Married financial analyst Philip Adams, who works for NATO, and stage actress Anna Kalman, who is single and still looking for Mr. Right, are having an affair in Anna’s London hotel suite. “I love hard currency,” Anna tells him, in an example of the double entendres she dispenses. Both are middle-aged, and Philip, fastidious and high-minded, covers up their illicit union for the sake of Anna’s reputation, hoodwinking hotel staff during the pair’s telephone conversations. All is going well until Anna discovers marriage-avoiding Philip’s dirty little secret: he also is single. Anna explodes to sister Margaret: “How dare him make love to me and not be married!” Anna plots revenge that goes awry.
Based on the play Kind Sir, which its author, Norman Krasna, has beautifully adapted, Indiscreet is a witty, sophisticated romantic comedy that intermittently explodes into hilarity while stealthily exploiting memories of star Ingrid Bergman’s past indiscretions. It also revives the onscreen romantic team of Bergman and Cary Grant from Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious (1946) a dozen years earlier. It is a charming adult entertainment, which is lent a stylishness and grace by director Stanley Donen in what is certainly his finest film. But, without doubt, it is too light and fragile to withstand the shadow of Notorious and the expectations that this Hitchcock romantic thriller effortlessly conjures. Add to that the fact that Bergman, although fine and very funny, is not the best possible Anna (Katharine Hepburn would have ripped into the part more deliciously) and a sense of disappointment creeps into the sometimes stuffy, stage-bound air. Stanley Kauffmann leveled the interesting insight that Bergman’s Anna seems more the movie star than a theater light, and the National Board of Review, in naming Bergman the year’s best actress for Inn of the Sixth Happiness, tellingly excluded her Indiscreet performance from the citation.
On the other hand, Cary Grant, Cecil Parker and Phyllis Calvert are all perfect as Philip and Anna’s brother-in-law and sister. Calvert indeed steals the show as supportive, protective Margaret, giving the performance of a lifetime under arduous circumstance: the death of her spouse during the shoot, which possibly explains why much of the actress’s audible contribution had to be looped in. That year, the National Board of Review accorded Robert Donat a special prize for his courageous farewell film appearance in Inn of the Sixth Happiness; the group should have set aside its Roman Catholic moralism, given the nontraditional slant of Indiscreet, and similarly honored Calvert. I am embarrassed to say I keep forgetting how good she was.
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