Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman star in this romantic drama about a Texas gambler and an illegitimate Creole daughter of an aristocratic New Orleans family who work together to seek justice from a society that has rejected them both. Based on the novel by Edna Ferber, the title refers to a short rail trunk line in upstate New York.
The first hour of the film is set in 1875 New Orleans. Bergman’s character, Clio Dulaine, has just arrived from Paris with her servants Angelique and Cupidon. A beautiful, smart and ambitious young woman, Clio’s plan is to seek revenge on the Dulaine family, who’d effectively run her out of town fifteen years earlier. Clio’s mother had had an affair with Nicholas Dulaine, and when he tried to end the affair, Clio’s mother attempted to kill herself, but Nicholas ended up being shot dead in the process of preventing it.
However, soon after arriving in New Orleans, Clio’s plans are altered when she meets and becomes infatuated with Gary Cooper’s character, the gambler Colonel Clint Maroon. While there’s a strong physical attraction between the two, Clio tells Clint of her plans to entrap a rich man into marrying her one day. Clint tells Clio that he is headed to Saratoga, New York for the spring horse racing and gambling, and suggests that she might well find a rich husband there. So, having accepted a sizable settlement from the Dulaine family to leave New Orleans and never return, Clio takes Angelique and Cupidon and heads for Saratoga.
Saratoga is home to several mineral baths or springs, as well as a short rail trunk line connecting to the main rail line between upstate New York coal mines and New York City. Thus, the trunk line is very valuable and is the focus of two railroad groups attempting to control it. So, while Clio attempts to manipulate the wealthy Bartholomew Van Steed into proposing marriage, Clint ingratiates himself with some railroad stockholders allied with Van Steed, and then provides the needed muscle to take on the other railroad group. A spectacular train crash precedes a rail-side brawl between the competing groups, in which Clint and Cupidon are injured. Naturally this brings out Clio’s nurturing side, and she rejects Van Steed in favor of Clint.
This film was the second pairing for Cooper and Bergman, following For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943), also directed by Sam Wood. Although not shot in wide-screen Technicolor (as was For Whom the Bell Tolls), I enjoyed this film far more. The dialogue and the unspoken chemistry between Cooper and Bergman is outstanding, and Bergman plays to perfection the part of a beautiful woman, highly skilled in the art of manipulating men. At 135 minutes, the film is long, and the two parts, New Orleans and Saratoga, do not blend well together. It’s been suggested that it would have worked better as two films or a mini-series, but if you love Cooper and Bergman together, the time will pass quickly. Actually filmed right after Casablanca (1942), Bergman was in her late twenties. She had fully developed as an actress, having been on stage and screen for nearly half her life, and she was at the height of her physical beauty and charisma. If you enjoyed Ingrid Bergman in Intermezzo (1939), Casablanca (1942), For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943), Gaslight (1944), Spellbound (1945) or Notorious (1946), you won’t want to miss Saratoga Trunk.
Labels: drama, history, romance, western