Criterion Challenge #202
Terminal Station / Indiscretion of an American Wife
1953 // Italy, United States // Vittorio De Sica
Looking back to the productive and lustrous career of Vittorio De Sica, an Italian actor-turned-director, TERMINAL STATION was nothing but a mishap. A co-production between De Sica’s own company and Hollywood legendary tyrannous producer David O. Selznick, the United Status release was a butchered version with a 10-minute moody music video inserted at the beginning, and a renamed title called INDISCRETION OF AN AMERICAN WIFE. Selznick version is inevitably less artistic and more consumer-oriented, using solely the star power and the attractive title of a numbing love affair. It’s fruitless to judge right or wrong, as it was the Hollywood mind ticking. But upon watching TERMINAL STATION, David O. Selznick’s ideas did not come out from nowhere.
Honestly, I find TERMINAL STATION mediocre, a step-down from De Sica previous neo-realist masterpiece UMBERTO D. (1952). And most importantly, it was preceded by BRIEF ENCOUNTER (1945), the masterpiece of love affair by David Lean. Lean’s one moved in an elegant pace with a scent of romanticism. Its use of flashback was masterfully executed and memorable, whereas the characters’ longing for love was palpable and affectionate. All these are somehow lacking or diminished in TERMINAL STATION. It’s a similar “farewell of love affair” in a train station, but the train station in Rome is a lager-than-life landscape that, the secondary characters in the background are more intriguing, almost over-shadowing the go-or-not-go relationship between the main characters.
Mary Forbes (Jennifer Jones, who was the wife of David O. Selznick at the time of production) is an American housewife (just as the American title claimed) who happens to wear the clothes designed by Christian Dior (yes, the one and only one costume was designed by Dior, and he even got a nomination for Oscar! But I just can’t figure out why). She is involved in a short and electrifying adultery with a American-Italian man Giovanni Doria (Montgomery Clift) upon her trip to visit her sister and nephew Paul (Richard Beymer, most famous for his role in WEST SIDE STORY). Mary’s hesitating visit to Giovanni’s doorstep constituted the opening scenes, the scenes that are missing in the US version, it essentially reflects an inner struggle that is consistently realized throughout the night, from dusk till dawn, exactly the running time of the entire film.
Cesare Zavattini, De Sica’s frequent collaborator since THE CHILDREN ARE WATCHING US (1944) is credited for the story and the screenplay, along with Luigi Chiarini and Giorgio Prosperi. Truman Capote is also credited for “dialogue”. Nonetheless, the central love affair is over-stretched narratively and tedious in performance, albeit both Jennifer Jones and Montgomery Clift did their best from the material. As I stated previously, the train station becomes a more substantial character. It is the outset as well as the destination, a constant movement contrasted with the protagonists suspended love affair, entrapped within the confinement of the train station.
De Sica is no newbie for sentimentalism, however the whole set-up and the aftermath of the police arrest of the couple due to “talking in an empty train” just made my eyes rolled, especially the commissioner’s particular “action” in setting them free. Still, the humiliation and the social obligation against true love (is the love really true and real? Genuinely I can’t tell from this film) is front and foremost, one can hardly missed this conservative agenda. Photographed by Aldo Graziati in black-and-white at the location of the train station with a neo-realistic touch, the glamour of both American stars still shined through. Putting two outsiders into a culturally different environment while presenting a universal theme of degenerating love, reminded me of Roberto Rossellini’s work with Ingrid Bergman, like STROMBOLI (1950) and, in particular, JOURNEY TO ITALY (1954).
TERMINAL STATION is undoubtedly a lesser known work from De Sica, its production history is probably more entertaining than the film itself. I highly appreciate the effort from Criterion Collection in bringing the two version of the film together, along with an enlightening audio commentary by film scholar Leonard Leff. It’s a nice addition for comparing between the auteur artistic view and the studio consideration of public appeal. In the case of TERMINAL STATION, there is no winner or loser, just a film that is forgotten, almost.