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Month: April 2015

Intermezzo: A Love Story (1939)

Intermezzo: A Love Story (1939)

NOTE: I’m posting this review and the next one as part of the Classic Movie Blog Association’s “Fabulous Films of the 30s” spring blogathon. When I committed to writing about “Intermezzo” (both versions), I honestly didn’t know whether they would classify as ‘fabulous’ or not, since I hadn’t watched the 1939 version in many years, and had never seen the original. While both unfortunately failed the test of fabulous-ness (they’re not “must-see” classics of the decade), their luminous star — the inimitable Ingrid Bergman — is as classic and fabulous as they come! So, I’m happy to introduce you to both Bergman’s first Hollywood film, and the film responsible for bringing her to English-speaking audiences.

“I wonder if anyone has ever built happiness on the unhappiness of others?”

Intermezzo 1939 Poster

Synopsis:
A talented pianist (Ingrid Bergman) giving lessons to a young girl (Ann E. Todd) falls in love with Todd’s father (Leslie Howard), a famous violinist whose long-suffering wife (Edna Best) realizes their marriage is at risk.

Genres:

Review:
Ingrid Bergman was wooed to Hollywood by David Selznick after he witnessed her stunning presence in the 1936 Swedish romance Intermezzo (1936), which was remade in English nearly scene-for-scene several years later. In both films, Bergman’s starstruck young beauty harbors an enormous crush on the famous father (Howard) of her pupil, and ultimately can’t resist her romantic longings. Will things end well for the sinning couple — especially given how sympathetic Howard’s wife (Best) remains? Not likely. The entire affair is presented in an overly tasteful fashion, with characters solemnly making comments such as “Love isn’t sensible” while gazing into each other’s eyes and spending time in beautiful locales. A zither appears at one point, adding a bit of musical distinction and presenting a young girl (Marie Flynn) meant to evoke Howard’s sense of paternal obligation and love. There is ultimately little here to hold onto in terms of narrative; Intermezzo only remains distinctive at this point for its visual classiness (Gregg Toland’s cinematography is impeccable) and for Bergman’s luminous beauty. She’s a delight to watch no matter what material she’s given.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Ingrid Bergman as Anita
    Intermezzo 1939 Bergman
  • Gregg Toland’s cinematography
    Intermezzo 1939 Cinematography
    Intermezzo 1939 Cinematography2

Must See?
No; like its predecessor, this one is only must-see for Bergman fans.

Links:

Intermezzo (1936)

Intermezzo (1936)

“Is it a crime to realize I can’t live without you?”

Intermezzo 1936 Poster

Synopsis:
An aspiring pianist (Ingrid Bergman) falls in love with the violinist-father (Gosta Ekman) of one of her pupils (Britt Hagman), eventually causing the break-up of Ekman’s marriage to his long-suffering wife (Inga Tidblad).

Genres:

Review:
21-year-old Ingrid Bergman is positively luminous in this Swedish romantic melodrama, known for causing Hollywood (David Selznick in particular) to take notice of Bergman’s charms and woo her across the ocean (where she soon starred in a nearly identical English-language remake). The storyline itself is simplistic and (mostly) predictable, with all key players interacting oh-so-tastefully with one another as they voice hoary dialogue (“A human being feels this happiness only once in their life”) while passionate classical music plays in the background. The movie is primarily of interest to film fanatics due to Bergman’s presence: it’s instantly clear why she was considered a cinematic gem worth cultivating. Åke Dahlqvist’s cinematography highlights her considerable beauty and vitality, making this a visually pleasant if overly genteel film to sit through.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Ingrid Bergman as Anita
    Intermezzo Bergman
  • Fine cinematography
    Intermezzo 1936 Cinematography
    ntermezzo 1935 Camerawork

Must See?
No; this one will only be of interest to diehard Bergman fans (who will likely feel rewarded by a viewing). Listed as a film with Historical value in the back of Peary’s book.

Links:

Cheaper By the Dozen (1950)

Cheaper By the Dozen (1950)

“They’re all mine — and believe me, it’s no picnic!”

CBTD Poster

Synopsis:
A work-efficiency expert (Clifton Webb) and his wife (Myrna Loy) raise twelve children — six boys and six girls (including Jeanne Crain) — in the early 20th century.

Genres:

Review:
This Technicolor adaptation of Frank Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth’s bestselling 1948 memoir-novel remains a sincere but lackluster cinematic rendering. The film, like the book it’s based on, is episodic, telling a number of faithfully rendered tales from the Gilbreths’ nostalgic recollections of their upbringing in a house of 14 (plus help). In stark contrast to the emotional devastation chronicled by Stephen Zanichkowsky in his memoir Fourteen: Growing Up Alone in a Crowd (2003), Frank and Ernestine appear to have genuinely appreciated their experience as part of an enormous family run by efficiency-driven yet loving parents. They fondly recall incidences such as collective tonsil-removal taking place in their house; Mrs. Gilbreth (Loy, looking appropriately tired yet plucky) responding to a visit by a naive birth-control advocate; Crain’s bold decision to bob her long hair; and various Gilbreth family “council” meetings.

The primary problem with the film is the unfortunate casting of Clifton Webb as the Gilbreth patriarch. Webb — who previously starred to great effect in directer Walter Lang’s Sitting Pretty (1948) (and whose character, Belvedere, endorses this film in the poster above!) — might appear to be a logical choice as an efficiency expert, but (sadly) he lacks the charisma of the real-life Frank Gilbreth Sr., who is described in the book as “like a breath of fresh air when he walked into a room”, and someone who people “couldn’t be around without liking”. Webb is many things — i.e., droll and bright — but an intrinsically likeable breath of fresh air he is not (at least not here). Viewing short (silent) clips of the real Gilbreth family reveals a ruddy, larger-than-life patriarch who was a rare breed of kid-loving, extroverted control freak. Webb tries hard to convey a loving paternal presence on screen, but there’s no denying that one can’t realistically imagine him as the happily married father of twelve.

With that said, the film moves along pleasantly enough, and will appeal to those who prefer their historical dramas heavily dripping in nostalgia; as noted by Bosley Crowther in his original review for the New York Times: “…this is far from a picture of real and believable family life. This is a picture of illusions — happy, sentimental, even absurd.” Most enjoyable are the occasional zingy lines in the screenplay — i.e., Webb noting that Crain’s short-statured, Mickey-Rooney-esque date (Benny Bartlett) “looks like what might happen if a pygmy married a bobtail penguin.” However, this turns out to be taken almost directly from the book, which contains infinitely more enjoyable one-liners:

Dad told mother that the only church he’d even consider joining was the Catholic church. ‘That’s the only outfit that would give me special credit for having such a large family,’ he said.

Ultimately, I only recommend this film for diehard fans of the book who are curious to see how it was adapted.

Note: For the record, I have not seen the Steve Martin remake (2003), and don’t plan to unless I’m convinced it’s significantly better than this version…

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Fun opening credits
    Cheaper By Dozen Opening Credits

Must See?
No; read the book instead!

Links: