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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

SARATOGA TRUNK (1945)

Ingrid Bergman & Gary Cooper went directly from the stiff TechniColor prestige of Ernest Hemingway’s FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS/’43 to this decidedly odd, if playfully entertaining romantic adventure from Edna Ferber. Sam Wood megged both, though you’d never know it; editing rhythms come & go, huge frame-breaking close-ups startle, and all the characters flirt with neurasthenia. (There may have been post-production hanky-panky in the gap between filming & its post-war release.) With her two loyal servants (Jerry Austin’s remarkable little person and Flora Robson’s equally remarkable mulatto maid), Bergman sails to America hoping to avenge her late mother’s reputation and find a rich husband. She blackmails herself a cash stake in New Orleans, then goes North to Saratoga to find herself a railroad baron. But can she ignore that tall handsome Texan who’s been helping her along the way? He isn’t just bidin’ his time, you know. (In fact, the film is unusually frank about their co-habitation.) Bergman had famously cropped her hair into a sexy boyish bob for the Hemingway pic, so the Warners team felt free to make her up . . . as Hedy Lamarr! Not really a good look for her. Oh well, they tone it down in the second half. Watch for a great supporting turn from Florence Bates, the old bat. She plays a sort of proto-Elsa Maxwell character, that tubbly self-created society hostess whose decades-long influence over the super-rich was nothing more than an elaborate confidence trick. Naturally, she’s the nicest person in the whole show.

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