Tag Archives: Travels Abroad

Two Men, Two Visions, Two Movies in One
by John Francis

1. Clift & Jones in IndiscretionThe 1954 film “Indiscretion of an American Wife” suffers from an identity crisis. It’s also a prime example, perhaps even a cautionary tale, of a powerful producer clashing with a world-renowned director and coming up with a product nobody is really happy with.

“Indiscretion” started life as “Stazione Termini,” directed by legendary Italian neorealist filmmaker Vittorio De Sica and featured Hollywood stars Jennifer Jones and Montgomery Clift, as a visiting American housewife and her Italian lover.

The film experienced problems from the get-go, from who was going to play the leads — Ingrid Bergman and Linda Darnell were considered for the housewife and Marlon Brando, Louis Jourdan, and Richard Burton, were considered for the Italian lover — to who would direct, produce and write the film.

Carson McCullers was originally set to write the screenplay, but she was fired by producer David O. Selznick (of “Gone With the Wind” fame) and a series of writers, including Paul Gallico, Alberto Moravia, Luigi Chiarini, Giorgio Prosperi, Cesare Zavattini, and, finally, Truman Capote, were brought on board.

Anytime there are five or more screenwriters listed, you’re going to have problems. And no doubt, the meddlesome Selznick and the creative De Sica more than likely had their share of input on the final script. And, although credited with co-writing the screenplay, Capote later said he only wrote two scenes for the film!

And that was before filming even started. Much of the conflict and confusion would come later, after De Sica’s 89-minute final product somehow morphed into Selznick’s Hollywood-ized 63-minute version titled “Indiscretion of an American Wife.” But more on that later.

2. Indiscretion Poster“Stazione Termini” was supposed to be a showcase for Selznick’s wife Jones, but why he would pair a glamorous Hollywood actress with a decidedly non-glamorous Italian director, whose neorealist films were filmed in a more natural and realistic manner, with little studio work and utilizing actual locations and often amateur or non-actors, is anybody’s guess.

Jones, in particular, seemed like a fish out of water. She was still dealing with the death of her dear husband Robert Walker in 1951, was having problems with her two-year marriage to Selznick and was missing her two children with Walker. Jones, who was said to require a lot of direction to give a consistent performance, didn’t speak Italian and De Sica, who favored a more naturalistic, improvisational style of acting, didn’t speak a word of English.

To complicate things even more, Jones developed an attraction to Clift, but then found out the actor preferred men to women, sending her into a rage. In “’The Films of Montgomery Clift” by Judith M. Kass, Jones “reportedly became so overwrought that she stuffed a mink jacket down the toilet of a portable dressing room.”

It didn’t help matters much that Selznick and De Sica clashed constantly over the direction and tone of the film, with Selznick sending De Sica 40- and 50-page letters discussing the film on a daily basis, even though De Sica could not read English. De Sica would agree with Selznick, then just do what he wanted to do.

3. Italian Poster for IndiscretionAfter De Sica delivered his 89-minute film “Stazione Termini,” Selznick took it and reduced it to 63 minutes and made it look like a slick Hollywood romance wherein Jones’ housewife was tempted by infidelity, but doesn’t succumb — all to preserve Jones’ pristine reputation.

Clift was particularly incensed by Selznick’s truncated version, whose title was changed to “Indiscretion of an American Wife,” calling it “a big fat failure.”

The edited film was so short of feature length that Selznick had to add a prologue featuring Patti Page, who was making her film debut, singing two songs, “Autumn in Rome” and “Indiscretion.”

The great New York Times critic Bosley Crowther capped his review of “Indiscretion” with: “The picture is prefaced, we should warn you, by what can only be termed a juke-box short.”

The reviews of “Indiscretion” were not exactly scathing, more like indifferent, although De Sica’s original version received more acclaim in later years. Both films were released together by film preservationists Criterion Collection on DVD, allowing film buffs to compare the two versions.

“This new film of Signor De Sica implies nothing but a personal mistake,” writes Crowther, reviewing “Indiscretion.” “The crisis may be no less painful for the individual involved, but for the ordinary person who sees it, it has small significance.”

And film fans hoping for a romantic vision of Rome with two attractive American leads frolicking in all the familiar Rome landmarks, would be severely disappointed. The film takes place almost entirely at Stazione Termini, the railroad station of the title. They’d be better off watching another 1953 film, “Roman Holiday,” the romantic comedy with Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn directed by William Wyler or even 1954’s lighthearted “Three Coins in the Fountain” with Clifton Webb, Dorothy McGuire and Jean Peters. Rome has been better presented in a number of films since then. Even De Sica’s own “Bicycle Thieves” (often mistranslated as “The Bicycle Thief”) gives a better accounting of Rome, albeit a depressed post-World War II city trying to regain its glory.

Watch “Indiscretion of an American Wife” on MovieZoot.com.

Fun With The “What-ifs”
by Chris Hoey

1. Casablanca ExpressWinston Churchill famously travelled during World War II in order to negotiate face to face with his allies and enemies. It’s a strategy that worked out well for the heroic Prime Minister. What if the Blitz had succeeded in bringing the UK to its knees? What if the United States hadn’t entered the war when it did? What if D-Day or Dunkirk had been utter failures, rather than the stories of perseverance and fortitude that we know today?

“Casablanca Express” explores the big “what if” of Churchill’s travels. The nightmare that must have kept the Prime Minister’s protectors awake at night is the stuff of this film. What if the charismatic leader had been intercepted by the Nazis during one of his longer journeys? How could he be recovered? Could a train heist for a valuable human be foiled even after the prize was captured? “Casablanca Express” answers these, and many other fun questions that are the kind of complete hypothetical situations that only security planners plan for.

2. Casablanca ExpressOf course, delving deeply into the unknown outcomes of the “what ifs” drives many films and epic stories that we love. One of the greatest film scenarios that leaves the audience with these types of questions in their minds, “Casablanca” poses the question almost directly. What if Ingrid Bergman’s “Ilsa” had not gotten on that plane? Would she regret it for the rest of her life? We trust Humphrey Bogart’s “Rick” to prophesy the future. Rick knows she will, but we wish they could be together.

The television series “The Man in the Castle” also poses one of the more popular “what ifs” in history: What if the Germans had won World War II? How would the United States be different today if the Statue of Liberty were used as an icon of fascism, instead of the beacon of freedom it is today?

3. Casablanca ExpressSome of our most revered films operate on the greatest versions of this question; and we love the story most when it involves World War II. What if the Ark of the Covenant was found and fell into the hands of the most evil regime in history? Would Indiana Jones be enough to wrestle the secret weapon from the hands of the sinister Nazis? Harrison Ford proved to render a perfectly believable hero to prevent this tragedy.

A second classic “what if” story is at work in “Casablanca Express.” What if this story takes place on a train? So many high stakes stories of murder and mayhem include trains, planes, cars, and even blimps. Of course, “Murder on the Orient Express” made housewife Agatha Christie a household name. Harrison Ford, again a hero in a “what if” story, portrays the President of the United States in “Air Force One.” Like “Casablanca Express,” the situation of a world leader who is captured by the enemy while in transit tickles our sense of big “what if” questions.

4. Casablanca ExpressStories and films of all types find fertile story-telling in exploiting the big “what ifs” of our times. Many of these involve important and beloved world leaders. Often these stories take place in times of great peril for great people along with the world’s people. One thing that is certain in the uncertain world of the “what ifs,” is the intrigue and excitement these stories bring.

Watch “Casablanca Express” on MovieZoot.com.

“Affair in Monte Carlo”:
Merle Oberon’s Powerful Film Contributions
by Sheri Warren Sankner

1. Affair in Monte CarloParis, Casablanca, London, Rome, and Monte Carlo have been the settings of some of the most classic, romantic films of the last century. Monte Carlo is the background for this week’s MovieZoot.com Watchlist film, “Affair in Monte Carlo” (1952). It is also known as “24 Hours of a Woman’s Life” starring Merle Oberon, Richard Todd, and Leo Penn.

2. Monte Carlo coastlineMonte Carlo, one of Europe’s leading tourist areas, lies on an escarpment at the base of the French Alps. It is home to the world-famous Place du Casino, the gambling Mecca, which has made Monte Carlo an international symbol of extravagance and wealth. It is also the location of the Hôtel de Paris, the Café de Paris, and the Salle Garnier, the theatre of the Opéra de Monte-Carlo.

Based on Stefan Zweig’s novella, “24 Hours of a Woman’s Life,” the film is the quintessential 50s love story with angst. The plot follows Monsieur Blanc, the middle-aged proprietor of an Antibes café, who is preparing for his wedding to Henriette. However, Henriette runs away with a young man she apparently only met the day before, leaving her betrothed heartbroken. In response to the sad event, Robert Sterling, a writer and one of the café patrons, tells the others in the café that he has seen the same thing happen before: someone falling in love with a complete stranger. As the story unfolds, he tells of hosting Linda, a beautiful, young widow whom he knew well, and three other guests aboard his yacht in Monte Carlo. After visiting the casino one night at his urging, she became irresistibly attracted to an unstable, compulsive gambler who became suicidal after losing all his money at the roulette table. He describes how they fell deeply in love, and how they then had to face difficult decisions about the future.

3. Merle Oberon photoOberon was born Estelle Merle O’Brien Thompson in Bombay (now Mumbai) to a 12-year-old mother (who was raised as her sister) on February 19, 1911. She was nicknamed “Queenie” in honor of Queen Mary, who had visited India in 1911 with King George V. For much of her lifetime, she hid the truth about her lineage, even claiming that she came from Tasmania, Australia, and that birth records had been destroyed in a fire. The fact is, Oberon was the first biracial actress.

4. As Anne BoleynDuring her 45-year career, which spanned from 1928 to 1973, Oberon starred in some 50 films. The Anglo-Indian actress began her long career in British films, but soon found an audience in Hollywood. Director Alexander Korda, whom she later married, cast her in the small but significant role of Anne Boleyn in “The Private Life of Henry VIII” (1933) opposite Charles Laughton. Following the film’s major success, many leading roles came her way, including Lady Blakeney in “The Scarlet Pimpernel” in 1934 with Leslie Howard, who became her lover.

Oberon soon traveled to the United States to make films for Samuel Goldwyn. She was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance as Kitty Vane in “The Dark Angel” in 1935. Her work in that film resulted in offers for more quality pictures, and she appeared in several well-received films, such as “These Three” (1936), “Over the Moon” (1939) and ”The Divorce of Lady X” (1938).

A serious car accident in 1937 caused facial injuries that could have ended her career, however, she recovered and remained active in film and television until 1973.

Oberon’s most memorable roles included Cathy Linton in the highly acclaimed 1939 film “Wuthering Heights” (playing opposite Laurence Olivier’s Heathcliff), George Sand in “A Song to Remember” in 1945 and the Empress Josephine in “Désirée” in 1954.

5. Merle OberonOberon became Lady Korda when her husband was knighted in 1942. After divorcing Korda in 1945, she married cinematographer Lucien Ballard, who devised a special camera light for her to eliminate her facial scars on film. The light became known as the “Obie.” She married two more times to Italian industrialist, Bruno Paglia, and Dutch actor Robert Wolders. She retired to Malibu, California, where she died at 68, following a stroke.

Oberon has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her many contributions to Motion Pictures.

Check out “Affair in Monte Carlo” now on MovieZoot.com for a taste of Oberon’s many talents.