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teaser Fear (1954)

A sort of closing chapter to one of Hollywood's earliest (and seen today, most quaint) extramarital scandals, Fear (1954) was the final collaboration between Oscar®-winning actress Ingrid Bergman and her husband, Roberto Rossellini. The two had made international headlines six years earlier when Bergman, who was married at the time to dentist Petter Aron Lindstrm, had a widely publicized affair with director Roberto Rossellini during the release of her 1948 film Joan of Arc.

A widely admired neorealist filmmaker, Rossellini had recently shot to fame with his groundbreaking trilogy of Rome, Open City (1945), Paisan (1946), and Germany Year Zero (1948), though he was beginning to move into a more traditional narrative realm by the time he met Bergman. Their relationship began when she wrote him a now-famous admiring letter: "Dear Mr. Rossellini, I saw your films Open City and Paisan, and enjoyed them very much. If you need a Swedish actress who speaks English very well, who has not forgotten her German, who is not very understandable in French, and who in Italian knows only 'ti amo,' I am ready to come and make a film with you."

Rossellini was also married at the time (to costume designer Marcella De Marchis), and by the time he and Bergman had made their first film together, Stromboli (1950), she was virtually ostracized from Hollywood. The same year as that film's release, the two were married in Mexico and Bergman bore him a son. The pair would make three more films in the interim before Fear, none of them particularly successful at the box office despite some positive critical notices: Europa '51 (1952), Voyage to Italy , and the live Joan of Arc performance film Giovanna d'Arco al rogo (both 1954). The two separated in 1957 after bearing two more children when Rossellini left her for screenwriter Sonali Das Gupta.

Filmed in Munich in both English and German-language versions, Fear (whose meaning was retained for its various international titles like La paura in Italian, Angoisse in French, and Angst in Germany) finds Rossellini returning a decade later to the territory of Germany Year Zero, examining a nation in recovery and still suffering major psychological scars. Here Bergman stars as Irene Wagner, a married woman carrying on an affair with Erich (Unfaithfully Yours' [1948] Kurt Kreuger). Her husband, famous scientist and professor Albert (Mathias Wieman), has no knowledge of the infidelity, as Irene wishes to keep him blissfully unaware to focus on his work and family. However, Erich's sadistic former flame, Luisa (Renate Mannhardt), finds out Irene's secret and proceeds to blackmail her, turning the woman's life into an escalating nightmare eventually posing a threat to both herself and those around her.

The subject matter of Fear makes it impossible to watch without considering the real lives of those in front of and behind the camera. Bergman's portrayal of an unfaithful woman tormented by her behavior practically invites audience contemplation of how much Bergman's performance draws on her own experience in the previous years. Adding to the mix is the casting of Wieman, a famous German stage and screen actor affiliated early on with notorious filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl including one of her most famous narrative films, The Blue Light (1932). During the Nazi era he continued to work but was eventually shunned by Josef Goebbels, leading the actor to aid the resistance when he was no longer allowed on movie screens. Fortunately his career flourished again after the war until his death in 1969.

Far more tragic was the fate of the author of the source novel for Fear, popular Austrian novelist, biographer, and short story writer Stefan Zweig, perhaps best known to Americans for writing the literary source for the classic film Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948). The psychological pitfalls of love were frequent themes in his work, and that's certainly the case here as well. However, he was also vehemently opposed to the rise of Nazism and fled with his wife across Europe to avoid the spreading forces of fascism; in 1942, the couple committed suicide via barbiturate overdose at their home in Petrpolis.

As for Bergman, she soon returned to American favor thanks to her appearance in Anastasia (1956), which earned her the second of three Academy Awards, and went on to work with other notable directors including Jean Renoir, Ingmar Bergman, and Sidney Lumet. However, no other chapter in her career was quite like the one she spent with Roberto Rossellini, making Fear an unusual, provocative, and suspenseful farewell in cinematic history.

by Nathaniel Thompson

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