Classic Woman-Centric Movie Review: “Indiscretion of an American Wife”

Happy Friday, Persephoneers! Last week I was a little under the weather, so there was no movie review, but this week I’m back, as bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as always. And I have a classic movie pick for you: Indiscretion of an American Wife, starring Jennifer Jones and Montgomery Clift. The film was made in 1954 and was directed by Vittorio de Sica with dialogue written by Truman Capote. The film originally was 89 minutes long, but David O. Selznick, who was married to Jones, edited the film down to 64 minutes.

black and white still from the film; Mary and Giovanni embrace and are about to kiss
Still from the film.

American woman Mary Forbes (Jones) has entered into an affair with a young Italian man, Giovanni Doria (Clift), whom she met while visiting family in Italy. She is supposed to leave from Italy’s Terminal Station on a train bound for Paris where she will rejoin her husband and family. Throughout the film, Mary is torn between her family and her own happiness, between what her heart wants her to do and what she knows in her head what she would be expected to do.

Black and white still from the movie; Mary rests her head on Giovanni's chest while looking sad
Still from film.

While the film was panned in the 1950s and was considered a financial disaster, it is worth a look. The film itself portrays what little recourse a woman in the 1950s would have to end her marriage, particularly when leaving her husband and family for her lover. Adultery carried more stigma for a woman than a man at this time. If a husband was adulterous, the wife could either stay in the marriage and look the other way or leave the marriage and come out of it looking all right as she could righteously be called a wronged woman. Mary, who has done what, perhaps, she has wanted in her life for the very first time, knows that she has somehow broken the strict societal boundaries housewives in the 1950s were expected to live within. The film touches on the age-old conflict between the wants and needs of the individual and the desire to fulfill the expectations society has for her.

Indiscretion of an American Wife poster
Poster from the film.

It also gives an interesting answer to the question of whether or not women were better off in the 1950s than they are now, as some politicians would like us to believe. To be honest, I think the movie gives a resounding answer of no to that question. Mary has fulfilled her own wants and needs during her time with Giovanni and perhaps has come to terms with herself as a sexual being, something that not all women came to terms with during that time. Mary knows she has to go back to her old life, and her soul is in crisis because of it. How awful is it to have been free for a little bit and then have to go back to the cage you had formerly lived in after having tasted that freedom? This is the question that this film poses, and it makes the viewer wonder whether the ideals of the time when it came to expectations of gender roles were right for everyone.

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