Friday, March 16, 2018

Intermezzo: A Love Story (1939)



1939 was a good year for David O. Selznick. While in the midst of working on what would become recognized as one of the greatest movies of all time, Gone with the Wind, Selznick was also making strides at his studio Selznick International Pictures. He had his talent scout Katharine Brown (aka Kay B. Barrett) constantly on the lookout for new faces. A young elevator operator in New York City mentioned the Swedish film Intermezzo (1936) to Brown. She watched it in a small art house theatre and then immediately had the film sent to Selznick in Hollywood. Selznick was sold and he invited Bergman to Hollywood to remake the movie in English and to sign a contract with his studio. In her 1973 interview with British TV host Parkinson, Ingrid Bergman said, "I owe my career in America to the elevator boy." Bergman was immediately groomed for stardom. She had to work on her English, they had to figure out what to do with her figure (a curvaceous 5'10 actress was not the norm), and her name. She had already made a career for herself in Europe with her real name and didn't want to let it go. Her name was hers and it was here to stay. Selznick and his team had to concede. It was fortuitous for everyone involved that they had come to this agreement because Bergman was now on a trajectory to become one of the biggest stars in Hollywood.

Merriam-Webster definition of intermezzo:
1: a short light entr'acte
2 a : a movement coming between the major sections of an extended musical work
b : a short independent instrumental composition
3 : a usually brief interlude or diversion

Intermezzo: A Love Story (1939) stars Leslie Howard as Holger Brandt, a celebrated composer and violinist who has just finished his tour with retiring pianist Thomas Stenborg (John Halliday). After many months away from home, he finally returns to his devoted wife Margit (Edna Best), his son Eric (Douglas Scott) and his daughter Ann Marie (Ann E. Todd). Ann Marie is following in her father's footsteps and has taken up classical music. She's been taking piano lessons from Anita Hoffman (Ingrid Bergman). Holger pays Anita no mind until he witnesses her incredible talent at the piano. Their mutual passion for music intertwines with their feelings for each other. Anita becomes Holger's new accompanist and the two leave everything behind them to live a new life of romantic bliss. However the past begins to creep up on them. And there is Holger's family to think of, especially little Ann Marie who keeps hoping her father will come home soon. Holger and Anita must decide whether their love will be forever or if it'll just be a brief intermezzo.


Leslie Howard and Ingrid Bergman in Intermezzo

"I haven't any right to be happy the way I'm happy with you... I'm fighting to be sensible." - Anita
"Love isn't sensible." - Holger

The film was directed by Gregory Ratoff whom Selznick borrowed from 20th Century Fox. William Wyler was going to be the director but had to drop out due to a delay in production and other commitments. It was a huge hit and launched Bergman's career into the stratosphere. A few years later she'd star in another film, you might have heard of it, Casablanca (1942). 1939 was a good year for Leslie Howard too. He also starred in Gone With the Wind and Intermezzo was his film producing debut. Selznick made Intermezzo for $4.8 million and it went on to make $153.8 million at the box office. It was nominated for two Oscars, Gregg Toland for Best Cinematography, Black-and-White and Louis Forbes for Best Music, Scoring.

Ann E. Todd and Ingrid Bergman in Intermezzo

The story of Intermezzo had parallels to the lives of some of it's stars. Child actress Ann E. Todd, who plays the Holger's classical music loving daughter Ann Marie, was the daughter of musicians, notable Burrill Phillips, a composer and pianist. She was raised by her grandparents and encouraged to become an actress. It wasn't her calling through and after she gave up acting in the early 1950s she pursued her interest in classical music. She got a masters degree in music history and became a college professor in San Francisco. Star Leslie Howard had his own intermezzo with Hollywood secretary Violette Cunnington. The two had an extramarital affair. She passed away of sepsis at the age of 32 just months before Howard perished in a plane crash during WWII. Howard left one of his houses to Cunnington in his will which hadn't been updated after she had passed. Ingrid Bergman suffered a huge scandal when she left her husband Petter Lindstrom for director Roberto Rossellini. The affair made her persona non grata in Hollywood for years until she returned in 1956.

When I watched this film years ago, I was surprised how this made it through in the era of the Hays Code. According to the AFI "materials contained in the MPAA/PCA disclose that Joseph Breen insisted that 'Anita' be punished for her adultery." That seems to suggest something different than what actually happens in the story. Intermezzo is an ultimately heartbreaking film that doesn't leave you completely destroyed. You know what has to happen but you still find yourself enjoying the journey.




Intermezzo: A Love Story (1939) is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Kino Lorber. The disc includes audio commentary from Film Historian Kat Ellinger and a few trailers.

Thank you to Kino Lorber for sending me the Intermezzo Blu-Ray for review!

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