Ingrid Bergman and the Most Boring Love Affair in the Movies

Leslie Howard and Ingrid Bergman are (yawn) in love. Image: Toronto Film Society

Have you ever spent time with a couple who talk and talk about their perfectly rapturous relationship? By the end of the evening, you’re placing bets on how long this union can possibly last.

There is such a couple in the 1939 drama, Intermezzo: A Love Story, starring Ingrid Bergman and Leslie Howard.

Now, please don’t throw anything at us if Intermezzo is your favourite movie. It’s beautifully filmed, and the lead actors have been coiffed and dressed by Hollywood’s best. Plus, there’s wonderful music and a lovely pre-WWII European backdrop (sans the political unpleasantness).

Howard is a violin virtuoso, a fellow who travels the world and gives concerts with his dear friend and piano accompanist (John Halliday). Howard is rich and famous; he and his family live in a tastefully-appointed mansion in Stockholm.

When accompanist Halliday announces his retirement from performing, Howard is, at first, left wondering what to do with his life. However, he soon discovers a replacement in Bergman. She’s young, beautiful, talented – and unattached, a detail not lost on Howard’s perceptive wife (Edna Best).

The affair begins as a friendship with a shared interest in music. But the two fall in love and start sneaking around Stockholm, thinking they’re fooling Howard’s wife. (They’re not.)

What a relief, then, when they embark on a Concert Tour lasting several months. Finally! Here’s their chance to Run Away and get paid for it.

Living the dream. Image: Pinterest

Alas! Forces tear these lovers asunder! Howard has two children he’s abandoned and misses terribly, while Bergman gives up a music scholarship at a prestigious school.

We (as in, yours truly) could try to be more sympathetic, but we quickly lose patience for one shallow reason: Howard and Bergman are B-O-R-I-N-G. There’s no witty rapport, and their chemistry feels forced.

Conversation centres around the day’s activities and their Timeless Love. For example:

Bergman: “It’s been the greatest happiness I’ve ever known or shall ever know.”
Howard: “Let’s not speculate about happiness.”

Well, we viewers would like to speculate about happiness, or at least a little humour, instead of being constantly lectured on all this manufactured Bliss.

These two sound like they’re trying to convince themselves they are still in love, and that their Epic Romance is a license for unwise behaviour. Howard can abandon wife and children; Bergman can toss away education.

The (unanswered) question hanging over the film is: What on earth are these people trying so desperately to avoid?

Bergman teaches Howard’s daughter (Ann Todd). Image: Toronto Film Society

Intermezzo was the film that introduced Ingrid Bergman to North American audiences. She began her acting career in Stockholm when she was a teenager, appearing in a number of films before she starred in the Swedish version of Intermezzo (1936).

Producer David O. Selznick “discovered” Bergman when the Swedish Intermezzo was playing in New York. According to author Noah Isenberg, one of Selznick’s colleagues “had a fateful conversation with the Swedish elevator boy at Selznick International Pictures on Park Avenue. You have to see this picture, he purportedly told her; you have to see the girl that starred in it. Selznick saw it – the elevator boy was right – and recognized the vast opportunities for Bergman in Hollywood.”¹

Audiences loved the film and Bergman specifically. Critic Herman Weinberg said, “I had already seen the Swedish version, and I was deeply impressed by the freshness and vitality of the young Ingrid Bergman. But seeing it with an American audience and sensing their realization that a star had been born was overwhelming.”²

Bergman is indeed luminous in this film and worthy of critical acclaim. It’s just too bad the on-screen affair with Leslie Howard is so tiresome.

  • ¹Noah Isenberg, We’ll Always Have Casablanca: The Life, Legend and Afterlife of Hollywood’s Most Beloved Movie (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2017), p.52.
  • ²Ibid, p. 53.
  • Intermezzo (n) : an unusually brief interlude or diversion (Merriam-Webster)

Intermezzo: A Love Story starring Ingrid Bergman, Leslie Howard, Edna Best. Directed by Gregory Ratoff. Written by George O’Neil. Selznick International Pictures, 1939, B&W, 70 mins.

This is a VERY late entry to the 3rd Wonderful Ingrid Bergman Blogathon, hosted by The Wonderful World of Cinema.



  1. Have heard of this, but never got around to watching it. I can imagine Leslie Howard being a bit of a bore (even in Gone with the Wind, if he wasn’t supporting character, he could have dragged it down, but still he was good enough in it); but the great Ingrid Bergman, it’s hard to imagine. Ha!!
    But I guess, it’s more to do with this movie, than her acting talent. There is a possibility the Swedish one would be better. I ought to see if I can find both, and do a compare and contrast!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree about seeing both versions. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Swedish weren’t much better.

      As for Leslie Howard, I adore him in comedies. I haven’t been as impressed with his dramatic roles (I’m looking at you, Ashley Wilkes).

      Anyway, this film is worth it for the music, cinematography and Ingrid Bergman.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Loved the snark in your review 🙂 “They’re (yawn) in love.” I suppose there are a few films out there that earned themselves the predicate “elegantly boring”, and this one is certainly in the top 5.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I just cannot feel sympathy for these characters, although I should cut Bergman’s character some slack. Her character is young and is likely in her first serious romance…but try as I might, I just don’t care about this love affair.


  3. Love your honesty here :-D. I haven’t seen the film but I can imagine the boring love affair. Truthfully, I always found Leslie Howard just a little boring on screen (I think I read he was more comfortable on stage so I imagine he was less boring there). He was always just too controlled and too perfect. I can imagine Bergman trying to do her best to save the film here, even if this was near the start of her career, though. She just had a poise and charisma that could carry any film (to a certain point, of course).

    The Dream Book Blog

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m not a big fan of Leslie Howard in dramas, but I do like him in comedies. It would have been interesting to see him on the stage, no?

      As for Ingrid, she does her level best in this film, and her performance is remarkable. But even she can’t save this romance…


  4. I have this movie on DVD, and I enjoyed it, but because its a remake I approached it with trepidation. I really want to see the original 1936 Swedish version that Ingrid made. You’re review was great though wants again.

    By the way, because I’m addicted to hosting blogathons, I couldn’t resist hosting another one. I’d love to invite you to participate. The link is below with more details.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. That was a very interesting and honnest review I must say! I must admit that Leslie Howard is a bit a synonym of boring for me… (sorry for those who love him). Doesn’t encourage me much to see the movie tho haha. I have seen the Swedish version, but it’s not my favourite Bergman’s film tbh.
    I was wondering Ruth, was this your post for the Ingrid Bergman blogathon??

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, this is my late, late entry for the blogathon. I will link to your page, which I never thought to do until now. Doh!

      So you’re not a huge fan of the 1936 version of Intermezzo? I have to track it down. It would be very interesting to see Ingrid B. in this very early role.

      And dear Leslie Howard. I love him in comedies, but dramas…meh.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I have a special fondness for this movie as it was my introduction to Selznick. Back in the 1970s, ABC broadcast four classic Selznicks pictures in the summer and this was the first one. I agree that there could be some more sparks between Ingrid and Leslie, though.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’ve only seen parts of this on TV and I remember it as being a rather drippy affair. I do like Leslie’s striped shirt though, so there’s something positive.

    Liked by 2 people

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