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Ingrid Bergman - Star of the Month
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Remind Me

The Count of the Old Town

A delightful introduction to one of cinema's most luminous stars, The Count of the Old Town (1935) boasts the screen debut of eighteen-year-old Ingrid Bergman. In this farcical romp, Valdemar Dalquist stars as the "Count," the leader of a band of middle-aged ne'er-do-wells who inhabit the quaint quarter of Stockholm known as Monk's Bridge. A sort of Swedish Falstaff, the fast-talking Count spends his days cautiously avoiding manual labor while circumventing the laws of liquor rationing. Among the Count's mischievous friends are "Gurkan," a fishmonger named after the pickle (Sigurd Wallen, who also co-directed the film), and Borstis (Eric Abrahamsson), the concierge of a modest hotel around which the comedy revolves. A congenial stranger named Ake (Edvin Adolphson) arrives and promptly falls in love with one of the tenants, Elsa (Bergman). Love begins to blossom throughout Monk's Bridge and soon Elsa's aunt, the owner of the local fish store (famed comedienne Tollie Zellman), is placing personal ads and being wooed by a variety of would-be husbands and business-owners.

Ake's mysterious behavior raises the suspicions of his good-natured comrades, especially since Stockholm is being plagued by a clever burglar known as "Diamond Tasse." Ake does, indeed, harbor secrets about his identity, but these are not revealed until the film's final moments, when all crimes are solved and all romantic intrigues are merrily resolved.

There are varying accounts of how Bergman came to appear in her first film. The official story is that a friend of Bergman's father introduced the hopeful actress to Karin Swanstrom, an established comedienne and also a Swedish Film talent coordinator. Swanstrom arranged a screen test, which resulted in a spot in The Count of the Old Town.

Biographer Donald Spoto insists that this "star is born" narrative is not entirely accurate, and was concocted to conceal a less wholesome rise to fame. He writes that Bergman was romantically involved with actor/director Adolphson at the time, even as she was embarking on a love affair with Petter Lindstrom (whom she would marry in 1937). "Adolphson, by this time aware of his attractive rival, shifted gears, the better to maintain the comfortable continuance of his affair with Ingrid," writes Spoto, "And his strategy, irresistible to the eager young actress, was simple. Contracted to direct a film comedy that summer, he put her in the only youthful female role and...amplified her part. At the same time, he was only too happy to cast himself as her romantic leading man."

On the day of The Count of the Old Town's premiere, a cautiously optimistic Bergman (who turned nineteen prior to the film's release) wrote in her diary, "I feel insecure and secure at the same time. I am unsure about all the publicity there has been. I hope that the public will think I can live up to it."

The following day's entry revealed a bitter disappointment. "What did I expect of the critics -- praise? They say, 'Ingrid Bergman doesn't give any strong impression.' And: 'A somewhat overweight copy of that promising young actress Birgit Tengroth.' And: 'Hefty but quite sure of herself.' One said: 'A beautiful and statuesque girl.' For the first time: failure."

In addressing her diary, Bergman downplayed not only the quality of her performance but also her impression upon the critics. In fact, she won a respectable number of positive reviews, including one that called her "a refreshing and straightforward young lady, altogether an asset to the film." Even more impressive was a lucrative three-year contract that was offered by the Swedish Film Industry. At the time, Bergman was a young drama student at the Royal Dramatic Theatre, but was naturally intrigued by the possibilities offered by the cinema. Filled with youthful self-confidence, she suggested to the Theatre's director, Olaf Molander, that she take a leave of absence in order to begin a film career. Bergman remembered Molander's explosive response, "You have talent, I admit that, but if you go to the movies now, you will destroy that talent...You will not make a success of movies or any other acting requirement, because you have no training, as yet, for any sort of professional performance... You will not leave this theatrical school! You are only a student. I forbid you to go!" Nevertheless, Bergman did leave the RDT. Her contract with Swedish Films provided for extensive actor training, and it was there that she rounded out her education as a dramatic artist.

Bergman's self-confidence also raised the ire of her co-star, the legendary Tollie Zellman. Bergman interrupted one scene to instruct the actress in the proper method of wrapping a fish. In her memoirs, Bergman recalled, "I looked at her wrapping the fish and then I went around the counter and said, 'Look here, that isn't the way you wrap a fish. I'll show you how.'" When Bergman was finished, she was greeted with an icy silence. "Who's this?" Zellman demanded. Director Adolphson nervously responded, "Well, she's a young girl who's just started," to which Zellman haughtily replied, "She starts well... doesn't she?"

Director: Edvin Adolphson and Sigurd Wallen
Screenplay: Gosta Stevens Based on the play "Greven av Gamla Stan" by Arthur and Siegfried Fischer
Cinematography: Ake Dahlquist
Music: Jules Sylvain
Cast: Valdemar Dalquist ("Count"), Ingrid Bergman (Elsa Edlund), Edvin Adolphson (Ake Larsson), Tollie Zellman (Amalia Blomkvist), Sigurd Wallen ("Gurkan"), Eric Abrahamsson (Borstis), Weyler Hildebrand (Det. Goransson).
BW-84m.

by Bret Wood

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