Tuesday, September 05, 2006

(based on the novel by Edna Ferber)

In the early months of this year my family and I were living temporarily in a one room cabin. During this time, I read two books-one of which was the novel Saratoga Trunk by Edna Ferber. I had gone to the library in search of her book 'Giant' (one of my all time favorite movies) and since they didnt have it, I settled on this one since I really just wanted to get familiar with her work. Let me say first, it is a great book.

Saratoga Trunk tells the story of Clio Dulaine, a beautiful bold female on a mission to right her mother's (and her own) sullied name. The story finds this elegantly dressed woman on a boat for New Orleans accompanied by her ominous black maid and another servant named Cupide who is a dwarf. While seeking vengeance for her mother, Clio also intends to marry a rich man so that, unlike her mother, she will be respected. However, this last plan becomes a bit complicated when she falls for long tall Texas smart alleck, Clint Marroon-a man who makes his living playing cards and has little or no money to speak off. The love story follows the two protagonists from the deep mood of New Orleans to the lighthearted ammusement of the Saratoga racetrack as Clio seeks to find her wealthy husband in full view of the man she truly loves.

I was thrilled to see that there was a movie version of this story-especially when the leads were so aptly cast. It's a long-winded spectacle, clocking in at almost three hours. But the ride, while it lasts, is a joy to watch. Ingrid Bergman is absolutely the physical manifestation of Clio Dulaine. She has never been more beautiful than she is in this film-with all her glorious costumes only adding to her charm. Cooper's lazy eyes speak volumes and his lines are delivered with effortless skill. Their love scenes are tumultuous but also very tender and funny. The development of their relationship is a bit confusing and sometimes leaves the viewer puzzled, but I was still satisfied with the outcome.

Unlike many film adaptions (The Count of Monte Christo for instance), this one truly struggled to stay close to the book and succeeded for the most part. The time spent in New Orleans was obviously filmed on a stage and a tight budget so much of the city mood is lost. But as the story journies to Saratoga Springs, we feel an 'opening up' that is very refreshing. Little Jerry Austin, who plays Cupide, does a great job with his physical role and is memorable. However, I was very turned off by the casting of Flora Robson ( a white woman) as Angelique, the black maid. This glaring problem destroyed her scenes, which could have been great.

The direction, by Sam Wood, seems a little claustrophobic at times (which I put down more to money constraints than lack of skill) but still manages to keep the viewer interested. The story flows along fairly well with the help of the great dialogue that was effectively adapted from the novel. An example: Clio is about to leave for Saratoga having been offered 10,000 dollars in 'hush money' by the Dulaine family. The Dulaine's lawyer is enamoured with her and is genuinely concerned for her future. " This money will not last you long, Miss Clio. What will you do?' "Do?"says she,'Why, I'll marry rich of course." The lawyer looks down bashfully. " You are very beautiful ma'am" he says. "Yes," she candidly replies, "Isn't it lucky?". The smile on Bergman's beautiful face with these words is what makes this movie, despite its faults, a wonderful piece of work.



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