Controversy overshadowed the success of Indiscretion of an American Wife. Two versions of the film ended up being made, both of which can be viewed on this release. In its original, 89-minute incarnation, director Vittorio De Sica named the film Terminal Station. Here the station, itself, has far more significance than in the U.S. release, edited down to 64 minutes by producer David O. Selznick. The central premise is simple. Mary Ford (Jennifer Jones) has been spending a personal holiday with her sister who lives in Rome. At some point during her stay, she entered into an affair with Giovanni Doria (Montgomery Clift). The film picks up when she is to return to her husband and daughter and must end her relationship with Giovanni. She flees to the station, sends him a telegram, and boards a train. Before departing, however, she discovers he’s followed her to the station, and so she elects to take the next train and spend the evening with him.
De Sica’s version portrays the love affair between Mary and Giovanni, turbulent and passionate though it may be, as an infinitesimal blip in the bustling societal microcosm of a train station, the space through which human beings migrate and transition and the point where stories converge. By situating their romance within this hectic environment, De Sica prolongs their inevitable separation, repeatedly stopping and starting it and testing their impulsive and idealistic attachment through repeated distractions and interruptions. No moment better illustrates the damage sustained by such reluctance to let go than when, after finally being forced to leave Mary, Giovanni must jump from a moving train, practically face planting into the concrete platform as a result. In the end, their relationship doesn’t depict a tragic romance so much as it illustrates the trauma that arises from denying reality, from refusing to budge as the world moves past you.
Selznick had other plans for the film. Perhaps not attuned to De Sica’s preoccupation with the masses and their fruitless endeavors, or his tendency to let the lives of background characters temporarily invade the narrative, Selznick saw the first cut as unnecessarily long, not placing enough focus on the central “love story”. His edit removes a lot of footage without impacting the plot, but in neglecting these flights of fancy from Jones and Clift to various scenarios on the perimeter, Indiscretion of an American Wife places undue weight on Mary Ford’s infidelity. Rather than being a misguided attempt by two existentially tortured souls to sustain the unsustainable, Mary and Giovanni’s relationship gets reduced to “story of a housewife’s fling”. Selznick’s cut, obviously, has very few merits other than the technical. Sure, he tightens the pacing and cleans up some of the audio (De Sica’s cut makes some bizarre use of re-recorded dialogue), but he waters down the film’s message through the excision of that extra footage.
The release of both versions by Kino Lorber, however, is much welcomed. Watching them side by side proves to be a wonderful case study for the importance of pace, atmosphere, and context. In both versions the story is the same, but the effectiveness of the message differs greatly. | Nic Champion
This Blu-ray contains both versions of the film along with an eight-minute musical prologue starring Patti Page, Autumn in Rome.