Intermezzo (1939)

29 Aug

Intermezzo_Poster_-_ArgentinaAn intermezzo is “a short part of a musical work (such as an opera) that connects major sections of the work,” or more simply “a usually brief interlude or diversion” (these definitions come courtesy of the Meriam-Webster Dictionary). When pianists Thomas Stenborg (John Halliday) comes across his student, (Ingrid Bergman) playing an intermezzo with all the enthusiasm of “a climax,” he reminds her that she is giving the intermezzo of the piece too much importance. It’s a metaphor for her relationship with the married violinist Holger Brandt (Leslie Howard).

Intermezzo is an American remake of the 1936 Swedish film, which David O. Selznick liked so much that he bought the rights to the story…and coincidentally signed the leading lady of the film to a contract. And thus Ingrid Bergman came to American.

The plot is not really a plot, but more of a situation. Violinist Holger Brandt goes on long concert tours that keep him away from his family for months at a time and when he returns to his home in Sweden, his wife and his two children, he seems to be feeling a bit dissatisfied. He wants to run off with his wife and tour the world for a year.

But he soon meets his daughter’s piano teacher, Anita Hoffman (Ingrid Bergman), a student applying for a musical scholarship in Paris. She is young and has admired the great musician Holger for many years and before they know it, they fall in love. She feels a bit guilty, but Holger persuades her to go away with him and take that tour his wife would not take.

I have to admit that I like Leslie Howard much better in comedies or playing a character who is supposed to be a bit of a ham (like Professor Higgins in Pygmalion, or in The Scarlet Pimpernel or It’s Love I’m After). As Holger, he’s too mopey and indecisive. Characters are remarkably patient and forgiving considering his dithering and selfishness. What it seems to come down to is that he wants to feel young again, be free of responsibility. One can’t help but feel that he uses Anita because his wife wouldn’t take that year-long tour. Uses her to feel young again. Like he talked himself into feeling that he was deeply in love so he could justify his actions. If it’s true love, then he must be in the right…right? He’s a male Anna Karenina. Like Anna from the novel, he wins his point and goes off with the person he loves to Europe and travels and pretends to be sublimely happy and all the while is missing his family.

Intermezzo-2What holds the film together is Ingrid Bergman, who enters the film like a burst of warmth and sunshine that thaws out the film instantly. Last week I watched Notorious again and seeing Intermezzo not long after made for an interesting contrast. There are not many actresses who can convincingly portray innocence AND worldliness….not equally convincingly. Usually, one doesn’t quite buy one or the other. I think it’s the innocence that we believe least often.

I came across a quote recently by Lillian Gish in reference to her many roles with D.W. Griffith: “Virgins are the hardest roles to play, those dear little girls.To make them interesting takes great vitality.”

Lillian Gish possessed remarkable vitality. And although Ingrid Bergman is not quite as forceful as Gish, she too possessed the vitality necessary to play convincing and compelling innocent characters.

As Anita, she is warm, more girlish, innocent, without being naive or childish, and practically glows (the gorgeous cinematography was done by Gregg Toland). The plot never does much, but she graces it perfectly and she was the only character who commands sympathy and emotional investment.

She’s also the conscience of the film. Supposedly, Holger is suffering because of the deception of their affair, but he looks more annoyed at the inconvenience. It is Anita who is truly, deeply disturbed. And she’s fallen in love more deeply than Holger. However, one can’t help but be glad when she finally decides it is better to leave Holger and go on with her career. He’s not worth it and seems to be a rather needy person who would consume her life, though she does’t think of it in that way.

ingrid-intermezzo1939-1Intermezzo might best be called a romantic melodrama. The story never feels very urgent, it tends to drift along somewhat dreamlike, the dreamlike-quality perhaps owing to Gregg Toland. It really is a gorgeous film. Holger and Anita once tease about Anita being a phantom and in one scene Holger is looking up at Anita, who is standing at a second-story window and in the shadows she seems to be disappearing like a ghost. The use of shadows and light is breathtaking. As is Ingrid Bergman.

This post is part of The 2nd Wonderful Ingrid Bergman Blogathon, hosted by The Wonderful World of Cinema. Be sure to read all the other excellent posts about Ingrid Bergman, here!poster-3


Posted by on August 29, 2016 in Movies


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22 responses to “Intermezzo (1939)

  1. Virginie Pronovost

    August 29, 2016 at 11:28 am

    An amazingly interesting analysis of the movie and its characters! I must say, I only saw the Swedish version which is part of a little Ingrid Bergman in Sweden dvd set I own. But I must see this one of course as it was her first movie in Hollywood! Could be interesting to compare the two. 🙂
    Thanks for your contribution to the blogathon!

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      August 29, 2016 at 11:36 am

      Thanks! Did you enjoy the Swedish version? I’m really curious to compare them, too, and have ordered the Swedish version from the library. Can’t wait! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Virginie Pronovost

        August 29, 2016 at 12:55 pm

        Yes I liked it! 🙂 But my favourite Ingrid Bergman’s Swedish film still remains A Woman’s Face!

        Liked by 1 person

        • christinawehner

          August 29, 2016 at 4:59 pm

          I remember really enjoying A Woman’s Face, too! I think I need to watch that again…maybe after seeing her Swedish Intermezzo. Your blogathon is sending me on a serious Ingrid Bergman watching kick. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Silver Screenings

    August 29, 2016 at 12:01 pm

    I’ve been putting off seeing the American version because of Leslie Howard. I think he’s fabulous, but I do prefer him in comedies. Sometimes, in dramas, I just want to flick the back of his head and tell him to smarten up. (I’m looking at you, Ashley Wilkes.)

    Anyway, this is about Ingrid B. and I can tell, by your description, that she’s terrific in this film. I’ll have to put my flicking-back-of-head tendencies aside, and watch this soon! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      August 29, 2016 at 5:05 pm

      A good flick sounds like it might do him a world of good! Especially in Intermezzo, sadly enough. 🙂 Have you seen the Swedish version, then? I wonder how close the two are…if the character in the Swedish film prompts similar head-flicking impulses or if it’s just Leslie Howard.


  3. Erin

    August 29, 2016 at 5:35 pm

    I agree completely about Leslie Howard! When I first saw It’s Love I’m After, I was stunned by how funny he was; until then, I was used to seeing him as Ashley Wilkes or as Bette Davis’s long-suffering lover in Of Human Bondage. Your description of Ingrid Bergman and her range is excellent too. I saw this movie a few years ago, but I’ll have to catch it again sometime and keep your insights in mind.

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      August 29, 2016 at 9:49 pm

      Yes, I so know what you mean about seeing him in It’s Love I’m After! It’s too bad he didn’t do even more comedies. I haven’t seen Of Human Bondage yet, though I’ve always been curious because of Bette Davis.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Erin

        August 29, 2016 at 10:28 pm

        Of Human Bondage seems to be in the public domain, so there are quite a few copies on YouTube, though the quality may be lacking. It’s also on TCM on September 30th. Davis’s performance is certainly a memorable one, questionable accent and all.

        Liked by 1 person

        • christinawehner

          August 30, 2016 at 10:36 am

          I’ll have to watch this one soon, thanks! I’m very curious…and about the questionable accent. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  4. Simoa

    August 29, 2016 at 7:23 pm

    How right about Ingrid warming the film. She’s so luminous; and she really does glow in this film. That’s a really good point you’ve raised about how she was equally adept at portraying innocence and worldliness. That moment where she’s disappearing and Holger say, “You almost don’t look real in this light”, that’s always stuck with me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      August 29, 2016 at 9:56 pm

      It’s such a beautiful moment, isn’t it! I was really surprised at how beautiful the film was visually. I wasn’t entirely sure what I thought of it while I was watching it or how well I liked it, but curiously it stayed with me… with moments like the one you describe.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. August 30, 2016 at 7:32 am

    Great piece! I really must see this film, considering that I’ve seen so very little of Leslie Howard. Also, Ingrid is always fantastic, and I have no doubt I’ll enjoy it.
    Thanks for the kind comment!

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      August 30, 2016 at 10:48 am

      Thank you, Le! I hope you get a chance to see it soon. It has been really interesting to discover more of Leslie Howard’s films and see him as more than just Ashley Wilkes.


  6. In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood

    September 1, 2016 at 8:10 am

    Great article. I love this movie, and I really want to see the original of it so I can compare it. Sadly I haven’t really seen any of Ingrid’s Swedish films. Must change that.

    Don’t forget to check out my contribution to the blogathon. My post is rather outlandish, but a bit different.

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      September 1, 2016 at 12:19 pm

      Thanks so much! Yes, I;m really curious about the original, too.It’s not often that a actor gets the opportunity to play the same role in the same movie twice! I wonder which one she liked best or thought was best.

      Outlandish is exciting! Thanks! 🙂


  7. Eric Binford

    September 7, 2016 at 11:45 am

    Bergman is so beautiful that we tend to forget that she was a superb actor. Her technique is so … lucid? And unlike Sophia Loren or Liv Ullmann, she was great in any language — English, Swedish, Italian, etc. Anyhow, I’ve seen both versions and I think the remake is a tad better. I don’t know, the American version is glossier, but more heart-wrenching. I liked both movies, though.

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      September 9, 2016 at 12:05 pm

      That is quite an accomplishment for a remake to be as good or better! I’ve got the Swedish version sitting by my TV now, waiting to be watched.

      Lucid…that is a very intriguing word to use. I think I see what you mean. She seems to derive a lot of intensity out of that lucidity.

      I have not seen any of her Italian films, yet, though those too are sitting by the Swedish Intermezzo. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Eric Binford

        September 19, 2016 at 3:08 pm

        Stromboli is my favorite! Highly recommended! She also made a delightful French movie, Elena and her Men (she spoke French fluently). But, in my opinion, Autumn Sonata contains her best work ever!

        Liked by 1 person

        • christinawehner

          September 19, 2016 at 8:41 pm

          I just saw Stromboli last week and quite enjoyed it. The copy I had offered two versions, in English and in Italian. I wasn’t quite sure which was considered better, but ended up watching the Italian because the English language version was so obviously dubbed.

          I’m not familiar with Autumn Sonata – I’ll have to look for that one. Thanks!

          Liked by 1 person

          • Eric Binford

            September 19, 2016 at 9:26 pm

            I’m glad you liked Stromboli. Autumn Sonata was Bergman’s last theatrical movie and she went out with a bang!

            Liked by 1 person


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