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Indiscretion of an American Wife

Indiscretion of an American Wife(1954)


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Producer David O. Selznick was as avid a film buff as he was a filmmaker, and in the early 1950s he was enthralled by the work of the Italian neo-realist filmmakers, in particular Vittorio De Sica. Looking for a new direction after the critical failures of Duel in the Sun (1946) and The Paradine Case (1947), Selznick persuaded De Sica to make a film with him, starring Selznick's wife, Jennifer Jones. De Sica's idea was a panorama of life in Rome's new railroad station, with a variety of stories going on at once. The central story is the final parting of an adulterous couple, a married American woman, played by Jones, and her Italian lover. Montgomery Clift would play the Italian, and most of the other roles would be played by Italians. The film would be called Stazione Termini in Italian and Terminal Station in English.

Both Selznick and De Sica were used to being in complete control on their films, and both thought they could impose their will on the other. How wrong they both were would become clear as soon as the film went into production at the end of 1952. There were two teams of scriptwriters, one for the Italian version, led by De Sica's usual collaborator, Cesare Zavattini, and another for the English-language version. Selznick hired novelist Carson McCullers for the English version, but was unhappy with her work. Eventually, Italian novelist Alberto Moravia, Paul Gallico and Truman Capote all had a crack at the script, along with Selznick himself.

Clift arrived in Rome to find that De Sica, who spoke no English, had hired a stand-in for Clift. De Sica planned to give direction to the stand-in, and Clift was expected to imitate what the stand-in did. Clift, of course, refused. Shooting took place in the actual Stazione Termini in the evenings and ran late into the night. Tempers frayed, and the language barrier only made things worse. All night long, Selznick sat in the lounge of the station, rewriting scenes and composing 40-page memos on every aspect of the production, memos that he would expect De Sica to respond to the next day. Jennifer Jones, who was emotionally fragile anyway, became more and more distraught. While shooting an intimate love scene, she snapped and ran out of the station, barefoot and hysterical. Selznick followed, and she slapped him, breaking his glasses.

Clift, who had his own demons, was kind and gentle with Jones, and she became fond of him. Truman Capote claimed that Jones fell in love with Clift, not realizing he was a homosexual, and that when she found out about his sexual preference, she got extremely upset and stuffed a mink jacket into a toilet. Clift, however, told friends that Jones was "madly in love" with Selznick, that she still felt guilty about leaving her former husband Robert Walker, and that both she and Selznick were "in deep analysis." When the film was over, Jones gave Clift an expensive Gucci leather briefcase. The brass clasp kept unfastening, and Clift told friends, "it's beautiful, but it doesn't quite work -- how like Jennifer."

De Sica liked a realistic look to his films, and did not do many close-ups. Selznick, of course, wanted the full Hollywood glamour treatment, and complained constantly about the lack of close-ups of Jones. Finally, Selznick and De Sica compromised. De Sica would shoot the film in his customary manner, with his Italian cameraman. Selznick hired English cinematographer Oswald Morris to do close-ups with the full Hollywood glamour treatment.

The film was released in Europe at a length of nearly two hours. Selznick was not happy with De Sica's version, and took the film back to the U.S. to re-edit. He took out the subplots, focused on the love story, added close-ups and a theme song sung by Patti Page. He retitled it Indiscretion of an American Wife, and released it at 64 minutes. In the end, De Sica had his version, Selznick had his, and the result pleased neither the critics nor the public. Seen today, however, it is a fascinating failure, an interesting attempt to mix two distinct and incompatible styles, with intensely emotional, moving performances by Clift and Jones.

Producer: Vittorio De Sica, David O. Selznick (uncredited)
Director: Vittorio De Sica
Screenplay: Cesare Zavattini, Luigi Chiarini, Giorgio Prosperi, Truman Capote, based on a story by Zavattini
Editor: Eraldo Da Roma, Jean Barker
Cinematography: G.R. Aldo, Oswald Morris (uncredited)
Costume Design: Alessandro Antonelli, Christian Dior
Art Direction: Virgilio Marchi
Music: Alessandro Cicognini
Principal Cast: Jennifer Jones (Mary Forbes), Montgomery Clift (Giovanni Doria), Gino Cervi (Commissioner), Richard Beymer (Paul, Mary's nephew), Paolo Stoppa (Baggage Clerk).

By Margarita Landazuri

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