If the main criticism of Terminal Station can be summarized it would be: grand ambitions thwarted by a series of never-ending problems. Much like with the Archers and Gone to Earth, producer David O. Selznick continually fought at cross-purposes with his director on the film, and created an alternate, inferior cut under a new title (the groaner Indiscretion of an American Wife). Vittorio de Sica wanted to merge the stars Montgomery Clift and Jennifer Jones into the titular location, to blend them into a wider ensemble of characters, while Selznick wanted a flattering star vehicle for his prized starlet and wife.
In one form, Terminal Station is a noble failure, a film that provides Jones and Clift with complex characters engaging in a ruined affair and romance in its final fits. The other, Indiscretion, removes all of that complexity and presents a one-dimensional Jones, all of her fire and passion smothered and confined. If this isn’t symptomatic and symbolic of Selznick and Jones’ personal and creative relationships, then I don’t know what else could so easily define it.
The best thing about Terminal Station is the meeting of Jones and Clift, a pair of raven-haired actors with a profound vulnerability, visible neurosis, and emotional intensity matched only by their thick eyebrows and prominent cheekbones. They’re beautiful individually and together, and we believe that they would engage in a doomed love affair from the start. And it’s fascinating how they seem to be acting in two different films. We watch Jones perform in a traditional Hollywood sudsy romance, while Clift is clearly aiming for truth and realism in a more traditional de Sica film.
Terminal Station’s original concept was to surround these two with a series of vignettes that detailed how life moves on even if these two believe everything is ending. It does make it a bit hard to invest in these characters as we watch only the ending of their romance and nothing more, a concept that even de Sica admitted later was a potential mistake. There’s also the curious incident of the climax of the movie, something that proves unsatisfying.
Still, this is far better than the Selznick cut. Selznick removed as much of de Sica’s singular artistic quirks as possible. This resulted not only in thirty minutes of material getting cut, but the choice to include a prologue with Patti Page singing two songs in her New York apartment. Indiscretion of an American Wife is everything wrong with Selznick’s late period, and a microcosm of what went wrong with Jones’ film career. It’s a glaring example of what happens when the people involved in a production are working at opposite purposes.