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.


Miriam Hopkins Blogathon: TROUBLE IN PARADISE (1932)

When I signed up to take part in the Miriam Hopkins blogathon I wanted to pick a film that I had never seen before.  Luckily, I had just picked up a copy of the Criterion Edition of Ernst Lubitsch’s TROUBLE IN PARADISE.  I actually watched this film twice this week, once to get an idea for my blog post and again to show it to my husband because it is just so good!  This is a precode romantic comedy, starring Herbert Marshall, Kay Francis, and of course Miriam Hopkins.  It also has a great supporting cast of various character actors including, Charles Ruggles and Edward Everett Horton.

In the city of Venice a man has been robbed.  Francois Fileba (Edward Everett Horton) has had his wallet lightened of 20,000 francs by a very charming doctor who asked to inspect his tonsils.  Meanwhile, in another room the Baron awaits his countess. When she arrives, the countess is worried about the scandal that might break out should the marquis tell the marquis that she was there.  Luckily for all of Venice’s royalty, the Baron and the Countess are liars.  They are in fact, both thieves named Gaston Monescu (Herbert Marshall) and Lily (Miriam Hopkins).  Once they each discover the other’s true identity they also realize that while their royals ties were fake, their love for each other is real.  They fall into each other’s arms and put the DO NOT DISTURB sign on the door.

Almost one year later Gaston and Lily are still in Paris and still in love.  Speaking of love, Madame Colet (Kay Francis) has a problem.  She has two men in love with her, but she doesn’t care for them at all.  Day after day she is pursued by the Major (Charles Ruggles) and Monsieur Fileba, much to her annoyance.  The two men hate each other and bicker all the time.  In fact, they are bickering the night that Madam Colet goes to the opera with her new handbag.  The handbag is covered in diamonds and cost 125,000 francs, so naturally it attracts the attention of Gaston.  During the course of the opera, Gaston manages to steal the bag and escape into the night.  The next day Lily finds a notice about the missing handbag and the 20,000 franc reward.  As the reward is more than what they would get selling the bag, Gaston goes to Madam Colet’s home to return the stolen property.  He presents himself as a “nouveau poor” named Gaston LuValle and sets about charming Madam Colet.  She is quite taken with this gentleman and as she has no head for business herself, decides to take him on as her secretary.  Once Gaston realizes that Madam Colet has 100,000 francs in her personal safe he sets about planning to embezzle as much money as possible.

Now positioned as personal secretary to Madam Colet, Gaston begins to influence every aspect of her life.  From lipstick color, to no potatoes for breakfast, to exercise routines, he controls it all.  He also has an effect on her finances and increases her insurance against burglary to 850,000 francs, just in case.  Meanwhile, Lily has taken a job as Gaston’s secretary with the name of Votier.  One day, while typing a letter to the bank requesting that 850,000 francs be delivered to the house at the end of the month, Lily is summoned to speak to Madam Colet.  Sitting beside Madam Colet’s bed, and sitting on her hands, Lily eyes the box of jewelry and listens as Madam Colet expresses her desire for Gaston to work less.  She asks Lily to help with the work load in order to free up Gaston’s time, but she makes sure that Lily will still be leaving promptly at 5PM everyday.  And just to make sure she increases Lily’s salary by fifty francs.  Back in her room Lily is furious and when Gaston asks what Madam Colet wanted, she replies “You!”

Lily warns Gaston that she loves him as a crook, that he can do anything, rob, cheat, swindle, but whatever he does don’t “become one of those good for nothing gigolos!”.  So warned, Gaston allows Madam Colet to invite him out to dinner and dancing.  She begins to fall in love with him, and it appears he begins to develop feelings as well.  Over the next few weeks, Madam Colet introduces him to her social set which includes Francois Fileba.  While Fileba attempts to remember where he met Gaston before, Gaston runs upstairs to warn Lily.  The two decide that they must flee Paris that night and make plans to meet at midnight after Lily has cleaned their apartment and Gaston has dealt with Madam Colet.  Lily hurries off and Gaston is confronted by Fileba who asks if he has ever been to Venice,  Gaston denies it and counters by asking if Fileba has ever been to Constantinople.  Confused, Fileba is distracted by Gaston’s charm and tales of harems and leaves mollified.

That night, while Lily packs, Gaston hears a knock on his door and finds Madam Colet outside.  She looks lovely, dressed to attend a dinner party that night, and proceeds to flirt with Gaston which he does not resist.  The two kiss and soon close the door to the office, leaving the car to wait outside.  Some time later, Madam Colet prepares to leave for her engagement while Gaston asks her not to go.  She smiles, saying she wants to make it tough for him, but promises to return at 11PM for a rendezvous.  Lily is anxiously awaiting Gaston’s call to come to the station to meet him but is shocked when he calls instead to tell her that they must postpone their departure until the next day.  Smelling a rat, and suspecting a secret love affair, Lily heads off to Madam Colet’s residence.  Meanwhile, Madam Colet has just been informed that Fileba has remembered where he met Gaston before and who her charming secretary really is.

TROUBLE IN PARADISE is my definition of a perfect movie.  The writing is sublime, funny and intelligent as only an Ernst Lubitsch film can be.  Written by Samson Raphaelson and directed by Ernst Lubitsch this film is what every romantic comedy today should strive to be.  People often speak about “The Lubitsch Touch”, the ability of these movies to show the viewer just enough to get the point across and then trust the audience to figure the rest out.  In other words, Lubitsch treats the audience like adults which is something that is becoming rarer and rarer these days.

Herbert Marshall is fabulous and I would be quite content if he would come and read me the phone book all day.  His character of Gaston is sublimely charming and suave, and you truly get the sense of how much he loves Lily as well as being tempted by the lovely Madam Colet.  Speaking of Madam Colet, Kay Francis lives up to her name as the “best dressed woman in Hollywood”.  She looks stunning and plays the role of the rich widow with grace and elegance, as well as childlike innocence and womanly desire.  I have not had the privilege of seeing many of her other films but I will make a point to now.  But let us now get to the main attraction of this film, and indeed this blog post, and talk about the fabulous Miriam Hopkins.

This was Miriam Hopkins’ second film with Ernst Lubitsch, the first being THE SMILING LIEUTENANT, but this would be her breakout role.  And no wonder!  Her portrayal of Lily is a supreme example of wit, charm, and intelligence.  From what I have read, in real life Miriam Hopkins was extremely well read, intelligent, and charming so I like to think that the character of Lily is close to her true personality, minus the burglary.  Lily is totally in love with Gaston, but she doesn’t allow that to make her into a side kick or second banana.  Instead she acts like, and expects to be treated like, his equal just as clever, slick, and charming as he is.  This scene in which they discover their true identities is great, not only for the brilliant acting and writing but because it clearly demonstrates who each of the characters are.  Lily is amused by Gaston’s antics but is just as tricky as he is, and when it comes to her garter she is surprised but amused as well which I think speaks to her maturity and security in herself as a woman. (Note that the sound doesn’t come in until about fourteen seconds in)

Lily is a woman in every sense of the word.  She is clever, self-possessed, and knows what she wants.  I also loved how Miriam Hopkins shows Lily’s jealousy in a very mature way.  Lily is quite obviously jealous of the attention that Madam Colet shows Gaston but she doesn’t let it out in the typical Hollywood way.  There are no elaborate schemes, no bouts of crying and stomping feet, no passive aggressive comments.  Instead, Lily is very upfront with Gaston telling him that she knows what he is and she loves him as that but if he goes after Madam Colet she will wring his neck and she isn’t wiling to stick around with someone who doesn’t love her.  She knows what is what, she knows that Madam Colet wants Gaston and she probably even knows that Gaston is attracted to Madam Colet.  She also knows that she is a thief and that Gaston is a thief, and she makes no apologies for that.  This is what is so different about the character of Lily as compared to the romantic comedies today, and even some of the past.  Lily is written as a woman, a grown up, and Miriam Hopkins portrays her as such.

Miriam Hopkins is an actress that I am growing in appreciation for after first seeing her in DESIGN FOR LIVING and THE STORY OF TEMPLE DRAKE.  She is an actress that I always enjoy watching because she has such a wonderful onscreen presence.  She always brings a quality to her roles that makes it seem as if you could meet these characters in the real world, and that you would like to.  She is what I would call a charming actress, in that she brings a quality to her roles that makes them irresistable and unforgettable.  Her smile seems to tell of several stories she could tell, not all of them suitable for mixed company. She has a sparkle in her eye and she brings that to her acting.  I truly enjoyed this masterful film and the actress who inspired this blogathon!

Classics with Criterion: IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934)

My husband is starting to enjoy classic films.  As I write this he is sitting next to me laughing along to A NIGHT AT THE OPERA, his first time watching the Marx Brothers.  The other night I decided to show him IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT for two reasons.  First, I wanted to watch my new Criterion Edition of the film.  Second, I wanted to test my theory that a truly great classic film can be enjoyed by anyone (even if that person doesn’t think they like classic films).  A good story is a good story and a great movie is a great movie.  And if any film is both a good story and a great movie it is certainly IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT.

On board his yacht in the waters of Florida, millionaire Alexander Andrews (Walter Connolly) is trying to persuade his daughter Ellie (Claudette Colbert) to eat.  She is pitching a fit, shouting at crew members, throwing things, and refusing all food that is sent to her cabin.  The cause of her displeasure is her own father who, after discovering her hasty marriage to playboy aviator King Westley (Jameson Thomas), has “kidnapped” her and taken her away on his yacht.  He hopes that time apart from her new husband, a man whom he considers to be a fortune hunter, will give Ellie time to reconsider her actions.  If that doesn’t work the annulment he has in the works should do the trick.  Disgusted with her father’s continual attempts to control her life, Ellie bursts from the room and runs out onto the deck.  Climbing over the rail she swan dives into the water and quickly swims off.  Her father’s men hurry after her but cannot catch up to her, and she swims out of sight.  Andrews sends word to his personal detectives to be on the lookout for Ellie, to keep an eye on all modes of transport going to New York (and back to King Westley).

In a Miami bus station an old woman buys a ticket for the night bus to New York.  Two of Andrews’ detectives are watching nearby but this elderly woman doesn’t attract their interest.  As she steps away from the counter the woman crosses the floor and hands her ticket to Ellie, who has been hiding nearby.  Slipping past the detectives, Ellie boards the bus where she finds herself sitting next to a slightly drunk and newly fired newspaper man named Peter Warne (Clark Gable).  The two take an instant dislike to each other, Ellie being offended by Peter’s rough way of speaking to and dealing with her, and Peter finding Ellie a spoiled brat.  However, at the next stop on the route Ellie’s bag is stolen while she smokes a cigarette and Peter takes off after the thief.  Unable to catch him, Peter returns empty-handed to Ellie who reveals that all her money is now gone and she has only four dollars left.  Peter suggests that she wire her father for more money or report the theft to the bus driver, but she refuses raising his suspicions.  His theory of Ellie’s true identity is confirmed when she leaves the bus at the morning rest stop, assuming that the driver will hold the bus to wait for her.  Ellie returns to the station twenty minutes late to discover that the bus has left her behind and the next bus to New York won’t leave until eight o’clock that evening.  But Ellie is not alone as she soon discovers that Peter has also stayed behind.  He hands her a newspaper with her photograph on the front page.  Ellie offers to pay him once she gets back to New York, to give him any amount of money to keep her secret.  Peter is offended that Ellie thinks that she can just buy people off when he was willing to help her if she would have just asked.  The two argue and then part ways until boarding the bus to New York that evening.

Onboard the bus Ellie finds herself sitting next to one Mr. Shapely, who is more than slightly interested in Ellie.  Believe you me, Mr. Shapely would love to have Ellie as his something on the side and isn’t shy about letting her know.  Ellie tries to get him to leave her alone but he persists until Peter stands up and requests to change seats with Mr. Shapley.  When asked why Peter replies that he would like to sit next to his wife, much to Mr. Shapely and Ellie’s surprise.  Ellie tries to thank Peter but he dismisses her saying that the other man’s voice was getting on his nerves.  The bus continues on for a time but soon is stopped by a washed out bridge.  Peter manages to secure lodging for himself and for Ellie, sharing a cabin at a nearby lodge.  Because money is tight and room fees are high, Peter has them sharing one cabin and posing as a married couple.  Ellie enters the cabin reluctantly as Peter readies the beds.  She wonders why he is going through so much trouble to help her get back to New York.  Peter tells her that all he wants in return for helping her are the exclusive rights to her story, which he hopes will get him his job back. If she does not go along with his plan then he will call her father and reveal her location.  She reluctantly agrees and Peter returns to his bedtime preparations.  He strings a rope between the beds and hangs a blanket, calling it “The Walls of Jericho”.

The next morning the two prepare to leave for New York, taking in a quick breakfast complete with lessons in doughnut dunking etiquette, when they hear people approaching the cabin.  Ellie recognizes the voices as those of two of her father’s detectives.  Realizing they are about to be caught, Peter and Ellie spring into action now behaving like a married couple having an argument.  Caught off guard by the yelling and crying in the cabin the two detectives leave quickly before taking a closer look at the bride.  Unbeknownst to them Andrews has offered a $10,000 reward in exchange for information regarding his daughter.  A new picture is published in the newspapers, along with the reward offer, and it is this picture that catches the eye of one Mr. Shapley.  Back onboard Peter and Ellie continue on their bus ride, the trip becoming more pleasant as musicians take out their instruments to play “The Young Man on the Flying Trapeze”.  Other passengers join in, taking a verse here and there, and even Peter and Ellie find themselves singing along.  Everyone gets caught up in the song, including the driver who lets go of the wheel to applaud the song.  The bus swerves off the road and promptly gets stuck in the mud.  A young boy cries out to his mother, who has fainted, and while Ellie tends to his mother tells Peter of how neither one has eaten since boarding the bus as they spent all their money on the tickets.  Peter guilty looks at his money and is about to put it back into his pocket when Ellie returns, and after comforting the boy hands him the money to buy food with.  Now penniless, Peter and Ellie must be careful while traveling.  While the driver tries to figure out their next move, Mr. Shapley approaches Peter and asks to speak with him about Ellie Andrews.  Peter quickly leads him away from the bus where Mr. Shapley offers to keep his mouth shut in exchange for half of the $10,000 reward.  Peter pretends that he is part of a gang who have kidnapped Ellie for a large ransom and threatens Mr. Shapley in order to keep him quiet.  Thoroughly convinced, Mr. Shapley takes off running into the woods (and he might be running still) while Peter hurries back to the bus to retrieve Ellie.  Worried that Mr. Shapley might still go to the police or that someone else might recognize Ellie, Peter believes that it is better to continue on foot.  The two are forced to spend the night in a field, sleeping in haystacks.  As the night passes Peter’s mood darkens, but Ellie has begun to see Peter in a new light and as the night deepens her eyes stay locked on his sleeping form nearby.

After walking for the better part of the day, Ellie asks when the hitching part of “hitch hiking” starts.  Peter extolls the virtues of proper technique when thumbing a ride and takes his place at the side of the road.  But after several cars drive past him, Ellie asks for a chance to try her luck.  Not even using her thumb, Ellie flags down a car and soon the two of them are passengers of a jovial man who seems to have a knack for putting anything into song.  Peter is in a sour mood, but this soon turns to anger when the man driving them attempts to abandon them and take off with their belongings.  Peter chases after him leaving Ellie behind, only to return sometime later driving the very car that had left them.  It seems their roadside savior was in fact a car thief, making a living by picking up hitch-hikers and then taking off with their belongings.  Ellie tends to Peter who is slightly battered from his fight with the man, which ended with Peter tying him to a tree.  Meanwhile in New York, Andrews has resigned himself to Ellie’s marriage in order to get her to return.  Westley publishes an appeal to Ellie in the newspapers, telling her that all is forgiven, which she sees but hides from Peter.  The pair is now just three hours away from New York but Ellie insists that they spend one more night at a lodge.  That night across the walls of Jericho, Peter tells Ellie about his dreams in life which include moving far from the bustle of the modern world, to a simple life on an island in the Pacific he once saw.  He hopes to one day find a girl who would go with him to that sort of life.  But suddenly Peter stops talking because the walls have been breached, and Ellie is standing in front of him.  She confesses her love for him and pleads with him to take her away with him, to take her to his island.

This is the original romantic comedy and it is just SO good!  I hadn’t seen it for a few years and it is even better than what I remembered.  My husband said that this was a “sweet movie” and it is. It is also astonishingly well done. It is a simple story but it is just done so well that it becomes something greater. I loved every moment of this film and could not imagine anyone other than Claudette Colbert or Clark Gable being in it.  The Criterion Edition looks gorgeous, and I can’t wait to dig into the extra features that are included on the disc.

It is so surprising that at the time it was made really no one in the industry, aside from Frank Capra, liked the film or thought it would do well.  Claudette Colbert apparently hated making the film, and once it was complete told a friend that she had just finished making “the worst picture”.  Clark Gable came to set on the first day saying “Let’s get this over with”.  But this would go on to sweep all the major categories at the Oscars in 1935, the first time that had ever happened, and would also grow in popularity and respect as the years went on.  According to Frank Capra, it was not until the film started to make its way out to the theaters in smaller towns in rural America that the box office returns began to increase.  It was the people in local towns and small movie theaters who helped make this film a success, going to see the film and then taking their friends and family to see it as well.  And it is fitting that it is those people who had such an impact on the outcome of IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT, because it is those people who Frank Capra seemed to have in mind when he made it.  Whenever I watch a Frank Capra film I always feel a common thread running through them, this feeling that people can and should be decent, hard-working, honest and true.  I always have a sense of wanting to be something better and more honorable after watching a Frank Capra film, and this is no different.  Though perhaps not as lofty as MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON or MEET JOHN DOE, this film shows us that we can be kind to each other and that there is nothing so satisfying as dunking a doughnut or riding piggyback, if they are done honestly and without airs.