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"Heaven hath no rage like love to hatred turned." This John Milton quote appears at the beginning of Rage in Heaven (1941) and sets the tone for the film noir-like thriller starring Ingrid Bergman, Robert Montgomery and George Sanders shot in moody black and white by cinematographer Oliver T. Marsh. Bergman plays Stella, a woman who unknowingly marries psychopath Philip (Robert Montgomery) who is insanely jealous of his best friend Ward, played by George Sanders. The dark themes of jealousy, obsession and paranoia slowly build throughout the film as Stella realizes her dire predicament.
The male leads, Robert Montgomery and George Sanders, intriguingly play against type in Rage in Heaven. Montgomery usually portrayed likeable characters, and Sanders usually played unscrupulous cads. Because Montgomery had played another psychopath once before to great success in MGM's Night Must Fall (1937), he felt that the studio was trying to pigeonhole him into another similar role in hopes of repeating his triumph. According to Ingrid Bergman in her 1980 autobiography My Story, Montgomery had a plan to rebel. He came to her one day before shooting began and warned her that he had no plans to act in Rage in Heaven. "I'm very sorry to do this to you," he told her, "but I'm forced to do this movie, so I intend to just say the lines but not act." Eventually he explained that he was staging this protest out of sheer exhaustion. He was under a seven-year contract with MGM and felt he was being overworked. He had asked the studio not to send him straight into another picture and requested some time off, but they had said no. "If I refuse," Montgomery continued in his explanation to Bergman, "they'll suspend me without pay. I've got a wife, children, a big house, a swimming pool, I need the money...But I'm going to make my protest."
Shooting began on Rage in Heaven under the direction of Robert Sinclair. In keeping with his plan, Robert Montgomery played every line and every scene completely monotone and flat. He also pretended not to hear Sinclair when he attempted to direct him. After two weeks of this, Sinclair quit the picture. MGM responded by bringing in veteran director W.S. "One-Take Woody" Van Dyke, a man known for getting the job done quickly and economically.
Ingrid Bergman had heard that Van Dyke was tough, and she didn't like him or his boot camp methods at all. Robert Montgomery continued his "non-acting" protest while Bergman just tried to do her best and get through the picture. Co-star George Sanders was simply fed up with all the nonsense and slept most of the time. "He would come out from his dressing room yawning," recalls Ingrid Bergman in her autobiography, "do his little bit, and go back to sleep again. He couldn't care less about it."
Bergman became unhappy enough on the set to go to David O. Selznick, who had loaned her out to MGM to make Rage in Heaven, and ask him to have Van Dyke replaced as the director or have her removed from the picture altogether. Selznick, however, encouraged her to stick it out, saying that it wasn't his place to have directors replaced on other studios' pictures. She knew that he had accepted a lot of money to loan her out, so Bergman returned to making Rage in Heaven and planned to get through it the best she could.
One day later Van Dyke visited Bergman's dressing room, and she used the opportunity to tell him exactly what she thought of his rigid methods. "Why don't you stay with the army," she said, "the way you go on marching and yelling? You don't know anything about people's feelings...You are certainly not interested in anything but 'finish the picture,' no matter what sort of picture it is. You don't give us any possibility of acting; you don't give us any advice on that at all. Why don't you put on roller skates so you can go quicker from one place to another?"
Van Dyke was floored by Bergman's outburst. He said how dare she talk to her director like that and threatened to have her fired before storming out of her dressing room. Bergman told him that she hoped he did fire her, because that's exactly what she wanted. Later, Van Dyke returned to Bergman and vowed to try to improve his ways. "You know," he humbly told her before returning to work, "you are very good in this part."
For all the turmoil on the set of Rage in Heaven, it is invisible onscreen. George Sanders and Ingrid Bergman are wonderful to watch as they help spin the dark suspense yarn. Despite Robert Montgomery's "non-performance," he still received rave notices from critics, who apparently thought he could do no wrong.
Producer: Gottfried Reinhardt
Director: W.S. Van Dyke
Screenplay: Edward Chodorov, Christopher Isherwood, Robert Thoeren, James Hilton (novel)
Cinematography: Oliver T. Marsh, George J. Folsey
Film Editing: Harold F. Kress
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Music: Bronislau Kaper
Cast: Robert Montgomery (Philip Monrell), Ingrid Bergman (Stella Bergen), George Sanders (Ward Andrews), Lucile Watson (Mrs. Monrell), Oskar Homolka (Dr. Rameau), Philip Merivale (Mr. Higgins).
BW-85m. Closed captioning.
by Andrea Passafiume