Ingrid Thursdays: Cactus Flower (1968)

The film: It can be argued that comedy is the most difficult genre because it must appeal to its contemporary audience, but also its comedy ought to have a timeless component to it. Often films cater to references that will make their content devoid of Cactus Flower Postersubstance within a handful of years, thus eliminating the comedy from the film. Therefore, having a timeless theme truly makes for comedies to stand the inevitable test of time. Yet when a comedy film is able to posses both components, like Cactus Flower does, the film can still manage hysterical laughing and be relevant forty-five years after it was first introduced to film audiences. For Cactus Flower, the film recycles a often-used theme of miscommunication that is synced with the theme of love, both being themes that are still used in comedy films today. However, there is one more component that truly distinguishes a comedy from being a failure to being a gem: The delivery of its actors. Without proper delivery, the quality of jokes are irrelevant, which is why the comedy genre is unlike any of the other film categories. While the script is usually the foundation of any other genre, within the comedy genre it is the actors that must sell the script to its audience. Therefore an actor, even if it were to be a truly talented one, takes a risk in their career when doing a comedy film. In the context of Ingrid Bergman and Cactus Flower, one would suspect whether she could be capable of doing comedy, but those who would doubt her will be pleasantly surprised by the caliber of laughs she provides for this film.

Cactus Flower stars Walter Matthau as Dr. Julian Winston, a dentist who has been posing as a married man to avoid commitment with his girlfriend, Toni (Goldie Hawn in her Oscar-winning performance). After her attempting suicide and Cactus Flower 01fearing he is about to lose her, Julian proposes marriage impulsively to Toni. When considering his proposal, she asks him how will his wife take the news and decides she wants to speak with her before they proceed with marriage. In an effort to salvage the lie he has long concocted with Toni, Julian seeks the help of his nurse and receptionist, Stephanie Dickinson (Ingrid Bergman) to pose as his wife. What ensues are moments of awkwardness and miscommunication that evoke a series of hilarious situations, while also revealing the innermost feelings of certain characters towards each others.

When this film first came out, the focus of attention went towards newcomer Goldie Hawn, who was only twenty-four at the time. Her character is integral to the film, to which her role is the more difficult performance by having to appear carefree, yet also convey elements of vulnerability and cautiousness. The Cactus Flower (1969)characters are reactionary to her performance, which is why critics and the subsequent award ceremonies placed more of a focus upon her. Yet the real delivery of comedy within this film comes from Walter Matthau and Ingrid Bergman who play off each other with Goldie Hawn’s character being the barrier between them. This provides for a fantastic back-and-forth of comedy wielding that is essential to the life of a comedy film. In many regards, a comedy film is always an ensemble piece, to which actors are allowed to stand out, but it is expected for each actor to contribute something to the overall comedy film. Each actor should be given the opportunity to shine, which is what Cactus Flower does perfectly. No one actor overshadows another, allowing for the three leads to stand solidly on their own without relying too heavily upon each other.

The Performance: The concept of the crusty self-repressed woman blossoming into a free-spirited individual, which is blatantly alluded to in the film with the cactus on Dickinson’s desk having a flower blossom off it, is not an original plot device. Ingrid 04However, while Ingrid Bergman’s role is a clichéd character-type within comedies, there was something endearing in her performance. In many regards, Bergman taking on the performance of Stephanie Dickinson, and the establishment of that character, parallels her own film career. The film repertoire Bergman had placed herself within made audiences understand her acting as controlled, precise and efficient. Yet Bergman disregards this perception of herself with how she portrays her character within Cactus Flower. Stephanie Dickinson is able to break out of her shell and be just as liberated and youthful as Goldie Hawn’s character because Ingrid Bergman, herself, was letting herself go with the making of his film.

The excellence of Ingrid Bergman’s performance doesn’t solely lie upon the parallel with her own career, but also how she allows for the character to be relatable with audiences. Her character never deviates from being realistic, and due to that, Bergman is able to craft tenderness and sympathy for the character. There is an undeniable bond between Bergman’s performance and the audience. She is able to do this by having her performance not Ingrid 03demand that audiences like her character. It is achieved by how she is able to identify her character with the era, more specifically with the Free Love movement that was dominant in the 1960s. In some regard, her framing her performance in such a way subtly appealed to the notion of breaking away from being part of an establishment, giving into love, and letting love conquer all. This theme extends beyond the 1960s and still has relevancy today with the encouragement of not holding oneself back and discovering one’s innermost talents, which makes Bergman’s performance still relatable in today’s contemporary society. The bond she established between the audience and her character is still unbroken after forty-five years.

When considering Ingrid Bergman’s career as a whole entity, it is understandable how a light comedy such as Cactus Flower would not be at Ingrid 05the top of most critics’ lists, yet the film shouldn’t be immediately dismissed. There is something remarkably special with Bergman’s performance by how she was able to convey to others that her acting could transcend genres and that she was capable of delivering comedy effectively. The argument can be made that her performance in Cactus Flower, while it may not be Bergman’s most complex performance, is still one of the best performances of her career.

Performance Rankings:
Autumn Sonata: 5/5
Gaslight: 5/5
Murder on the Orient Express: 5/5
Casablanca: 5/5
Anastasia: 5/5
Cactus Flower: 5/5
A Woman Called Golda: 4.5/5
Notorious: 4/5
Spellbound: 3.5/5
For Whom the Bell Tolls: 3.5/5
Joan of Arc: 3/5
The Bells of St. Mary’s: 3/5

Film Rankings:
Casablanca: 5/5
Autumn Sonata: 5/5
Murder on the Orient Express: 5/5
Gaslight: 5/5
Cactus Flower: 5/5
Notorious: 4/5
A Woman Called Golda: 4/5
Anastasia: 4/5
For Whom the Bell Tolls: 4/5
Spellbound: 3.5/5
The Bells of St. Mary’s: 2.5/5
Joan of Arc: 2/5

Links for other Ingrid Thursdays can be found here:
A Woman Called Golda
Autumn Sonata
Joan of Arc
Murder on the Orient Express
Cactus Flower
For Whom the Bell Tolls
The Bells of St. Mary’s


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