Ingrid Bergman as the ‘uptight outta sight’ Miss Dickinson…
in Cactus Flower…
Why do I love this film? Well, there are so many reasons… the spiraling-out-of-control plot, the witty dialog, the exquisitely funny (yet very straight) performances, the marvelous character actors, and the featured cast — among them Walter Matthau, Goldie Hawn, and (drum roll please)… the incomparable Ingrid Bergman!
Okay, that said, I imagine everyone’s next question will be — why oh why — given all of Ms. Bergman’s magnificent performances and iconic roles — would you choose something as ‘silly’ as Cactus Flower for your Bergman Blogathon pick????? Well, that’s a really good question, and here’s my relatively simple answer: because the stunningly beautiful Bergman (understatement) plays against type as an uptight spinster nurse — and I believe every minute of it! But that’s not all… What really makes me just LOVE Bergman in this role, is that she has quite the flare for comedy… she plays her part with such sincerity and straight-forward seriousness while delivering some incredibly funny lines with impeccable comic timing and nonchalance — and quite frankly, it’s a hoot to watch! And, if that’s not enough, it’s a treat to see her character evolve over time from a stoic lovelorn spinster to… well, shall we say a ‘Frankenstein’.
The Plot (for those of you who may not have seen this marvelous film yet):
Dentist Dr. Julian Winston (Walter Matthau) pretends to be married to avoid committing to girlfriend Toni Simmons (Goldie Hawn). After Toni tries to commit suicide, Julian realizes he’s been a heel (and that he does, in fact, love Toni) and proposes marriage to her. Since Julian is ‘already married,’ he recruits his loyal lovelorn nurse, Miss Stephanie Dickinson (Ingrid Bergman), to play the part of his wife to convince Toni that she’s okay with the divorce. Things get a little complicated though, when Toni takes a liking to Miss Dickinson and wants to ‘help’ her — and when Miss Dickinson transforms from a ‘good wife’ into a social butterfly with her share of beaus — including Toni’s cute, young next door neighbor Igor (Rick Lenz).
And now, the fun part for me… sharing some quotes from the film!
Mrs. Durant (Irene Hervey): Would you please tell the doctor I’m in a hurry. Charles is expecting me in a half an hour
Miss Dickinson: Charles?
Mrs. Durant: Mr. Charles, the hair dresser. Today He’s taking care of me personally. I can’t keep him waiting.
Miss Dickinson: Really, Mrs Durant. Your teeth are more important than your hair.
Mrs. Durant: You really believe that, don’t you… Sad.
With Walter Matthau (Dr. Winston) and Jack Weston (the doctor’s friend and patient, Harvey Greenfield)
Miss Dickinson: Mr. Greenfield, please don’t handle the instruments.
Harvey Greenfield (Jack Weston): Say, I was reading the other day, that there’s a dentist in New Jersey who has topless nurses.
Miss Dickinson: I didn’t know you were interested in reading.
Harvey Greenfield: She really turns me off. I thought all Swedish dames were sexy. I mean, I’ve seen some of those movies, but this one’s like an iceberg…
Dr. Winston (Walter Matthau): Harvey, what you don’t like about Miss Dickinson is exactly what I do like about her… She’s like a wife, good wife… devoted, competent. Takes care of everything for me… during the day… then at night she goes home to her home, and I with no problems and no cares, go to my girl. My life is arranged the way I like it.
Miss Dickinson: I’ve been meaning to speak to you about Mr. Greenfield’s bill.
Dr. Winston: Miss Dickinson, you know he’s an old friend of mine.
Miss Dickinson: Well I think he’s taking advantage of you.
Dr. Winston: Miss Dickinson, there are some things a man just can’t do. I won’t push Harvey Greenfield for money, I’ve know him too long. You do it.
Harvey Greenfield: Dr. Winston asked me to make an appointment for
a lady friend of mine.
Miss Dickinson: How about a week from Tuesday at 7AM?
Harvey Greenfield: You’re kidding? I’m asleep at 7AM.
Miss Dickinson: Oh, I thought the appointment was for a lady?
Harvey Greenfield: That’s right. We’re both asleep at 7AM. I’m sorry, I hope I haven’t shocked you?
Miss Dickinson: No, but it must be a terrible shock for her.
Señor Sánchez: There is something so provocative about a nurse in uniform. No frills. No adorments. Just the basic woman…
Miss Dickinson: Hold still, Señor Sánchez, or the basic woman is liable to x-ray your nose.
Miss Dickinson: What about next Friday at 5?
Señor Sánchez: Wonderful, where shall we meet.
Miss Dickinson: It’s for you and Dr. Winston.
Señor Sánchez: But I would like for us to have dinner one of these nights… candlelight, soft guitars…
Miss Dickinson: Will you bring your wife?
Señor Sánchez: My wife? You will not like her… nobody likes her… Let’s make it for next Friday, after my appointment.
Miss Dickinson: Senor Sanchez, I can’t, you’re a married man…
Señor Sánchez: This I cannot understand. If I am a married man, it is my problem. What has it got to do with you? I would not be prejudiced if you were married.
Dr. Winston: I thought maybe you’d like to come out and have a drink with me.
Miss Dickinson: Are you asking me to go out???
Miss Dickinson: I don’t understand…
Dr. Winston: It’s the most natural thing in the world for a doctor
to take his nurse out.
Miss Dickinson: Yes, but I’ve been working for you for almost ten years and this is the first time that you have ever invited me…
Dr. Winston: Well, better a little late than a little never.
Dr. Winston: And, I suddenly realized that I have no idea of what your life is like outside the office. Tell me about Stephanie Dickinson civilian…
Dr. Winston: What about your personal life? I mean, uh, uh…
Miss Dickinson: You mean men?
Dr. Winston: Yes.
Miss Dickinson: At the moment there are no men in my life
Dr. Winston: But there have been?
Miss Dickinson: Well doctor… I am no sex goddess, but I haven’t spent my life in a tree.
Dr. Winston: Miss Dickinson, I’m glad we had this little talk. You’re a very rare person… sensitive and generous…
Miss Dickinson: I guess I’m all right.
Dr. Winston: I have the feeling that if I found myself in trouble,
I could count on you for help.
Miss Dickinson: Well you know that’s true doctor.
Dr. Winston: But sometimes a problem comes up that’s so difficult…that, ur…
Miss Dickinson: Why don’t you try me?
Dr. Winston: Miss Dickinson. You could do me a great service. You see, I’m desperately in need of a wife…
Miss Dickinson: Oh doctor!
Dr. Winston: Oh please don’t misunderstand me.
Miss Dickinson: I never expected…
Dr. Winston: I need a wife… temporarily… 15 or 20 minutes…
Miss Dickinson: 15 or 20 mins…
Dr. Winston: I’m telling all this very badly…Miss Dickinson, I want someone to play the part of my wife…
Miss Dickinson: Someone like me.
Dr. Winston: If only you would… it wouldn’t involve any, uh, I mean…All you’d have to do is tell a certain person that you want a divorce. You see, I suddenly decided to get married. I guess I didn’t tell you…
Dr. Winston: She’s so young…and she’s had a lot of unfortunate experiences. I’m the first decent man she’s ever met… Toni is a wonderful girl. She won’t get married unless she meets my wife. She’s very straightforward. She doesn’t want to be a house breaker, I mean a house wrecker. Isn’t that sweet?
Miss Dickinson: Just darling.
Miss Dickinson: Doctor, I am sorry. I hate lies.
Dr. Winston: No more than I do Miss Dickinson. No more than I. But I don’t know how to get out of this one. My happiness lies in your two hands.
Miss Dickinson: For years these two hands have held nothing but your instruments and your appointment book. You’ve managed to handle your happiness without any help from me. And now you want to use me in this, in this, contemptible way. You just tricked me into talking about myself so that I… What you did wasn’t very nice,
doctor, not very nice at all!
Dr. Winston (to the waiter after Miss Dickinson leaves): Just can’t get decent help these days…
Always the efficient nurse, Miss Dickinson decides to pose as Mrs. Julian Winston and meet Toni (Goldie Hawn)
Mrs. Julian Winston (Ingrid Bergman): Oh the doctor and I are in complete agreement about the divorce.
Toni (Goldie Hawn): Oh I can’t tell you how good that makes me feel.
Mrs. Julian Winston: I really made your day.
Toni: Mrs. Winston, who’s going to tell the children?
Mrs. Julian Winston: The children?????
Toni: One night when he was working late, I suddenly got jealous of Miss Dickinson. When I told him about it, he just laughed and laughed.
Mrs. Julian Winston: Of course I don’t love him anymore, but you can’t leave a man after so many years without feeling a little pain.. a man with whom you have shared all normal everyday things… worrying about his barber, his taylor… making sandwiches for him… oh he’s crazy about chicken and egg salad sandwiches…. buying his shirts, his pajamas, his handkerchiefs… looking after him, planning for him… a man who’s all yours — at least almost all yours… oh, I don’t know what has come over me… I’m talking nonsense… it must be that music.
Toni: Mrs. Winston! What about your future? What’s going to become of you?
Mrs. Julian Winston: Oh I’ll just ride off into the sunset or something.
Toni: Well, it’s just that I want to be sure you’re all right.
Mrs. Julian Winston: I’ll write you every day.
Toni: Mrs. Winston! I want you to know I think you’re a very gracious, charming and very brave woman.
Miss Dickinson played her part so well that Toni feels guilty about breaking up the marriage. A frustrated Julian tells Toni that his wife really wants the divorce too — because she has a boyfriend… That said, Dr. Winston asks Miss Dickinson to play a ‘return engagement,’ this time with a boyfriend…
Miss Dickinson: You asked me to pose as your wife. It was preposterous but I did it, and I think I did it beautifully.
Dr. Winston: The trouble is you did it too beautifully. Toni thinks you’re still in love with me…
Dr. Winston: Now, all we have to do is to find someone to play the part of your boyfriend.
Miss Dickinson: I need a boyfriend, you find me one.
Dr. Winston: That’s not gonna be easy.
Miss Dickinson: Thanks.
Dr. Winston: I mean, we have to find someone I know I can trust.
Harvey Greenfield: You know you look different when you’re all dressed up. In the office you sort of look like a large bandaid.
Harvey Greenfield: Shall we dance?
Miss Dickinson: I’d rather walk on hot coals.
Harvey Greenfield: Drink up. It’ll make me look better to you.
Miss Dickinson: There isn’t that much wine in the world.
Harvey Greenfield: To our love affair. (clinking glasses)
Miss Dickinson: God forbid.
Miss Dickinson: Oh, there they are! Quick, act natural!
Harvey Greenfield: You want me to act natural and flirt with you at the same time???
Julian (Walter Matthau): Look at them!
Toni: They act very affectionate.
Julian: Yes they do. I thought she only played Monopoly.
Julian: She dances too.
Toni: Everything about your wife seems to surprise you.
Julian: Strange to see you in a night club. I didn’t realize you were such a swinger.
Mrs. Winston: Oh you never really knew me, my dear.
Toni: Mr. Greenfield, what kind of work do you do?
Harvey Greenfield: Oh I don’t work for a living honey. I’m an actor.
Toni: Well Julian… he’s a bum!
Toni: Did you get a load of that girl?…When she bent over, it looked like she had her knees up inside her dress.
Toni: We have got to save her (Mrs. Winston) from that man!
Julian: Miss Dickinson, you have this hang up about men that causes you to destroy any possible relationship. That’s really what caused you to hate Harvey.
Miss Dickinson: No-one needs a reason for hating Harvey
Julian: You completely de-feminize yourself. I’ve noticed it around the office and around me.
Julian: You’re afraid Miss Dickinson, afraid of emotion, afraid of intimacy, afraid to live…
Miss Dickinson: If you call that living, the way you carry on doctor, then you’re right…
Julian: I’m only telling you this for your own good.
Miss Dickinson: Funny, how whenever people hurt your feelings, they’re always doing it for your own good… turn right at the next corner…
Miss Dickinson: The ball was marvelous.
Señor Sánchez: Oh, no, no, no, you were marvelous! What shall we drink?
Miss Dickinson: Oh, let’s have some of that crazy Idaho champagne.
Toni and Julian just so happen to be at the club again, this time with Toni’s neighbor Igor (Rich Lenz)…
Toni: Well, it didn’t take her long to find somebody else.
Igor (Rick Lenz): Toni, would you let me in on this? Who is that woman?
Toni: Julian’s wife.
Igor: Not bad, Julian, a matter of fact she’s very attractive.
Julian: Miss Dickinson, I strongly disapprove of you making dates with patients!
Miss Dickinson: Really? Then how come you fixed me up with Harvey?
Mrs. Winston: You must feel as if you are dancing with your mother.
Igor: Quiet, I’m enjoying this.
Mrs. Winston: So am I.
Igor: Relax, Let’s not get neurotic about age. You’re a very sexy lady.
Mrs. Winston: An old sexy lady.
Igor: Good, let’s run away and live on your social security.
Julian: I must say that Igor of yours is a pretty vulgar dancer.
Toni : What do you mean, Igor? She’s the one that’s plastering herself against him. When I think of all I’ve done for her!
Julian: Hey, did you see that? He just kissed her on the neck!
Toni: Hmph! She sure likes a lot of action.
Julian: Yes, she does, doesn’t she!
Toni: Right now, she’s surrounded by her husband, her ex-boyfriend, her current boyfriend and maybe her future boyfriend.
Dr. Winston: That’s how you’re coming to work?!?!?
Miss Dickinson: Well, I didn’t have time to go home.
Dr. Winston: Where were you all night?
Miss Dickinson: It’s all a blur, a beautiful blurry blur…
Dr. Winston: You know what I’ve done. I’ve created a monster! That’s what.
Miss Dickinson: No, Dr. Frankenstein, this is no creation of yours! This is me. Me! Experiencing new things, things that I’ve never done before and having a hell of a good time.
Dr. Winston thinks Miss Dickinson spent the night with Senor Sanchez (which in his mind, is bad enough), but then finds out…
Dr. Winston: You mean you spent the night with that hippie?!?!?
Dr. Winston: I must say, it’s grotesque. A woman your age, throwing yourself at a kid like that!
Miss Dickinson: And what about that eh, father-daughter thing of yours, if you don’t think that’s ridiculous…
Dr. Winston: Well, it’s different with a man. When a man is with a younger woman it looks entirely appropriate, but when it’s the other way around, it’s disg…
Miss Dickinson: Well, you go to your church and I’ll go to mine.
Dr. Winston: I don’t mind saying I’m disappointed in you Miss Dickinson…very disappointed.
Miss Dickinson: Doctor, you were the one who said that I was discouraging men — stiffling my femininity — for the first time an attractive young man pays a little attention to me — you go to pieces! Well, if I didn’t know you so well, I’d almost swear you’re jealous.
Dr. Winston: Jealous? Of you? Come now, Miss Dickinson. It’s just that I think it’s in very bad taste when under my eyes, and the eyes of my fiancee, my wife puts on an indecent, immoral exhibition with someone young enough to be her son!
Miss Dickinson: I want a divorce!!! After all the years of misery that I’ve been through…
Dr. Winston: Years of misery!
Miss Dickinson: Yes. All those mornings when I came in and found hairpins on the couch, lipstick on mouthwash glasses…
Dr. Winston: You’ve been spying on me! All right, you wanna play rough! I’ll tell the whole world about your drunkenness, your wild parties, your orgies on the beach… You want a divorce! It’s I who wants a divorce!
Dr. Winston: Stephanie, if you walk out now, don’t bother to come back!
Miss Dickinson: Don’t worry Dr. Winston, you won’t see me again! And that goes for the children too!!!
I don’t want to spoil the ending for you, so I leave you here with the impending divorce… but suffice it to say, the Cactus Flower has bloomed and everyone lives happily ever after!
Now for a few fun facts:
- The original Broadway production of Cactus Flower opened at NYC’s Royale Theater on December 8, 1965 and ran through September 7, 1968, after which it moved to the Longacre Theater from September 9, 1968 through November 23, 1968. It ran for 1234 performances. It starred Lauren Bacall as Miss Dickinson, Barry Nelson as Julian Winston, Burt Brinckerhoff as Igor, and Brenda Vaccaro as Toni.
- The film was released on December 19, 1969 in the US.
- Here is a link to the original NY Times Film Review which ran on December 17, 1969. which calls the teaming of Matthau and Bergman “inspirational on somebody’s part” and says that Bergman “delightful as a (now) ‘Swedish iceberg’… who flowers radiantly while running interference for the boss’s romantic bumbling.
–Annmarie Gatti for Classic Movie Hub