A Woman's Face (1938)
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Her face disfigured due to a childhood accident, the embittered Anna Holm has become the ruthless leader of a criminal gang. When a scheme to blackmail the wife of renowned plastic surgeon Dr. Wegert goes awry, the surgeon takes pity on Anna and offers to repair her face, hoping it will spark an inner transformation as well. Now a beautiful woman, Anna poses as a governess in order to infiltrate the family of the wealthy Consul Magnus Barring at the behest of his profligate nephew Torsten, who wants to gain control of the inheritance. However, she becomes fond of the young heir Lars-Erik, falls in love with the family secretary Harald Berg and decides to turn her back on her criminal past. Torsten, growing impatient to get his hands on the inheritance, visits the estate and threatens to reveal her true identity if she doesn't help him in his scheme.
One of the key directors of Swedish cinema, Gustav Molander (1888-1973) was an important transitional figure between the silent era and the younger generation of directors such as Alf Sjoberg and Ingmar Bergman. Son of the director of the Swedish National Theatre in Helsinki, Finland, Molander joined the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm in his twenties and became one of Sweden's leading actors. He began to write film scenarios during World War I and began to direct his own films in the 1920s. Although his last film was in the late 1960s - an episode of the anthology film Stimulantia (1967) - his career fell into decline at about the same time that Ingmar Bergman's took off; the young Bergman in fact wrote the script for Molander's Woman Without a Face (1947).
The series of Gustaf Molander-Ingrid Bergman melodramas of the 1930s represent one of the few high points of Swedish cinema during the 1930s. This period is usually considered to mark a serious decline for Swedish cinema from its artistic and commercial heyday of the 1910s and early 1920s, thanks to figures such as Victor Sjostrom, director of Ingeborg Holm (1913), The Outlaw and His Wife (1918) and The Phantom Chariot (1921); and Mauritz Stiller, director of Thomas Graal's Best Film (1917) and Sir Arne's Treasure (1919). In the 1920s many of Sweden's most talented artists left for Hollywood, including Sjostrom, Stiller and Stiller's protegee Greta Garbo, leaving a serious creative shortage in the film industry. Gustav Molander melodramas such as Intermezzo (1936), Only One Night (1938) and A Woman's Face (1938), with their visual polish and strong acting, attracted much-needed foreign box office for the Swedish film industry and made an international star out of Ingrid Bergman in the process. Hollywood, always on the lookout for competition, took note. Producer David O. Selznick brought Ingrid Bergman to the U.S. to act in a 1939 remake of Intermezzo opposite Leslie Howard. Similarly, A Woman's Face, itself an adaptation of a French play, was purchased by MGM and remade in 1941, Swedish setting intact, by George Cukor with Joan Crawford in the lead. Crawford even mimics the gesture by which Bergman covers the disfigured side of her face with her hand, though today most critics prefer the Bergman-Molander version.
The character of Anna Holm provided Ingrid Bergman with one of the richest roles of her early Swedish films - or her entire career for that matter. Her husband Peter Lindstrom helped create the makeup; Bergman recalls, "He did something quite brilliant, inventing a sort of brace which fitted [sic] inside my mouth and pushed out my cheek. Then, with glue, we pulled the eye down on the other side--it wasn't possible to get the right effect with ordinary makeup--and then, oh, did I look a fright!" Even more chilling than her appearance, however, is the bitterness with which she plots her revenge against the world in the form of extortion schemes at the beginning of the film and the flash of anger with which she stares at herself in the mirror before smashing it. Her gradual transformation in the course of the film is subtly conveyed via gestures, facial expressions and vocal inflections; the reviewer for Variety described Bergman as "superb in the general display of thespian pyrotechnics." Bergman recalls of her collaborations with Molander, "I found working with Gustaf wonderful [...] Gustaf especially taught me how to underplay, to be absolutely sincere and natural. 'Never try and be cute,' he said. 'Always be yourself, and always learn your lines.' On the set he gave me a great sense of security. He was never rushing off to telephone or attending to a dozen details like some directors I've known; he was always concentrating on you."
Director: Gustaf Molander
Screenplay: Gosta Stevens and Stina Bergman, based on the play Il Etait une Fois by Francis de Croisset
Cinematography: Ake Dahlquist
Production Design: Arne Akermark
Music: Erick Bengtsson
Editor: Oscar Rosander
Cast: Ingrid Bergman (Anna Holm), Anders Henrikson (Dr. Wegert), Erik Berglund (Nyman), Gosta Cederlund ("The Count"), Georg Rydeberg (Torsten Barring), Tore Svennberg (Consul Magnus Barring), Goran Bernhard (Lars-Erik), Gunnar Sjoberg (Harald Berg), Hilda Borgstrom (Emma), Karin Carlsson (Mrs. Wegert)
by James Steffen