Friday, 28 August 2015

The Wonderful Ingrid Bergman Blogathon: "Saratoga Trunk" (1945)

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Sam Wood, Saratoga Trunk (1945) begins as Clio Dulaine (Ingrid Bergman) returns from Paris to her crumbling ancestral home in New Orleans, accompanied by her faithful Haitian maid, Angelique (Flora Robson), and her dwarf manservant, Cupidon (Jerry Austin). The illegitimate daughter of an aristocratic New Orleans Creole man and a part-Creole woman who was his placée, Clio is determined to achieve wealth and respectability so that she can avenge her recently deceased mother's mistreatment at the hands of her father's family. Shortly after she arrives in New Orleans, Clio meets Clint Maroon (Gary Cooper), a handsome Texan gambler in a white hat with an agenda of his own, and a whirlwind courtship soon begins.

Although she is in love with Clint, Clio plans to marry a rich and powerful man to prove that she is as good as her father's family. As she continues to embarrass the Dulaines at every opportunity she gets, Clint grows tired of her unrelenting machinations and leaves for Saratoga to carry out his revenge on the railroaders who ruined his father back in Texas. After the Dulaines pay Clio $10,000 and finally agree to bury her mother in the family plot, she joins Clint in Saratoga, where she plans to marry Bartholomew Van Steed (John Warburton), the wealthy owner of the Saratoga Trunk railroad. Meanwhile, Raymond Soule (Louis Payne), the same man responsible for ruining Clint's father, is trying to steal Saratoga Trunk from Van Steed, so Clint offers to save it from Soule in exchange for shares in the railroad. When Clint is seriously wounded during a pitched battle with Soule's men, Clio finally realizes that she loves him too much to marry another man. Faking delusion while Clio is nursing him back to health, Clint confesses that, having saved the Saratoga Trunk from Soule, his railroad shares have made him "rich up to his neck" and says he regrets ever leaving his sweetheart in Texas. Crying, Clio begs, "Oh, don't punish me anymore. I'll cook for you, I'll scrub for you. I'll let you wear the pants," to what Clint happily replies, "Honey, that's all I wanted to know."

Clint Maroon: Where I come from, women are two kinds: they're good or they're bad. What kind of a woman are you?

Born in Michigan in 1885, Edna Ferber was one of America's most prominent historical novelists, known for her uniquely feminist and multiracial view of the national past which deliberately challenged "the traditional narratives of white masculine power." Her long and fruitful association with Hollywood began in 1918, when Metro Pictures, later Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, purchased the screen rights to Our Mrs. McChesney, a play she co-wrote with George V. Hobart in 1915, to adapt it into a comedy starring Ethel Barrymore. Two years later, Irving Thalberg, then working for Universal, acquired the rights to her 1917 semi-autobiographical novel, Fanny Herself, and she used the money to finance the writing of her first major historical novel, The Girls, published in 1920.

After the introduction of sound to motion pictures in 1927, Ferber's writings became more and more entwined with Hollywood's filmmaking, as the new medium "transformed and reenergized" historical dramas more than any other genre. With the tremendous success of Cimarron (1931), the Best Picture winner at the 4th Academy Awards, Ferber's reputation in Hollywood rapidly expanded and studios began paying large amounts of money to adapt her controversial best-sellers to the screen. Pictures like Show Boat (1936) and Come and Get It (1936) were marketed and reviewed as prestigious "Ferber films" and eventually helped define "the industry's attitude toward American history during the studio era." Despite Ferber's dislike of Hollywood's "ghostlike persona," no other American writer had such a sustained, successful relationship with the industry during the 20th century, with no fewer than 25 films being made from her work between 1918 and 1960.

Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman
In 1941, Ferber published Saratoga Trunk, a novel "devoured by readers and damned by critics for its saleabe, 'Hollywood' qualities." Described as "a lush period romance set in late nineteenth-century New Orleans and New York," the book was perfectly tailored to Hollywood's narrative demands and Warner Bros. purchased the rights to it as soon as they were available. This transaction established a precedent in the sale of literary properties to motion pictures, as it was the first time that such a deal called for all rights to the property to revert back to the author after a stated period of time.

Studio chief Jack Warner initially envisioned Saratoga Trunk as a vehicle for the sensational duo Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland, but scheduling conflicts with both actors caused them to turn down the project. Richard Travis was then tested for the role of Clint Maroon and many actresses were considered for the part of Clio Dulaine, including Bette Davis, Vivien Leigh, Ann Sheridan, Lena Horne and Hedy Lamarr, who actively campaigned for it. In the meantime, Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman were just finishing production on Sam Wood's For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943), based on Ernest Hemingway's novel of the same name. According to producer Hal B. Wallis, Bergman wanted "very badly" to play Ferber's latest heroine, while Cooper was desperately looking for a new project that would pair the two of them again so that he could continue his affair with her. To keep both actors happy, Warner Bros. cast Cooper and Bergman in Saratoga Trunk right after For Whom the Bell Tolls ended, keeping Wood on as the director.

Cooper and Bergman on the set
Saratoga Trunk was filmed between late February and late June 1943, with production concluding 42 days behind schedule due to many delays caused by the director and both stars. Firstly, there was Wood's "lack of planning and maddening indecision," which alarmed and infuriated unit manager Eric Stacey: "on many occasions he is very vague about how he's going to stage scenes, and after he has done a scene, goes home and sleeps on it, gets another idea and does it again the next morning." To make matters worse, Cooper came down with an eye infection that unabled him to do close-ups for several days, while Bergman missed a week of work because of illness.

According to most accounts, Cooper and Bergman did renew their affair while working on Saratoga Trunk. Wallis did not mind the illicit relationship, since he thought their off-screen romance would intensify their on-screen chemistry. They were "full of high spirits" and were often seen driving together down Sunset Boulevard when not needed on the set. He called her "Frenchie" and she called him "Texas," their pet names from the film. All of this fostered a considerable amount of gossip about their relationship, but no conjecture about a romance appeared in the columns and movie magazines of the time. Years later, however, Cooper would tell a reporter what he had never seen a woman so much in love with him as Bergman had been. On her part, Bergman had been starstruck with Cooper ever since meeting him on the set of For Whom the Bell Tolls and was amazed at how close his acting persona was to his real personality.

The personality of this man was so enormous, so over-powering — 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.
(Ingrid Bergman)

Magazine ad for Saratoga Trunk
Cooper was one of Hollywood's most versatile actors, so the studio had no problems marketing him as a 19th-century Texan adventurer. Publicizing the industry's newest "Norse goddess" as an exotic Creole belle, however, was far more difficult. To enhance Clio's mixed-race status, the studio used Bergman's black wig and the Scarlett O'Hara-esque attributes of her character as "novelty assets." As a result, posters, lobby cards and magazine adverts frequently showed Cooper in a white Stetson and white suit opposite a black-haired and black-gowned Bergman, which "foregrounded not only her exoticism, but also her 'color' in contrast to the pure white Cooper."

In spite of the Production Code's strict censorship of miscegenation and other forms of racial mixing, Bergman's role belongs to a suprisingly rich group of classic Hollywood films with mixed-race protagonists. Clio Dulaine's predecessors include such complex and unforgettable characters as Clara Bow's Nasa Springer in Call Her Savage (1932), Fredi Washington's Peola Johnson in Imitation of Life (1934), Bette Davis's Julie Marsden in Jezebel (1938) and Vivien Leigh's indomitable Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind (1939). Saratoga Trunk, however, was notable for being the first of several post-war pictures to feature a mixed-race heroine that was so often explored in the Southern period dramas of the 1930s. After Clio, there came, for instance, Jennifer Jones's Pearl Chavez in Duel in the Sun (1946) and Jeanne Crain's Pinky Johnson in Pinky (1949).

Although Saratoga Trunk was completed in 1943, its release was held back until November 1945 in deference to more timely war-themed and patriotic films. Like a number of other Warner Bros. productions made during World War II, such as Devotion (1946), My Reputation (1946) and The Two Mrs. Carrolls (1947), Saratoga Trunk was first shown to the American armed forces fighting overseas, before being released to the general public back home.

Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman
Critics were divided in their reactions to the film and Bergman's performance was especially controversial. While Jack Grant of The Hollywood Reporter commented that Bergman "is literally a sensation in projecting a fire never previously displayed, a vitality and vividness that meets and conquers each requirement of one of the most exacting roles ever filmed," Kate Cameron of The New York Daily News judged that "neither star nor director have been able to turn a Norse goddess into a lusty, fiery-tempered, shady Southern lady, in spite of a dusty wig." In addition, the acidic Bosley Crowther of The New York Times dismissed Saratoga Trunk as "gaudy junk," saying that "the Warners have taken the novel which Edna Ferber wrote a novel of high romantic polish and maddening emptiness underneath and have given it a visualization in the grand, flashy, empty Hollywood style." Flora Robson, on the other hand, was uniformly praised for her performance as the disapproving half-caste Angelique and even received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Despite generally poor reviews, Saratoga Trunk was among the top ten highest grossing pictures of the year, turning in an impressive $4,25 million at the box-office. 

Although I love both Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman and think they have great chemisty on the screen, I did not enjoy Saratoga Trunk as much as I thought I would, partly because I think Bergman was ill-suited to the role of Clio Dulaine. She screamed and shouted a lot and Cooper merely followed along. She dominated him a lot more than he dominated her, which is very unsual for a "he-man" like Gary Cooper. Furthermore, I think the plot was terribly confusing and somewhat empty. It looked as though two completely different films had been mashed together. When they moved to Saratoga in the second half of the picture, it seemed that they had completely forgotten about what happened before in New Orleans. However, the final scene between Cooper and Bergman is very funny and completely worthy of a screwball comedy of the 1930s. In conclusion, Saratoga Trunk is not a particularly good film, but it is still worth watching simply because of Cooper and Bergman's incredible sex appeal.


This is my contribution to The Wonderful Ingrid Bergman Blogathon hosted by The Wonderful World of Cinema. To view all entries, click HERE.



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SOURCES:
Edna Farber's Hollywood: American Fictions of Gender, Race and History by J. E. Smyth (2010) | Gary Cooper: American Hero by Jeffrey Meyers (2001) | Ingrid Bergman: The Life, Career and Public Image by David Smit (2012) | TCMDb (Articles) | TCMDb (Notes)

6 comments:

  1. Well written post! I always wonder how a film would have fared had the stars it was intended for been able to make it...

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  2. A great and very interesting article! And I yet have to see the film! Thanks for taking part of the blogathon :)

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  3. Of course I also invite you to read my article for the blogathon, a tribute to Ingrid Bergman in honour of her 100th :)
    https://thewonderfulworldofcinema.wordpress.com/2015/08/26/ingrid-bergman-a-fascinating-woman/

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  4. Btw, this has nothing to do with the post, but I love the design of your blog! Especially the banner with Jimmy and Ginger :)

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  5. If this film is half as engaging as your review, then I think I'll enjoy it. :)

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  6. Wow. Flora Robson received an Oscar nomination for acting in blackface. The whole thing might as well have been a minstrel show.


    Bergman's role belongs to a suprisingly rich group of classic Hollywood films with mixed-race protagonists. Clio Dulaine's predecessors include such complex and unforgettable characters as Clara Bow's Nasa Springer in Call Her Savage (1932), Fredi Washington's Peola Johnson in Imitation of Life (1934), Bette Davis's Julie Marsden in Jezebel (1938) and Vivien Leigh's indomitable Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind (1939).


    Scarlett O'Hara WAS NOT a mixed race protagonist. Her character's ancestry was French and Irish. However, you could have pointed out Yvonne DeCarlo in 1957's "Band of Angels".

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