It also benefits from a sophisticated milieu, as the film is set and shot in London and features elegant and glamorous locations, adding to its appeal. The movie showcases stylish costumes, lavish interiors, and a sophisticated atmosphere, contributing to its overall charm. This work is also remembered for its urbane, clever, and witty dialogue, filled with banter and repartee between the characters, which adds depth and humor to the story.

Indiscreet’s original incarnation was a stage play, and the challenge here was to make this narrative more cinematic. While there are scenes that occur outside of Anna’s apartment, and the filmmakers try to liven things up with a memorable dance sequence featuring a spry-for-his-age Grant, the picture arguably suffers from feeling stagy and spatially constrained to one primary setting.

Notably, this marks one of the first uses of split screens for the era. This technique would inspire subsequent films like the Doris Day/Rock Hudson sex comedies.

The glamorous costumes, colorful art direction, posh surroundings, and classy cast do much of the heavy lifting. But for a plot that quickly turns on a comically-tinged twist, Indiscreet loses out on a golden opportunity to drive more laughter. Arguably, it’s simply not funny enough for the third act to pay off properly.

Underpinning the story thematically is the notion of selfish chivalry. Philip lies that he’s married but unable to get a divorce, which enables him to sustain a romantic relationship without the pressure of matrimony. He believes he’s doing the right thing, but Anna is rightfully resentful when his deception is uncovered.

The complex and ironic nature of relationships is another subtext explored. Interestingly, Anna doesn’t have a problem having an affair with a presumably married man, but she feels fleeced and disrespected when she learns the truth that he’s been single the entire time. Recall her famous line: How dare he make love to me and not be married! Likewise, Philip is content being the covert lover who quietly rents a suite in the same building as Anna so that he can conveniently slip in and out of her abode, a man perfectly happy to remain in unmarried status with Anna; but once he suspects her of getting attention from other men, he becomes jealous and wants to tie the knot. The movie explores the complexities of love and trust, highlighting the challenges and misunderstandings that can arise within romantic relationships.

Per the Ace Black Movie Blog: “Indiscreet does ask some interesting questions about what some women hope to gain from entering into a relationship with an ultimately unavailable man, and why some men avoid long-term commitments at all costs. Thanks to the central plot twist, the answers are abandoned in favor of a final act that veers towards broad comedy.”

Also at the heart of the matter is the delicate balance between independence and interdependence in relationships. The characters navigate their individual lives while grappling with the compromises and commitments inherent in forging a meaningful connection. Indiscreet asks thought-provoking questions about preserving one's personal identity while fostering a deep bond with another person.

A further message is the interplay between illusion and reality, challenging the notion that what initially appears perfect or ideal always holds true. The characters confront the disparities between their fantasies and the intricate realities of love, prompting them to reassess their expectations and perceptions. Indiscreet is a work about self-expression and self-discovery, as well. As the characters traverse their emotional landscapes, they embark on a journey of self-understanding. Through their romantic experiences, they gain insights into their own desires and feelings, ultimately finding the courage to authentically express themselves.

Similar works

  • Charade (1963): This movie also features Cary Grant in a romantic comedy-mystery directed by Stanley Donen. With its blend of suspense, romance, and clever banter, it captivates viewers in a stylish and captivating way.
  • Pillow Talk (1959): Directed by Michael Gordon, this romantic comedy showcases the charismatic pairing of Doris Day and Rock Hudson. It weaves a tale of mistaken identity, romance, and the complexities of relationships, highlighting the leads' playful chemistry in a witty and delightful manner.
  • The Philadelphia Story (1940): Directed by George Cukor, this timeless romantic comedy boasts a stellar cast including Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, and James Stewart. It delves into themes of love, class dynamics, and self-discovery, presenting sophisticated dialogue and memorable performances.
  • An Affair to Remember (1957): Directed by Leo McCarey, this romantic drama stars Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. The film follows two individuals who meet on a cruise and plan to reunite six months later. It explores themes of love, fate, and the challenges of maintaining a connection.
  • Sabrina (1954): Directed by Billy Wilder, this romantic comedy stars Audrey Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, and William Holden. It tells the story of a young woman's transformation as she falls in love with the affluent Larrabee brothers. Through its exploration of class, identity, and self-discovery, the film offers an engaging and enchanting narrative.

Other films by Stanley Donen

  • On the Town
  • Royal Wedding
  • Singin’ in the Rain (co-directed by Gene Kelly)
  • Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
  • The Pajama Game
  • Damn Yankees!
  • Charade

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