by Michelle Fryou
Imagine you're a casting director searching for an actress to play a spirited, illegitimate Creole, hell-bent on revenge. Somehow the name Ingrid Bergman just doesn't immediately come to mind. But what an inspired choice she turned out to be! Kudos to the casting director. Clearly relishing the opportunity to play a character so different from her usual good-girl roles, Ingrid gives a devilishly fun and animated performance.
While this genre-jumping movie is a bit long and does contain racially offensive stereotypes (Flora Robson is in blackface for heavens sake!), the chemistry between Ingrid and Gary Cooper more than compensates. Indeed, it's what makes this film so enjoyable. Their delightful bantering fairly crackles with innuendo. It's apparent they had a ball working together.
The story: Clio Dulaine (Ingrid), along with her faithful and unusual companions, arrives into the port of New Orleans in the middle of the night driven by a ravenous hunger for revenge, respectability, and all the rich food she can eat. Displaying a seemingly insatiable appetite, she consumes everything in sight, though in her defense I defy anyone to go to New Orleans and not turn into a gluttonous pig! Ah, but Clio's appetite isn't confined solely to food. After devouring numerous succulent delicacies, she sets her sight on cowpoke Clint Maroon (Cooper), and soon devours him as well. She positively leers at him as her eyes roam along his long, lanky frame, down from his boots to the top of his handsome head, shamelessly commenting, "You look so big!" The man doesn't stand a chance.
But even "Cleeeeeent" and his big Stetson aren't enough to give Clio her fill, and soon she sets her sights and ambitions on wealthier prey in Sarasota Springs. Watching her audaciously charm her way through the moneyed society of blue bloods and robber barrons is a lesson in the art of bluffing. Even when her bluff is called by one astute society matron, don't count Clio out. She isn't so easily intimidated or deterred.
Mrs. Bellop, the one who's wise to Clio, says of her at one point, "What a woman! It's sheer genious......if she can get away with it." She could just as easily have been speaking of Ingrid and her performance. Get away with it she does! She seems to be having such a good time playing such a spoiled and volatile woman, getting to tell lies and trade thinly-veiled insults. You can't help but find yourself being highly entertained. It's certainly one of her most lively and engaging performances. Ingrid herself said in her autobiography, "It was exactly what I wanted to do. I was a New Orleans bitch and that was completely new."
Now, granted, the film's weak ending is a bit hard to swallow and seems to fly in the face of everything that's happened, but this viewer has no doubt that Clio's new docile demeanor is only temporary. Aftrer all, it's her spitfire personality that attracted Clint to her in the first place. And whether he wants to admit it or not, she does indeed have him branded!
Originally published in Mary Hutching's The Ingrid Chronicles on Matt Cawley's The Complete Ingrid Bergman Page
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