The Ninotchka Hat Blog

Jennifer Jones as Dior-clad adulteress in “Indiscretion of an American Wife”
May 14, 2010, 4:23 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

The film is also known as “Terminal Station” in its expanded cut.

Jones is an elegantly attired, conservative housewife from Philadelphia in Rome to visit her sister. Monty Clift is Jones’ wounded, caustic but passionate lover, a half-Italian half-American university professor. The whole film takes place within the space of two hours. Each of the characters therefore only has one costume.

Few films have the protagonists wearing the same outfit for the entire duration of the film. Such films either throw characters into some sort of harrowing adventure or else take place over a short period of time. “Indiscretion” belongs to the latter. The use of a single costume means that character needs to inhabit it completely

Jennifer Jones wear a double breasted light coloured Dior suit, a pair of dark pumps, a fur tippet (probably mink), and a fur trimmed velvet skullcap done up with a turban-like swirl.

The hat itself is interesting. Montgomery Clift’s character, Giovanni, tells Jones’ character Mary: “Take off that hat. It’s a smug hat.” He then grabs it and takes it off himself. It is rather a smug hat. It’s small, silly, impractical, elegant and just a bit matronly. It’s not a young girl’s hat. Audrey Hepburn wouldn’t be wearing such a hat in the 50s. Hats have traditionally indicated more about the wearer’s class than any other garment. The hat, conservative and trimmed with mink, really places Mary as an upper-middle class housewife. The more bohemian Giovanni finds it repellant, because it represents Mary’s life back home, and her staid, but kindly husband. Gionvanni resents Mary for her bourgeois values. Costume is not only character but plot. Giovanni’s sensibilities seem to mesh more with those of De Sica, the director, a pre-eminent neo-realist whose essential sympathies lay with the common people, the sort of people Jones’ character unconsciously patronizes in this film.

Mary’s suit is also conservative. It’s not only double breasted but has an a-line skirt and even a tucker or blouse at the neckline. In films of this period, loose women almost always look straight-laced. Look at Farley Granger’s trampish wife in “Strangers on a Train”: Nothing is too tight, or too short, and there are no felshy bits popping out. Nowadays, trashy or scant clothing is a cinematic shorthand for “tramp”. In times past, there was the Production Code. There was no being inequivocably unvirtuous on screen.

Again, the outfit seems a bit matronly. Fitted double-breasted jackets tend to make women look more bosomy. Her hair is cropped short, as was the fashion at the time among “women” as opposed to “girls” who typically wore their hair longer. She’s wearing gloves. She looks demure but you certainly know there’s a wantonness there. Jennifer Jones was never relaxed on screen. There’s a nervous, edgy, fidgety quality about her that never allowed her to play truly confident or masterly women. Here her fidgeting is propelled by a deeply harboured sensuality with Monty Clift drawing those emotions out of her like some sort of sexual magnet — and she has no idea how to deal with it. Their chemistry is quite electric. The film itself suffers from an anemic script but I found Clift and Jones themselves worth the price of admission


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