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Ingrid Bergman - Star of the Month
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Walpurgis Night

Occupying a strange netherworld between Hollywood-style melodrama and classroom hygiene film, Walpurgis Night (Valborgsmassoafton, 1935), used a romantic drama formula to enlighten the people of Sweden to the joys and pitfalls of human reproduction. Over the course of its compact 82 minutes, characters converge and separate, visit abortionists, commit suicide and, occasionally, fall in love.

In one of the film's more peculiar subplots, Frederik Bergstrom, an aging newspaper editor (played by acclaimed director Victor Sjostrom, later to star in Ingmar Bergman's Wild Strawberries [1957]), engages in a series of casual discussions on various reproductive issues with his naive and youthful male staff. Frederik's daughter Lena (Ingrid Bergman) is meanwhile having greater difficulty broaching the subject of procreation in the workplace. Lena is in love with her boss, Johan Borg (Lars Hanson), but is frustrated by the rules of propriety that separate a superior from his stenographer, not to mention the fact that Johan is married. When Johan's wife Clary (Karin Kavli) leaves him, employer and employee indulge in the springtime celebration of Walpurgis Night, only to be embroiled in a scandal.

A photograph of the illicit date threatens to appear on the gossip pages of the newspaper. At the same time, the abortionist who treated Clary is raided by police and blackmailers quickly descend upon the medical records, tracking down the patients and politely extorting hush-money. When an altercation between the Borgs and a blackmailer turns fatal, Johan flees to the foreign legion, leaving Lena's happiness in question until the film's climactic final reel.

Through her association with some of Sweden's most talented actors and filmmakers, Ingrid Bergman began developing a confidence, charm and craftiness that would serve her well in the metamorphosis from character actor to superstar. In his biography of Bergman, Notorious, Donald Spoto relates a telling incident that illustrates her new self-confidence. Thinking he could easily intimidate and seduce the aspiring actor, a studio executive assigned Bergman to travel with him by train on a promotional tour for Walpurgis Night. "Ready for bed in her sleeping compartment on the train, she heard a tap at the door and opened to find the executive, wearing long underwear and carrying a bottle of champagne. 'I thought we should say "Du,"' he announced with a smile, referring to the familiar, second-person singular form of the verb not casually used in professional situations at the time. 'Nothing doing,' said Ingrid in English, punning cleverly and then closing the door in his face."

Walpurgis Night finally opened stateside. The delay was partly due to the film's controversial subject matter (which is dealt with frankly and with little sensationalism by director/screenwriter Gustaf Edgren). But even six years after the film's initial release, it required approximately seven minutes of cuts before it was approved by regional censor boards for showing to American audiences.

Director: Gustaf Edgren
Screenplay: Gustaf Edgren, Oscar Rydqvist
Cinematography: Martin Bodin
Film Editing: Oscar Rosander
Art Direction: Arne Akermark
Music: Eric Bengtson, Friedrich Kuhlau
Cast: Lars Hanson (Johan Borg), Ingrid Bergman (Lena Bergstrom), Karin Kavli (Clary Borg), Georg Rydeberg (Frank Roger), Sture Lagerwall (Svensson), Victor Sjostrom (Frederik Bergstrom).
BW-79m.

by Bret Wood

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