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Bergman's early childhood was a trial, partly escaped through artistic creation. Her mother died when she was three and her father when she was just 13. The stage was Bergman's antidote to the sadness and loneliness of those formative losses. But professional success, fortunately, came swiftly and early for Bergman. After dropping out of the prestigious School of the Royal Dramatic Theatre to pursue film work full time, Bergman appeared in a remarkable 10 films in five years in her native Sweden.
Several of those films Bergman made in Sweden in the Thirties were under the tutelage of her mentor, director Gustaf Molander, the shining light of the Swedish cinema who directed the actress in the Swedish dramas Intermezzo (1936) and A Woman's Face (1938).
The third film in the Kino trio, directed by Per Lindberg is the contemporary feeling exploration of romantic angst, sex and sadness, June Night (1940). Her final film in Sweden before she emigrated to America, in the moody noirish June Night Bergman is Kerstin Norback a much pursued, small town beauty who is implicated in a scandal when the young seaman Nils Asklund (Gunnar Sjoberg) she has had a love affair with, furious at her abandonment, shoots her.
The beautiful Kerstin becomes a touchstone for the community around her, symbol of reckless juvenile delinquency to some, an innocent angel to others, trapped in the wrong place at the wrong time. She recuperates from a shot to her heart while the seamen is sent to jail after a scandalous trial. The sordid drama lands Kerstin in the newspaper and finally forces her to flee to Stockholm to begin her life anew with a new name and a job at the Swan Pharmacy. A kindly nurse Asa (Marianne Lofgren) at the Stockholm hospital where Kerstin's gunshot injury is treated takes her under her wing and introduces Kerstin to her fellow boarding house flat mates. Kerstin moves in, becomes a compatriot of the women and appears to have left her past behind. But it catches up with her when Nils is released from jail and the dogged, gossip-minded Stockholm newspaperman who recognizes Kerstin drafts a story about the fallen angel for his paper. The film takes an unexpected twist when yet another man who has fallen in love with Kerstin whisks her away from all her worries. But in the course of the film Bergman establishes herself as a remarkable actress conveying the tortured, nowhere-to-turn angst of a woman relentlessly, unfairly pursued by her past.
When June Night was finally released in 1940, Bergman had already made her first film in America, a remake of Intermezzo: A Love Story (1939) with Leslie Howard as Holger Brandt. That American version's enormous success inspired Bergman to stay on in Hollywood, a decision that turned the actress into one of the most celebrated stars of both the classical Hollywood period and subsequent decades, until her final role with Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, Autumn Sonata in 1978 before she succumbed to breast cancer.
In A Woman's Face which teamed Molander and Bergman up once again, the actress is Anna Holm, the brutal, merciless leader of a gang of criminals who practice blackmail and murder for profit. A terrible burn on one side of her face and an unhappy childhood have left Anna bitter and prone to turn her anger outward. But when Anna and her band of thieves blackmail a beautiful young woman who has been having an affair, events take a surprising turn. Anna's visit to the woman's home one night leads to a chance meeting with her husband, Dr. Wegert (Anders Henrikson) a prominent plastic surgeon who has transformed soldiers with devastating wartime facial injuries (shockingly illustrated onscreen in medical photographs) into normal again. Sensing how Anna's unhappiness with her appearance has created a tortured individual, Dr. Wegert agrees to operate on the unhappy woman. Once she is physically transformed into a ravishing beauty, however, it takes longer for her psychology to catch up. She decides to go through with an ugly plot which involves the heir to a fortune hiring Anna to murder the little boy who stands between him and his money. Masquerading as a governess to the little boy, Anna moves into the family home where Lars-Erik Barring (Goran Bernhard) and his grandfather live. But under the influence of child, Anna's hard heart begins to melt and she has second thoughts about following through on her gang's evil plan. Bergman is a marvel in this demanding, often unsympathetic role, truly unpleasant as the vicious criminal and then deeply moving as her physical transformation begins to create a psychological one.
Remade by Hollywood in 1941 into a George Cukor-directed vehicle for Joan Crawford, this psychological thriller from a play by Francis De Croisset combines a fascinating character study with a twisting plot line that keeps you engrossed even at its most ludicrous moments.
In Intermezzo, Bergman's most famous Swedish role, her creative breakthrough and third feature with Gustaf Molander, the actress is a talented pianist and instructor Anita Hoffman. Anita catches the eye of the father of one of her child pupils. Holger Brant (Gösta Ekman) is an illustrious violinist who spends the majority of his time on the road, far away from his devoted teenage son, small daughter and wife. But Anita takes him even further away from his family when the pair, united by their love of music, embark on a tempestuous romance. Announcing his affair to his wife, Holger splits from one life and undertakes a new one. Anita and Holger travel the stages of Europe performing together, but haunted by their decision.
Bergman demonstrated her acting chops by turning what might have been a repugnant character--the home-wrecking Other woman--into a woman of great sympathy and heart. The film won international acclaim and inspired Hollywood producer David O. Selznick to bank on Bergman as a star. Despite concerns about her height, her halting English and her too-thick eyebrows, Selznick hoped Bergman might rival another very successful Swedish import, Greta Garbo, Selznick offered the actress a seven year contract and even sheltered Bergman in his home upon her arrival in Hollywood. Despite some misgivings, Selznick was also--like the rest of America--charmed by Bergman's "natural sweetness" and unaffected devotion to her craft. Selznick and his wife Irene would remain friends of Bergman's for life. The plot line of Intermezzo also foreshadowed another controversial love affair in Bergman's life, when she began a relationship with famed Italian director Roberto Rossellini during the making of Stromboli (1950).
For more information about Ingrid Bergman in Sweden, visit Kino Lorber. To order Ingrid Bergman in Sweden, go to TCM Shopping.
by Felicia Feaster