Sunday, June 11, 2017

Intermezzo: A Love Story (1939) [UR] ****

While I’ve always appreciated Casablanca (1942), I was not a huge fan of Ingrid Bergman until recently and, admittedly, did not fully appreciate her incredible talent. Then, after reading her autobiography, My Story, and watching a number of her films, I’ve begun to realize how amazing she was.

Intermezzo (1939) is the remake of her 1936 Swedish-language film by the same name. Produced by David O. Selznick (Gone with the Wind, 1939) this is Bergman’s English-speaking film debut and she's wonderful in it. Even at the age of 24, there's something about her that's mesmerizing. The fact that she manages to make this melodrama watchable is a tribute to her range and depth as an actress, and, honestly, she's the only reason to sit through this romantic drama. She's radiant, intelligent and funny, and she makes you believe that Leslie Howard (Gone with the Wind, 1939) is charismatic, sexy and interesting, something that’s not easily done. Yes, his character is a world-famous violinist, and she’s admired his talent from a distance, but still, the fact that a gorgeous young woman with her abilities would actually fall in love with someone like him is pretty hard to believe. That’s is not to say that Leslie Howard is unattractive or untalented; he's just lacks the sex appeal of a Humphrey Bogart, Gary Cooper, Cary Grant or Gregory Peck, all 1940s co-stars of Bergman.

There's not much to the story of Intermezzo. Leslie Howard plays Holger Brandt, a famous violinist with a wife Margit (Edna Best) and family who stay at home while he tours the world. Upon his most recent return, his 6-year-old daughter (Ann Marie, played by Ann Todd) introduces Holger to her piano teacher, Anita Hoffman, played by Bergman. He’s oblivious to her until she plays at his daughter's birthday party, and her talent and beauty take him by surprise. He falls for her completely after they accidently meet at a symphony concert.

After some champagne and a long walk, it's obvious there's more between them then mere friendship. They soon begin a secret love affair, and when Holger invites Anita to be his accompanist on his upcoming tour, Margit begins to suspect something. Anita doesn't want to give up her studies, but her heart won't allow her to say no. They try to keep their affair quiet, but when she resigns as Ann Marie’s piano teacher and attempts to leave town, Margit knows all too well why. Holger separates from Margit and the two leave on tour together, despite leaving the wreckage of his family behind. Their European tour is a great success, and after it ends in Switzerland, they remain there on holiday.

However, Holger is torn by his feelings for his wife and family, particularly his daughter, and by his passion for Anita. She is his mid-life crisis, and every man should be so lucky. Eventually, it’s apparent to both of them that their stolen love can't last forever. Their happiness cannot be built on the unhappiness of others, and Holger’s past and Anita’s future cannot be joined forever.

Intermezzo is not an Oscar-winning movie, but it's not terrible either. It's typical of the films of its day, and the thing that makes it watchable today is Bergman's performance; the film drags whenever she's not onscreen. Her character goes through the full range of romantic/dramatic emotions, and she’s perfect every time. No one does joyfully exuberant or tortured by guilt better than Ingrid Bergman.

The violin and piano music is something of a minor character in the film and gives it additional dimension and class. If you’re interested in romantic dramas from the Golden Age of Hollywood and you’d like to see the film that launched Ingrid Bergman’s film career, watch Intermezzo (1939).

Labels: drama, music, romance

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