Thursday, September 27, 2012

"Saratoga Trunk" from Warner Archives: what a railroad!


I’ve noticed that some classic films never seem to get to Netflix on DVD or Instant Play, and one of these films is the 1945 classic “Saratoga Trunk”. I discovered that the film is in the “Warner Archive” and that Amazon will print the DVD on demand for a normal price.  But right now some of these films you can’t rent cheaply from a subscription service.

Warner’s own site for the service is here

There is also a story about the service on “Switched”, here.

I tried the service from Amazon with the film. The DVD jacket had an odd warning that the DVD might not play in any machine that can record (including PC drives). I’ve never seen that. I put it in my Samsung BluRay player, and it cycled for a moment on “Play” before starting, and then it played fine, with 10-minute interval scene cuts.  The film is long, running 135 minutes.  In the restoration the black and white photography, especially in the indoor scenes, looked crisp.

The film is based on a novel by Edna Ferber, and was directed by Sam Wood.  The basic idea is that a headstrong woman and man come together (read “Scarlet and Rhett”) to gain revenge against those in the world who mistreated them.  As the film progressed, I wondered if the film was a partial inspiration for the ABC series “Revenge” (as well as a Dumas novel).

The Creole woman, Clio (Ingrid Bermgan) comes back to New Orleans from Paris to avenge the treatment of her mother by her father’s family, the Dulaines. Throughout the film she is accompanied by tag-team sidekicks: a Haitian servant Angelique (Flora Robson) and a dwarf servant Cupidon (Jerry Austin).  There is an interesting early scene in a restaurant (pre air-conditioning, as this takes place during the Reconstruction) where the family recognizes her.  How often does accidental recognition (or mistaken identity) occur in today’s bars? 

Clio meets Texas cattleman and gambler Clint (Gary Cooper).  She wants to marry big to prove she is “good enough” (the “Gone with the Wind” mentality).  Clint tells her about Saratoga Springs, NY, the racing center where all the shakers in the world come together.  In the meantime, a lawyer from the Dulaines wants to pay her off to go away and keep quiet (a most effective scene).

Eventually Clio finds herself torn between Clint and another businessman Bart (John Warburton) as Clint gets involved in a scheme to get back at railroad barons who cheated him.  The “Saratoga Trunk” refers to a short like from the Saratoga area to the Finger Lakes area (although the literal metaphor of a "Trunk" as an object is used -- and I've reviewed another horror film here called just that.) A wealthy woman (Ethel Griffes) tries to blackmail Clio (again) in a scene the tone of which is quite startling:  people like that woman exist in English literature (Thomas Hardy novels, for example).  The railroad business battles morph and culminate in a wild ride with Clint’s boys in which a train has a head-on collision with another train (15 minute before the end of the film) just after coming out of a tunnel.  (The railroad parallels I-88 from the Albany area to Binghamton, which I actually drove in early August).  The collision is quite destructive (the locomotives practically evaporate) and spectacular, and anticipates a similar scene in the 1997 film “The Peacemaker”  (Dreamworks, Mimi Leder, with George Clooney) in which one of the trains carries a nuclear payload.

The tunnel idea was interesting to me, because in my novel manuscript (“Angel’s Brothers”) I have a confrontation happen in a bicycle tunnel in Wisconsin, which is “attacked” while the riders are in it.  I wondered how the movie would work out if the head-on collision happened inside the tunnel.  Clint can tell that another train is coming from sensing the vibrations from the track while in the locomotive. 

The film has loads of juicy lines, as when Clio says, “I’m just a woman. I’m not allowed to think”.
If you want to see this film inexpensively, best bet is to wait for it to reappear on TCM.  It is long. 

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