Third Ingrid Bergman Blogathon: Cactus Flower (1969)

In 1938, she was like no other actress in Hollywood.  She came to Hollywood already a film star in Sweden.  She made six Swedish films before David O. Selznick wanted to her to star in the remake of one those Swedish films, Intermezzo (1939). At first she refused because she did not like his terms. However, he changed the terms and offered again. With a better contract, she agreed to star in the American version that movie. However, Hollywood, being Hollywood, wanted to personally remake Bergman too. They immediately sent her instructions/demands. Again, she surprised them when she refused to have her teeth fixed, shave her eyebrows or change her German sounding name.

She was a healthy, natural beauty who preferred to not wear makeup except lightly, for work or special events. She was a professional when it came to work. She was never late or required special treatment while making her movies.  When she signed a contract, she never renegotiated for more money because the movie became more profitable than originally planned. For ten years, she was successful and well respected by her peers and the public.  She starred in such classics as Gaslight (1944); For Whom The Bells Toll (1943); The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945); Notorious (1946); Casablanca (1942); Spellbound (1945); Joan of Arc (1948) ….

Yet in 1950, she left Hollywood in the whirlwind of scandal.  She went from being one of the most respected actresses in Hollywood to the most despicable, at least in the eyes of public opinion. The “witch hunt” even went so far that a senator from Colorado claimed Ingrid Bergman as “a powerful influence for evil.”  Of course, she was Blacklisted and could not find work in Hollywood after that.

What did she do to deserve such a hateful public outcry?

She left her husband and daughter in the states, to go make a movie in Italy.  Roberto Rossellini was the director of her latest film, Stromboli (1950). Both, actress and director, were married to other people when they began their affair.  Then, she became pregnant; and, declared her love for Rossellini and refused to go back to her husband.  It didn’t matter to the public that they each had been separated from their spouses long before they met.

In 1956, she made her first comeback American movie, Anastasia.  Although this was an American film, it was made in England.  It was nearly 20 years later, before Bergman would walk on a sound stage in Hollywood California again. In 1969, the year of flower power, the sexual revolution, hippies, and Vietnam, Bergman came back to a different America and Hollywood. At age 54, she would star in her first comedy.  She is in full bloom in this 1969 romantic comedy: Cactus Flower. She was quoted as saying:

I always wanted to do comedies; but, nobody discovered this until my old age….they think all Swedes are like Greta Garbo.

IMG_0041

 

This movie’s premise uses the sexual revolution of the 60s as it’s backdrop for a comedy based on the complex relationships between the sexes. Comparing the strict sexual rules of the 50s to the slacked morales of the 60s and 70s is quite a jump in a cultural turn around. Much of this social change can be attributed to the FDA approving The Pill as a contraceptive in 1960.  For the first time in the history of women, we were given control of when, who, and where they wanted to have children. This equated to sexual freedom.

I had not seen this movie since 1969.  So, I rented it to refresh my memory. Surprisingly, enjoy the humor and one liner jokes.  The script is still witty and sharp. Also, the theme of the movie is still as relevant today as it was in 1969, since equality between the sexes continues to be debated today.

Some of The Other Actors

Walter Matthau is one of those actors with perfect comedic timing.  He has a dead pan delivery (like the straight man in a comedy act) that sounds authentic enough to make his one liners funny.  The amazing thing about this is he can be the finny straight man with any person in any scene. As I watched his hilarious performance in this movie, I realized how much I missed him in his other movies, especially the “grumpy old man” with Jack Lemmon.

Of course, it is a rare treat to see Bergman in a comedy. Who knew she could be so funny?  It is always wonderful to watch her in any movie at any age.  In this film, she plays a uptight, stern nurse in her 40s who is single; but, in love with her playboy boss.  Bergman always possesses that cinema magic with her on screen presence and stage performances. You literally cannot take your eyes off her.

Goldie Hawn was mostly known as Televison’s Rowen and Martin’s “it girl” who danced in her bikini with a ditzy blonde personal. It shocked many people at the time to learn that she shared the screen with the likes of Bergman. This is Goldie Hawn’s first feature in a big budget movie; and, she is so compelling as the booty call girlfriend she won an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress for her performance. Bergman was nominated for Best actress but lost to Maggie Smith in The Prime of Miss Jean Brody.

Rick Lenz is an actor that mostly disappeared after this movie.  Too bad because he holds his own pretty well as the potential love interest behind Julian.  The whole time I watched his likable performance, I kept thinking of a young Jimmy Stewart.

Summary of the movie: Cactus Flower

A single dentist (Walter Matthau) who has an much younger girlfriend (Goldie Hawn) feels pressured to marry her. He has just one problem. In order to avoid commitment and marriage, he lied and told her that he is already married. After seeing each other for over a year, this young, idealistic girlfriend realizes she cannot continue the relationship; unless, he agrees to tell his wife the truth; then, they can get divorced so she and he, the dentist, can marry.

Despite the fact that this is a comedy, it begins with a very depressing subject, suicide. After Julian Winton (Matthau) misses their one year anniversary dinner, Toni (Hawn) decides to write Julian a letter explaining why she would rather kill herself then to continue living with constant disappointment and loneliness.

We see Toni coming out of her Greenwich Village flat, in her fluffy pink slippers and overcoat, to put a letter into the mail box. Once back in her flat, she slowly puts out the candles on the table set for two. After she sadly looks over the clean plates and unopened bottle of wine.  She goes to the gas stove and turns on the gas. She then proceeds to lie on her bed with her arms crossed, awaiting death.

Luckily, a neighbor, Igor Sullivan (Rick Lenz) comes out of his apartment into the hall smelling gas.  He locates that the origin of the smell which is coming out of Toni”s apartment.  He bangs on her door and gets no answer.  He climbs out on the fire escape and breaks into her apartment through a window.  He turns off the gas and opens the windows and doors, fanning the gas with his arms.  Seeing Toni unconscious on her bed, he tries to wake her up; but, she doesn’t respond. He performs CPR on her. When she comes too, she thinks it is Julian trying to kiss he. She gives Igor a passionate kiss. They have a sweet conversation as to why she is dating a married man.  Ironically, Toni claims it is because Julian is honest. He told her right away that he was married.  According to Toni, she has been lied too all her life. Julian was the first descent man that she has ever met.

When Julian gets Toni’s letter, he runs out of the office scares to death that he would find her dead. Of course, she is not.  But, Toni insists he quit his wife and marry her. Julian is so relieved she is alive and shocked that she would attempt suicide over him, he promises to get a divorce right away. Then, Toni insists that she meet the wife as part of her conditions.  She wants the wife to know that they would be supportive of her too. Like I said, Toni is a very idealistic young lady.

Julian has a dilemma.  Where can he find a woman to pretend to be his wife? A wife that he has been married too for over ten years? He could of course tell Toni the truth and risk losing her forever. Then again, is her emotional well being strong enough to accept the truth without her trying to harm herself?

His dental assistant and office manager is Stephanie Dickinson (Ingrid Bergman). She is extremely professional, competent and loyal; and, she is secretly in love with Julian. You probably know of a few women who match this description from the work place.  Sometimes, they jokingly refer to themselves as the “Work wife” as opposed to “house wife.”

Julian explains to his moocher friend, Harvey Greenfield (Jack Weston), why he likes Nurse/Miss Dickinson:

She is like a wife. A good wife, devoted, competent, takes care of everything for me during the day. And at night, she goes home, to her home. And I go home with no problems or cares, to my girl. My life is arranged the way I like it.

The title Catcus Flower is symbolic of Nurse Dickinson.  On the outside, she is sharpe, prickly and surviving.  But, as the years go by, there is a beautiful flower inside that is ready to bloom. You can actually see this in two different photographic of her taking care if this office plant.

Of course, Julian is going to ask Miss Dickinson out for a drink; so, he can ask her to lie and pretend to be his wife.  After working for him for over ten years, he has never asked her out for anything after work.  It is a mad guess to figure out what must have been going on in her love sick mind when he actually suggests they have a few drinks.

There are many funny one liners in this movie, I could barely keep up. In other words, I laughed a lot and the movie didn’t get dragged down by over sentimentality like many Romantic comedies. This comedy is so good that Adam Sandler did a remake in 2011,  Just Go With It, with Jennifer Anniston playing Bergman’ s role.

To give you an idea of a Bergman one liner, when she comes into the patient’s room to double check dental instruments and secure the body cover up on patient, Harvey Greenfield, he says to her:

“Hey! I was reading the other day about a dentist in New Jersey who had topless nurses.”  As she adjusts his cover up, she says, ” I didn’t know you were interested in reading.”

You can image how these lies begin to unravel into bigger lies which makes this movie a great comedy. Because, Nurse Dickinson will attempt to help Julian secure Toni’s love. I hope if you haven’t seen this Bergman comedy, you don’t miss a chance to see it. I just like to add a comment about Goldie Hawn. She wrote her autobiography titled: A Lotus Grows in Mud. I just thought it was meaningful that she picked another flower that will only bloom once it has beaten the odds of the struggle and surviving. This certainly speaks volumes for anyone who has gone though horrendous life events and out stronger and better from it.  This quote from the book explains it succinctly:

The lotus is the most beautiful flower, whose petals open one by one. But it will only grow in the mud. In order to grow and gain wisdom, first you must have the mud — the obstacles of life and its suffering. … The mud speaks of the common ground that humans share, no matter what our stations in life. … Whether we have it all or we have nothing, we are all faced with the same obstacles: sadness, loss, illness, dying and death. If we are to strive as human beings to gain more wisdom, more kindness and more compassion, we must have the intention to grow as a lotus and open each petal one by one”.[1]

Ingrid Bergman’s last movie was made for television on the life of Israeli Prime Minister, Goldie Mier. Bergman died of breast cancer on her birthday, August 29th in 1982. She had just turned 67 years old. Without question, she left us far too soon. Thankfully, she also left us with over 50 films of her life work that will inspire actresses and women in general to be strong, work hard and to be true to themselves.

Ingrid Bergman, is honored in a Blogathon which is hosted by Virginie Pronvost of The Wonderful World of Cinema.  I would like to thank Virginie for the invitation to submit my post with various other excellent bloggers who are focused on a variety of Bergman’s movies. To read more posts about Bergman and her work, please use the link below.

https://thewonderfulworldofcinema.wordpress.com/2017/08/27/the-3rd-wonderful-ingrid-bergman-blogathon-is-here/

 

IMG_0039

 

Link References

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Lotus_Grows_in_the_Mud

http://www.alternet.org/story/153969/how_the_sexual_revolution_changed_america_forever

http://www.hrc.utexas.edu/multimedia/video/2008/wallace/allen_steve_t.html