Ingrid Bergman is Clio Dulaine, a feisty demimondaine prone to occasional bouts of hysteria. She sashays around the marketplace in Old New Orleans, her dwarf servant (Jerry Austin) and mulatto maid (Flora Robson) in tow, flirting with the laconic, mentally slow Texan gambler Clint Maroon (Gary Cooper). Bergman does more than give the role fire: she makes Clio sleazy, sexy, and dangerous. It’s one of Bergman’s most enjoyable performances; she was never before so outlandish. She’s like the girl in Gaslight (1944) a few years down the road.
|Southern flirt. Ingrid Bergman|
Saratoga Trunk is like a MAD magazine sendup of Edna Ferber (who wrote the novel and screenplay) or one of Georgette Heyer’s insipid romances. Everything comes vibrantly alive on the screen—the dialogue, the steamy moss-hung sets, the deserted gothic mansion haunted by ghosts real or imagined, the satiny cinematography, and the music (the main theme is just about Max Steiner’s best work). The movie pulsates as adult fun, as artifice. Up through the 1950s, Hollywood melodramas were consistently Brechtian. Saratoga Trunk intentionally quashes any semblance of authenticity in narrative or emotional landscape, except in one scene: Clio sings a sexily moist song to Clint in Creole French, and for the first time you get the feeling that art is imitating life. It’s a put-on, but an earnest one.