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.
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.
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?
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.