Tag Archives: Ingrid Bergman

Intermezzo (1939)

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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Anastasia: 1956 and 1997

Anastasia(1956)MV5BMTYwNTA4NzY1N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwODE1NzM5._V1_SX214_AL_Even though it has been conclusively proved that the Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna, youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas of Russia, truly died with her family on July 17, 1918, the idea that Anastasia could have escaped has always fascinated people, even now. I was wondering about it recently, after watching for the first time 20th Century Fox’s animated Anastasia from 1997. What is the appeal of the story?

On the one hand, it has a haunting quality to it. Anastasia in film adaptations is a shadowing figure, dancing on the edge of history, only to fade out of it at the end to lead a normal life apart from the artificial constructs of history, tradition and ceremony. It’s a fairy tale; a princess, a young girl who, through no fault of her own, is caught up in the forces of history and thrown into the cold world where she has no identity, but acquires one, not so much through establishing that she is really Anastasia, but by finding love and acceptance.

There is also the appeal of a lost world (lost worlds, whether Atlantis, the British aristocracy featured in Downton Abbey, Conan Doyle’s The Lost World or, in this case, Imperial Russia, have an inherent appeal), combined with the fairy tale qualities of princesses, con artists, romances that never could have happened in Imperial Russia, political intrigue….it gives the story of Anastasia a unique quality all its own

Both films, the 1956 Anastasia and the animated musical Anastasia from 1997 tap into these things, though they both have a different intended audience and are from different eras. In both films, a con artist tries to pass a young woman off as Anastasia, in the hope of reaping a vast reward. In both cases, the key is to convince the Dowager Empress Marie Feodorovna that she is, in fact, her granddaughter. And in both cases, the young woman is struggling to find her identity, who she is, while the con artist discovers he has a heart.

Helen Hayes and Ingrid Bergman

Helen Hayes and Ingrid Bergman

Anastasia: 1956 – Directed by Anatole Litvak, Starring Ingrid Bergman, Yul Brynner, Helen Hayes, Akim Tamiroff, Martita Hunt

Anastasia was a film adaptation of a popular stage play and also signaled Ingrid Bergman’s return to Hollywood after some years spent in Europe after the scandal of her affair and marriage with director Roberto Rossellini. Apparently the scandal was entirely forgotten and she was welcomed with great enthusiasm, even winning an Oscar for her role in the film as a sort of welcome-home-we’re-sorry-you-were-gone gesture, though she is certainly very affecting and effective in the role.

This Anastasia is kind of a blend of Cinderella, Pygmalion and Russian History. There is lots of intriguing by various people, which makes sense since it is based on a play and there is a lot of talking. The music is composed by Alfred Newman and I find it haunting. It is romantic, but also signals the ruins of what once was, the revolution and how the exiled Russian aristocracy are now trying to relive their past lives through Anastasia in a kind of grotesque, theatrical facsimile of a dead reality.

Anastasia: 1997 – Directed by Don Bluth and Gary Goldman, Voices by Meg Ryan, John Cusack, Angela Lansbury, Kelsey Grammer, Christopher Lloyd

The 1997 Anastasia is an animated musical that is squarely in the realm, not only of a fairy tale, but also fantasy. It takes the original story told in 1956 and aims it towards a younger audience with less talking and more fantasy. Gone is the Pygmalion aspect of the story and added is a subplot involving Rasputin (Christopher Lloyd), who has a vendetta against the Romanov family and is apparently the cause of the Russian Revolution. But the film gets away with it because it never pretends to be anything other than pure fantasy. Now, there is magic at play.

But it’s still a Cinderalla story, with Anastasia now in search, not only of an identity, but more importantly for her, in search of her family. The musical score was composed and orchestrated by Alfred Newman’s son, David Newman (using themes from his father’s score), while the songs were written by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty. The songs “Journey Into the Past” and “Once Upon a December” were both nominated for Best Original Song.


downloadIn the 1997 film, there is no doubt in the audience’s mind that Anya is really Anastasia and it is more of a personal journey for her, to overcome obstacles (like Rasputin) to find her family. But she is essentially comfortable with who she is, a survivor who can take care of herself…very much a modern 1990’s woman.

Anna Koreff in the 1956 Anastasia, is much more fragile (portrayed beautifully by Ingrid Bergman). She’s suffered a lot, been in various mental hospitals and does not just suffer from amnesia like her animated counterpart, but is confused about her memories. What does she really remember? In this sense, she is not merely looking for family, but an identity, though she is a survivor in her own way. She finds herself when she adopts the identity of Anastasia, whether it’s true or not. “Real” identity doesn’t matter; it’s being loved. For the animated Anastasia, the identity isn’t as important. She has a family (identity); what she needs is to be reunited with them.

But in both films, she never does go to the ball (which would have introduced her to the world as the Anastasia). Neither does she marry a prince or get a crown. Instead, she makes her own life with the man of her choice. Both men are con artists who unexpectedly fall in love, though the animated con artist, Dimitri, used to be a kitchen boy working at the palace (making this a kind of reverse Cinderalla for him, since he gets to marry a princess), while General Bounine was part of the Imperial army. Andrea Lundgren has argued, however, that the ending of the ’56 film is slightly unsatisfactory, because we never actually see Anna and General Bounine (Yul Byrnner) leave together or hear them acknowledge their love. Instead, we hear they are gone and the film ends with The Dowager Empress (Helen Hayes). In the cartoon, we see them leave and she is not necessarily going to be separated forever from her grandmother (Angela Lansbury).

One thing that interested me is the criticism I have read of the films, arguing that they distort history and shamelessly exploit what is really a tragedy. I’ve already written about the first concern regarding distorting history, but the second one intrigued me. Is it exploitation? It seems a valid point. But if that is the case, then nearly every film or novel involving historical fiction, from the Titanic to WWII to a biopic of Billie Holiday, is essentially an exploitation. But people have always used historical figures and events to explore their own contemporary concerns, wishes, fears and dreams. To treat history as sacred, I fear, would be to confine it to dusty embalmment. But it is a reminder never to forget that history is full of real people who lived and died.

The score for the 1956 Anastasia by Alfred Newman (Wuthering HeightsThe Mark of Zorro, Airport, he wrote scores for over 200 movies) was nominated for an award for Original Music Score. Here is the main theme.

The singing voice of the 1997 animated Anastasia was provided by Liz Callaway.

“Once Upon a December” is essentially the theme of the movie. The melody is also heard in a music box given to Anastasia by her grandmother and is the means of reuniting them.

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Posted by on November 18, 2015 in Movies


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Revisiting Casablanca

casa7Yesterday, I had a small family party and we watched Casablanca, partially because my cousin had not seen it before and wanted to (he said he liked it). The last time I saw Casablanca was before I developed my slightly obsessive enthusiasm for classic movies, so I was hoping to be able to see a familiar classic with new eyes. I don’t know if I quite did, but here are the four things that I took away this time.

1) There’s a lot of music in Casablanca. All movies have music, but it’s particularly noticeable and pointed. Max Steiner (he wrote the score for Gone With the Wind and King Kong), weaves in “La Marseillaise” and “Die Wacht am Rhein” throughout the entire movie score. “La Marseillaise” is the French National anthem and stands in for freedom. “Die Wacht am Rhein” is used to represent the Nazis (it’s a song about the fatherland and fighting in the Rhineland – specifically against the French). They are a call to arms and a drawing of the battle lines.

Juxtaposed with this martial music are the romantic songs that Dooley Wilson sings, especially “As Time Goes By.” Since that is the song that we really remember from the movie, the underlying message is that love will last forever and transcends war and hatred and evil. This point is made more clear when we see repeated scenes of Rick (Humphrey Bogart) and Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) falling in love in Paris (to the music of “As Time Goes By”) interspersed with scenes of the Nazis invading France to martial anthems. Rick and Ilsa may not get to be together at the end of the film, but there will always be other people who will fall in love, especially when the war is over and tyranny is defeated. “The world will always welcome lovers, as time goes by.”

still-of-ingrid-bergman,-humphrey-bogart,-claude-rains-and-paul-henreid-in-casablanca-(1942)-large-picture2) I have a theory that it takes one to know one. Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains) may be a flagrantly, cheerfully corrupt official, but his clear understanding and sympathy with Rick makes me suspect that at heart, he is just as much a sentimentalist as Rick. I like to imagine that he had a romantic and quixotic past before he came to Casablanca. He’s just had more years to grow entrenched in his cynicism than Rick. At least, that’s my theory. Because at the end, he proves just as sentimental as Rick. For him to throw up everything and join the Free French is quite a step for a man who “blows with the wind.”

3) At the end of the movie, to convince Ilsa to get on the plane and leave with her husband, Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), Rick tells Ilsa that she must go because Victor needs her, that she is the only thing that keeps him going through all his trials, and that she would later regret having left him.

Captain Renault then comments that Rick was spinning  a fairy tale and that Ilsa knew that the things Rick said were not true (she probably wouldn’t regret staying with Rick and Laszlo is far too dedicated to his work to quit even if his wife did leave him). So why did she stay with her husband? Because Rick needed to fight and he couldn’t do that if they ran way together. Love must be sacrificed for duty, which both she and Rick recognized. It’s all a matter of timing, as Ilsa notes when they are in France, when she says they picked a terrible time to fall in love.

Annex - Bogart, Humphrey (Casablanca)_11In the original screenplay, Rick and Ilsa were going to leave together. However, when America entered the war, the studio realized that it would be impossibly irresponsible and selfish to have two people run away together as if there were not a cataclysmic war raging across the world. So the ending was changed.

4) Although Casablanca is not the movie that turned Humphrey Bogart into a leading man (High Sierra and The Maltese Falcon did that), it is the movie that cemented his reputation both as a star and as a romantic lead. And I think Casablanca summarizes his appeal as a romantic lead. He looks like a gangster, he talks like a gangster, but as Captain Renault perceptively notes in Casablanca, beneath the cynical shell there is a sentimental man. He may look like a tough guy and talk like one, but you can instinctively feel that inside he is an idealist who has been disappointed, but can’t quite shake the idealism. He has a sensitive soul and intelligent mind. It just took the studios a while to figure it out because he does not look like a conventional leading man.


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