Sunday, June 11, 2017

Intermezzo (1936) [UR] ****

Ingrid Bergman is a genuine Hollywood icon, and one of the top-ranked actresses of all time, thanks to her starring roles in Casablanca (1942), For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943), Gaslight (1944), Spellbound (1945), Notorious (1946), Anastasia (1956) and Autumn Sonata (1978). However, not as much attention is paid to her pre-Hollywood career. Ingrid Bergman began her stage and screen career in Sweden, and Intermezzo is one of her most accomplished films from her home country. It gives many of us our first chance to see a screen legend developing her craft in the earliest stages of her career.

Though Bergman had already appeared in six features, including one uncredited role, one could argue that the 1936 version of Intermezzo was really what got her career started. Directed by Gustaf Molander, who co-wrote the screenplay with Gösta StevensIntermezzo was the movie that brought Bergman to the attention of famed Hollywood producer David O. Selznick (Gone with the Wind, 1939). Selznick brought her to Hollywood and cast her in the 1939 English-language remake of Intermezzo, with Gone with the Wind star Leslie Howard. Intermezzo became her breakout role.

In the movie, Bergman plays Anita Hoffman, a promising young pianist who ignores better advice and pairs up with concert violinist Holger Brandt (Gösta Ekman), joining the married man as both his musical accompanist and his lover. Brandt sacrifices his home life, leaving behind his wife and two children, to take Anita on a European tour with him; Anita also gives up the tutelage of Brandt's former partner (Hugo Björne). The two are relatively happy, but they practically live in exile, with Anita in a subordinate role as Brandt's accompanist, rather than blossoming into her own as an artist. When Anita is awarded the 1936 Jenny Lind scholarship to study piano in Paris, the two lovers must ask themselves what is really important: their love for each other, or their love of music. Brandt must also face what he's already left behind. As he puts it, they are stuck with the irony that his past and her future can never be joined together.

For a movie about two passionate artists locked in a scandalous affair, Intermezzo is relatively restrained. Though solidly written, it’s rather melodramatic, and drifts toward its foregone conclusion, communicating the sense that their fates are driving Anita and Holger. Thankfully, it's a film that is very well performed, especially by Bergman. While some critics have faulted Ekman for overacting his role, Bergman is absolutely radiant, elevating the quality and tone of the film whenever she is on screen. The two actors strike a fine balance, with Ekman's needy ego fitting in perfectly with Bergman's desire to please. The actress displays a sweet innocence at the start of the movie that is vastly different than some of her later, better-known roles. Intermezzo is also a pretty film to look at, with elaborate sets and a gorgeous wardrobe, presumably reflecting the style of 1930s Sweden.

If you watch the 1936 Intermezzo and then the 1939 version, you’ll appreciate that the screenplay for the later film was slightly rewritten to give Ingrid Bergman a larger role.

Labels: drama, music, romance

Bergman, who was born on August 29, 1915, was twenty-one when she filmed the Swedish-language Intermezzo, in 1936. Less than a year later, on July 10, 1937 she married her first husband, dentist Petter Lindstrom,  and two years later she filmed the English-language remake of Intermezzo in Hollywood.

Ingrid and Petter Lindstrom in June, 1937, just before their wedding. 

A series of screen-captures from Intermezzo (1936):

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