Sam Wood’s 1946 film Saratoga Trunk, which is based on the novel of the same name by Edna Ferber, tells the story of Clio Dulaine (Ingrid Bergman), a beautiful, half-Creole woman whose return to 1875 New Orleans by way of Paris causes a tremendous stir. Born out of wedlock, Clio’s mother was a local New Orleans woman who became pregnant by a wealthy, married landowner. Scandalized, his wife and her family set about humiliating Clio’s mother and even pay for Clio’s trip to Paris in order to erase any memories of the illicit affair. Now Clio returns to the French Quarter with a bi-racial maid, Angelique Buiton (Flora Robson) and a dwarf manservant, Cuipidon (Jerry Austin) in her entourage. While in New Orleans, Clio meets and falls for a brash Texas gambler named Colonel Clint Maroon (Gary Cooper). Soon after their initial encounter, Maroon begins to realize that Clio is nothing more than a desperate gold digger- she is bound and determined to marry a wealthy man in order to not end up like her mother. Maroon departs for Saratoga Springs, where he is working on a venture involving the railroads. At the same time, Clio sets her eyes on the railroad baron Bart Van Steed (John Warburton). The two male heroes come into conflict with one another and Clio must decide between love or money. The film is festooned in beautifully-opulent costumes, but there’e not much that lies under the surface. Bergman and Cooper, who were paired earlier as a couple in For Whom the Bell Tolls, can’t quite connect with any tangible, romantic zeal. The role of Maroon is all wrong for Cooper and while Bergman has the beauty for Clio, she can’t quite reach the hysterical heights of a character who’s reminiscent of a preening Scarlett O’Hara.
Saratoga Trunk scored one Academy Award nomination. The sole nominee from the film was Flora Robson, nominee, (143), for her role as Clio’s dour maid, Angelique Buiton. The uniquely-bone structured Robson is woefully underutilized as the hardened Angelique. Robson’s appearance and voice do most of the leg work. Her face is puzzingly smeared in overly-dark shoe polish. Her darkened face is paired with evil-looking eyes that are reduced to malevolent slits which are housed beneath two brambly, unkempt eyebrows. Robson, along with Jerry Austin (who plays the dwarf manservant) are a delicious, eccentric feast for the eyes for the first few minutes of the film. But soon one realizes that their talents are being put to little use and they are sadly relegated to mere physical oddities rather than deeply-defined characters. Flora Robson lost the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress to Anne Baxter in The Razor’s Edge.