A Movie A Day: TERMINAL STATION (1954) Don’t forget. I’m an Italian, too. If you didn’t behave yourself… I’d beat you.
Published at: Sept. 22, 2008, 3:56 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
Montgomery Clift bridges us from yesterday’s RED RIVER to today’s slice of dark Italian romance TERMINAL STATION (aka Indiscretion of an American Wife) directed by famed Italian director Vittorio De Sica (THE BICYCLE THIEF).
Now it’s tough getting these done during a film festival where I’m seeing between 3 and 6 movies a day already and I have to admit I was dreading this one. I knew it’d be quality… it is a Criterion title afterall… but Italian black and white romance tale about an affair in Rome? I was worried that my lack of sleep would catch up with me and I’d have to struggle through it.
The good news came pretty quickly. There are two cuts on this release, De Sica’s original cut (under the TERMINAL STATION title) and one his producers took and released in America (INDISCRETION OF AN AMERICAN WIFE title) after massive re-edits.
The good news was both cuts were under an hour and a half long, with the IOAAW cut clocking in at only 72 minutes. I haven’t seen that one, though, going straight for De Sica’s cut, which with minimal research was recommended as the strongest of the two.
The other piece of good news was seeing Truman Capote’s name pop up in the credits. He’s credited as writing “Dialogue,” but not the script. I’m not exactly sure how that breaks down, but I was assured that the writing would be sharp, interesting.
And it was.
This is a dark little tale, inserting us at the tail end of a romance and not giving us any flashbacks or backstory. I really liked that, to be frank. We didn’t need to see how Montgomery Clift and Jennifer Jones met, we didn’t need to see the love story played through. That’s not the story. The story is Jones deciding to break her affair off and return home to the states to her husband and daughter before she falls so much in love with Clift that she can’t leave.
The majority of the film takes place within the walls of the train station, but the film opens with Jones walking up to Clift’s apartment and not being able to ring the buzzer. She goes to Terminal Station to take the first train out of Rome, trying to ultimately get to Paris where she can catch a flight back home.
She tries to send Giovanni (Clift) a telegram, but chickens out, not knowing how to end it. It’s just easier to walk away and that’s what she tries to do.
But Clift, of course, trails her and they have a very, very emotional talk about what’s in their respective futures. He begs her to stay, telling her of the life he wants for her, for them both. She’s tempted and he knows it, so he presses.
The acting from both Clift and Jones is top notch. Clift is like a wounded puppy. He’s hurt, but he sees hope, like a drowning man seeing a plank of wood floating toward him. Like any wounded animal, he snaps when pushed too far. In this case, he actually slaps Jones, which is what divides them for the third act and it’s what they have to overcome for the climax of the movie.
Jones has the most difficult role in the movie. She’s an adulteress that you have to not only sympathize with, but also have doubts about which route she should take. Her argument to Giovanni is that her leaving him to go back to her family would hurt him, yes, but not destroy him. However, if she left her daughter and husband, it would destroy them permanently and she can’t do that to them.
It’s a movie of complexities, but the simple setting and basic choice keeps it from becoming hard to swallow or sort out.
Vittorio De Sica’s direction is superb, as to be expected. My favorite thing about his film is how he populates the train station with interesting people. Some have a line or two, but most are featured extras. All of them are interesting faces or people doing interesting things. From a fat guy trying to squeeze down a populated train hallway uttering “Permesso” each time he has to squeeze by someone to a man on the platform more interested in counting the wad of money in his hand than waving goodbye to whoever the hell he just put on the train to a group of four priests traveling together always trying to figure out Italian currency… everybody’s doing something interesting in this movie.
I won’t spoil the end of the movie, but I will say that it’s a pretty gutting moment when the choice is made and I honestly didn’t know which way Jones was going to go, which is a testament to the writing and performances. It was certainly likely she was going to leave, I believed her when she said she’d destroy her family if she didn’t go back. It was just as likely that she’d stay, seeing a happiness with Giovanni that she wouldn’t have back home.
Final thoughts: The interesting faces and lack of standard A to B to C romantic movie formula really made this movie jump out to me. I was drawn into it beyond my wildest expectations and was able to watch it after little sleep and 3 days that have seen somewhere around 14 festival movies. Complex, dark, riveting. It’s not for everyone, but for serious cinephiles this will be a welcome discovery.