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In 1875 a woman with a checkered past returns from Paris to her familial home in New Orleans, accompanied by her unusual servants, a cranky mulatto maid Angelique Buiton (Flora Robson) and a dwarf manservant Cupidon (Jerry Austin).
Playing a half-Creole in dark hair and make-up, Ingrid Bergman stars as Clio Dulaine in Saratoga Trunk (1945). Her character is a woman made cruel by her vendetta against the 'pasty-faced aristocrats' who humiliated and scorned her mother into an early grave after she gave birth to her illegitimate daughter. Clio vows revenge on her dead father's family and vows to Angelique that she will marry a rich man to gain the respectability and status her mother never had.
Clio makes a splash in New Orleans, scandalizing the wealthy residents when she takes up with a Texas gambler, Colonel Clint Maroon (Gary Cooper), who is enthralled and mystified by the dark beauty. 'Where I come from women are two kinds. They're good or they're bad. What kind of a woman are you?' he asks Clio, though he has an answer to his question soon enough.
Determined to not repeat her mother's mistakes, Clio is encouraged by Maroon to travel to New York to meet and hopefully also marry the wealthy railroad scion of the Saratoga Trunk Line, Bartholomew Van Steed (John Warburton), though his own interest in Clio eventually intervenes.
Cooper and Bergman, directed by Sam Wood, proved such a successful team in For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943) that Warner Bros. attempted to repeat the Paramount formula and hopefully reap some of the rewards of a film that had garnered ten Oscar® nominations. Sam Wood and Cooper would go on to film Casanova Brown (1944) together following Saratoga Trunk, though this time without Bergman.
Jack Warner had purchased the rights to Edna Ferber's best-selling novel years earlier with plans to star Bette Davis and Errol Flynn in the lead roles. But it was Bergman and Cooper who Warner Bros. hoped would make the film a smash.
There were rumors that the couple had also enjoyed an off-screen romance during the making of For Whom the Bell Tolls, with Bergman later conceding 'Every woman who knew him fell in love with Gary.'
In her autobiography co-authored with Alan Burgess, Ingrid Bergman: My Story, Bergman recalled being amazed at how close Cooper's acting persona was to his real personality, though on-screen his true star potential was revealed. 'The personality of this man was so enormous, so overpowering-and that expression in his eyes and his face, it was so delicate and so underplayed. You didn't notice it until you saw it on the screen. I thought he was marvelous: the most underplaying and most natural actor I ever worked with.'
Both Bergman and Cooper were admired by friends and coworkers -- and perhaps by their audiences too -- for their down to earth lack of pretense, another feature that made their film pairings sparkle.
Ironically enough, Saratoga Trunk did little to increase Cooper's star value, though it was an enormous success for Bergman despite fears expressed by some that playing a woman as selfish and wanton as Clio would do damage to her image. Yet, unlike Gary Cooper, who tended to always play the same character, Bergman often resisted the desire of fans to see consistency in a performer. She played both good and bad women. The film was a modest commercial success though casting of Bergman as a partly black woman involved with a white man was rather scandalous subject matter for the time, at least for Joseph Breen, director of the Production Code Administration.
Though Saratoga Trunk was made in 1943, it was not released to the general public until 1945. Like a number of other productions caught up in the gears of the war -- Devotion (1946), My Reputation (1946), The Two Mrs. Carrolls (1947) -- the film was shown to members of the armed forces but was not released until much later.
The film was a disappointment in the awards category. Many saw the film's single Oscar® nomination - a Best Supporting Actress nod for Flora Robson - as a sympathy vote for her willingness to wear a thick shellac of brown make-up and absurdly heavy brows that gave her a permanently grumpy expression while playing the mulatto Angelique.
Saratoga Trunk was notable for featuring as its second-unit director a young Don Siegel who would go on to great success with Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) and Dirty Harry (1971); it showed his early genre tendencies by taking charge of all of the action scenes in the second Saratoga Springs segment of the film. Dorothy Dandridge's mother Ruby Dandridge also appears briefly in the film as a turbaned New Orleans vendor.
Director: Sam Wood
Producer: Hal B. Wallis
Screenplay: Casey Robinson based on the novel by Edna Ferber
Cinematography: Ernest Haller
Production Design: Carl Jules Weyl
Music: Max Steiner
Cast: Gary Cooper (Colonel Clint Maroon), Ingrid Bergman (Clio Dulaine), Flora Robson (Angelique Buiton), Jerry Austin (Cupidon), John Warburton (Bartholomew Van Steed), Florence Bates (Mrs. Coventry Bellop), Curt Bois (Augustin Haussy).
BW-135m. Closed captioning.
by Felicia Feaster