The Wonderful Ingrid Bergman Blogathon: INTERMEZZO; A LOVE STORY (1939)

This post is part of The Wonderful Ingrid Bergman Blogathon hosted by Virginie over at The Wonderful World of Cinema.  Be sure to check out the other entries here!

The following post will deal with the English version of INTERMEZZO.

Holger Brandt (Leslie Howard) is a famous violinist, renowned throughout the world for his concerts with his accompanist Thomas Stenborg (John Halliday).  At a recital in New York, Holger announces that Thomas is planning on retiring to teach music and that the two men will be returning home to Stockholm.  Having spent so many years abroad performing the men are happy to be finally reunited with their families.  Thomas is met at the station by his wife Greta (Enid Bennett), and Holger is met by his wife Margit (Edna Best) and his youngest daughter Ann Marie (Ann Todd).  Margit and Anne Marie are overjoyed to finally be reunited with Holger and he is delighted to see them too.  Once home Holger is also greeted by his son Eric (Douglas Scott) and is soon being regaled with tales of home life.  Ann Marie excitedly tells her father that she is learning piano from a young lady, one whom Margit tells him he will meet soon.  Holger is happy to be with his family but something has changed.  While he still loves Margit the long separation has taken its toll and the relationship has become more distant.  Family memories will have to wait until later as Ann Marie’s piano lesson is about to begin as her teacher, Anita Hoffman (Ingrid Bergman) has just arrived.  Holger and Anita exchange greetings and the lesson begins.

The next evening a small gathering is being held to celebrate the return of Thomas and Holger.  Ann Marie accompanies her father on the piano, much to the delight of everyone.  After her performance with her father, Ann Marie asks Anita to play for everyone.  Anita eventually agrees and gets up to play just as Holger comes over to congratulate his daughter.  He is eventually drawn to Anita’s playing and takes up his violin again.  As the two play Margit watches, concern in her eyes.  Holger asks Anita to consider being his new accompanist but she refuses.

One night as Holger and Thomas leave a concert, they are met by Anita who has just attended the very same performance.  Thomas soon excuses himself, and Holger and Anita continue on walking and talking together.  Anita finds herself drawn to the offstage persona of Holger Brandt.  For his part, Holger is attracted to Anita’s youth and vibrance.  As they walk their attraction for each other deepens and before the night is over their affair will begin.

Some time later Anita comes to the Brandt household early in the morning.  She asks to speak with Margit, and as she waits she lovingly touches Holger’s violin as it sits in its case.  Margit coming down the stairs notices this, and enters the room with trepidation.  Anita tells Margit that she can longer teach Ann Marie as she has decided that she must leave Stockholm.  Margit looks at her and understands the deeper meaning behind these words, telling her that she is sure Anita is doing what is right.  Anita leaves and goes to a nearby cafe where she meets Holger.  The two have been meeting in secret for some time, carrying on their affair.  Anita is ashamed of what they are doing and tells Holger that they must end things.  Holger agrees at first but then realizes that he cannot let her go.  He returns home and confesses all to Margit.  His marriage in tatters he leaves, seeking Anita to continue their romance.

Anita and Holger go on tour together from city to city.  At the end of the tour they decide to take a vacation together and for a time they are terribly happy.  Then one morning Anita receives a letter from Thomas.  He tells Anita that she has been awarded a prestigious scholarship for music, one that will help bolster her fledgling career as a concert pianist.  He urges her to not allow anything to come between her and her bright future.  Knowing that accepting this scholarship would mean leaving Holger behind, Anita burns the letter and resolves to stay with the man she loves.  But soon she questions whether or not she has made the right decision.  Not only does she feel guilty for the pain they have caused, but she has also noticed that Holger’s longing for his family is beginning to creep back and is only growing with each passing day.

This is such a beautiful love story.  It is a quiet and adult tale, not over the top or too melodramatic.  The love between Holger and Anita is subtle but still feels deep and passionate.  It is not the love of two teenagers rather of two adults who enter the relationship with their eyes open to the hurt and disruption they will cause.  Leslie Howard is perfectly suited to the role, bringing a quiet intensity to Holger that speaks to a man who has put all his passion into music, leaving none for his wife.  He feels the lack of fire in the relationship and the prospect of losing his accompanist, and therefore his ability to play music with the emotion and fire he has heretofore been able to, leaves him open and vulnerable to being attracted to any other source of that passion.  Like a moth to a flame, Holger finds himself drawn to vibrance, youth, and life, things he finds in abundance in Anita.

Ingrid Bergman is almost the Anti-Garbo to me.  I don’t mean that I prefer her to Garbo, rather that where Garbo is distant, aloof, and at times cold, Ingrid Bergman is open, inviting, and warm.  Where Garbo has a mystique, Bergman radiates honesty and authenticity.  She brings these qualities to her roles and in Anita she finds a way of projecting youth without immaturity. She manages to make Anita wholly sympathetic even though she is technically “the other woman”.  You never feel like she is destroying a marriage or taking a father from his children, although that is what happens.  Ingrid Bergman creates a character that is so happy, warm, and charming that we fall in love with her just has Holger does.  Of course it doesn’t hurt that she is stunning as well.  There is a story that when David O. Selznick hired Gregg Toland to take over the photography of INTERMEZZO, he asked Toland why Bergman looked so beautiful in the original European production and so terrible in this version. Toland replied, “In Sweden they don’t make her wear all that makeup.”  Selznick then had all the previous footage reshot with Ingrid Bergman’s natural beauty producing the stunning film we see today.

Ingrid Bergman shines in this, her first American film and her English language debut.  She is utterly wonderful as is the story of Anita and Holger.