Intermezzo: A Love Story (1939)

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  • directed by Gregory Ratoff
  • starring Leslie Howard, Ingrid Bergman, Edna Best, John Halliday, Ann E. Todd, Douglas Scott
  • A concert violinist falls in love with his daughter’s talented piano teacher.

“I have been an intermezzo in his life.”

A slight examination on infidelity and ultimately forgiveness, Intermezzo: A Love Story follows the truly selfish Holgar Brandt, played by Leslie Howard, as he abandons his home, wife, and two children to frolic around in love with the gorgeous and talented Anita. Intermezzo is the term for a short piece of music connected to but independent from a larger work. The musical element, Holgar and Anita’s profession, was all over the film and it added to the overall theme of structure versus wild, art-driven romance. I think it was no accident that most or all of the musical scenes were centered on concepts of practice and lessons, as if we humans are able to adapt music into cold processes like memorization or math, but those magical and ethereal qualities that arise from it cannot be controlled. That difference played nicely alongside the concepts explored of stable marriage versus temptation. The violin and piano parts were thoughtful, emotional, and lent a serious importance to lead characters that at times were too simple and frivolous to deserve it.

It was great in a historical document sort of way to see “…and introducing Ingrid Bergman” in the film’s opening credits. It was Bergman’s first American film and here she reprised her role as the other woman, Anita Hoffman, which she played in the original Swedish version of Intermezzo three years earlier. Knowing what we know of her great work over many decades to come, it was obvious–to her credit not terribly obvious—that this was her first English-speaking role. She was a little clunky with the language, maybe a little nervous here and there, but there’s no mystery in what David O. Selznick saw in her to bring her here and support her through her early U.S. career. All of the powerful, pure, and sensitive traits of Bergman jumped out immediately. Light and shadow seemed to hit her face in a way that it hit nobody else’s. It’s been said that she showed up to Hollywood and prepared obsessively on her work, rarely leaving the studio, and yet every time she shows up on screen there is an effortless air to what she’s doing, all the more impressive for an up-until-then outsider.

The only problem I have with Bergman in this is that, like Howard’s Holgar, her character is childish and her motivations disagreeable. For a while during Intermezzo I didn’t think the other shoe was going to drop when it came to Holgar leaving his family behind without too much regret. There are a few movies of this era in which husbands are welcomed and thanked for returning home no matter how gross the transgression. I expected the same here. Not that Holgar would realize how much he loves his wife and children, but that the guilt would be so much that he can’t even enjoy Anita so he might as well go back. That pretty much happened here, though Anita was the one with the courage to walk away, but I was pleased to see the level of remorse with which Holgar returned home.

I got the sense upon the all-over-map final act that this could be just the beginning of yet another dark hole for Holgar not helped by the fact that his daughter got hit by a car running to greet him after his time away. I didn’t think this was going to be a movie that could ever shock me, but jaw surely hit floor as his daughter lie motionless in the street. I can’t figure out why that was part of the story. It was as if they needed a concrete reason for Hogar to be extra depressed and remorseful; as if betraying his wife, leaving his daughter without her favorite person in the world, and distracting his mistress away from a potentially groundbreaking music career must not be enough to hit true rock bottom about.

All in all, it was uneven, helped greatly by its injection of music, and most notable for a solid U.S. debut for Ingrid Bergman.

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About classixquest
all the things I should have seen

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