Saturday, June 21, 2014

Two movies in one, and it's not an anthology

TCM is showing the odd movie Saratoga Trunk tomorrow morning at 8:15 AM. It's a movie with two distinct parts but the same actors playing the same characters, which really seem more like two completely different movies.

Ingrid Bergman is definitely the star of the first half of the movie, which is set in New Orleans. Bergman plays Clio Dulaine, a woman returning to New Orleans after an absence of some years together with her two servants Angelique (Flora Robson as a mulatto) and the midget Cupidon (Jerry Austin). From the way everybody around them reacts, it's clear that Clio has a past. That past involves her mother, who was definitely not from the upper crust of New Orleans society, getting knocked up by a man who was part of that high society, with Clio being the result. Apparently Mom eventually killed Dad in an accident, resulting in Mom going off to jail and Clio and company having to leave New Orleans. Now she's back to claim her rightful inheritance. One day when she's getting shunned by everybody in a polite Sunday brunch establishment, she meets Clint Maroon (Gary Cooper). He's a colonel from Texas who's been making his way by gambling, and seems to be one of the few people to show kindness to Clio, although she doesn't particularly want him since he doesn't have any money. One of the other reasons she's in New Orleans is that she's looking for a respectable husband -- and here respectable means wealthy -- to bring her up into polite society. Eventually, Clint leave New Orleans, and Clio is paid by Dad's lawyer to leave town too.

Cut to Saratoga Springs, NY. Nowadays, it's known for the horse races every summer where the wealthy equivalent of NASCAR fans meet. But back in the late 19th century, the place was better known for being a spa resort -- after all, what's the word "Springs" in the town name for? -- where the wealthy hypochondriacs would go to recover. Clio, with some of that money from Dad's lawyer in hand, has gone up to Saratoga in search of that wealthy husband, using that money to pass herself off as being of higher class than she actually is. She's got her eyes on young Bart Van Steel (John Warburton), the scion of a railway family. And this is where she's going to meet Clint again. By this time he's made his way up the ladder in the railroad business, and it's going to bring him into conflict with the Van Steels. There's also the possibility that Clint is going to spill the beans about Clio's real status. Apparently, some trunk line in to the southwest of Saratoga is being fought for, not only in the boardroom but literally, with railroad goons getting into fights, and the outcome of that fight will determine wither Clint or Van Steel ends up king of the railways. Or something like that; it's all rather muddled.

That's the problem with the entire movie, in fact. There's something really wrong with the script in that the movie is hard to follow. Clio's presence in New Orleans makes sense; Clint's is rather more difficult to grasp. The New Orleans scenes wrap up rather suddenly, with the action very suddenly switching to Ne wYork in a way that seems rushed and badly plotted. And the whole railroad stuff is a bit nebulous. All of the actors try their best and the acting really isn't bad, but they're let down by that script. It doesn't help, either, that the script runs too long. The movie would probably be better if it focused only on the Saratoga Springs part of the story, with the New Orleans part being a brief back story.

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