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The Times (31/Aug/1982) - Obituary: Ingrid Bergman

(c) The Times (31/Aug/1982)

Obituary: Miss Ingrid Bergman

Flim actress of classic qualities

Miss Ingrid Bergman, who died in London on August 29 on her 67th birthday was a screen personality who managed remarkably to bridge the gap between film star and actress: though as a classic Hollywood star her face and personality were her principal fortune, she demonstrated at difficult stages in her career considerable gifts as an actress which carried her through one major reversal in her career and brought her back with her standing enhanced, if anything, by the setback.

She was born in Sweden in 1915, and after some experience on stage and screen scored a major success in Sweden and Europe generally with her performance in Gustav Molander's Intermezzo (1936), in which she played a young music teacher involved in a hopeless affair with the violinist father of a pupil.

In all she made ten films in Sweden before going to Hollywood in 1938 under contract to David O. Selznick, who had discovered her in Intermezzo and began her American career with a remake of it in which she starred opposite Leslie Howard. Despite attempts to change her name, and regroom her (Selznick was worried when she proved to be 69 1/2 inches tall), she emerged in the American Intermezzo (also called Escape to Happiness) with very much the natural, well-scrubbed, fresh look which at once rendered her distinctive and was to remain her particular quality throughout her career. Graham Greene noted in his review of the film that she made her first appearance on the international screen with "a highlight gleaming on her nose-tip", and added "That gleam is typical of a performance which doesn't give the effect of acting at all, but of living - without make-up."

In most of her subsequent American films she was remarkable, even if the films frequently were not. In Dr Jekyli and Mr Hyde (1941) she played the good girl and would have preferred to play the bad girl. In Gaslight (1944) she was reduced to a nervous wreck with improbable rapidity by her husband's machinations, and won an Academy Award for it. For the role of the heroine in For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943) she was Hemingway's own choice, but the film was gutless.

Her most famous film of this era, Casablanca (1942) was little more than a timely soap-opera which by a happy combination of casting and the moment at which it was made assumed a sort of mythic status as a quintessential movie-like-they-don't-make-them-any-more, but probably did more for her than she did for it. And much the same could be said of The Bells St Mary's 1945, in which at least her crisp, no-nonsense manner helped to take the curse off a saccharine tale of whimsical religious in a benevolent world.

In 1945, back again under the rule of Selznick, to whom she was still under contract, she began one of the most fruitful collaborations of her career, that with Hitchcock, for whom she played the lead in three films. The first of them, Spellbound, had her cast as a psychiatrist who falls in love with her unofficial patient, Gregory Peck. In Notorious (1946) she was involved with Cary Grant in some complex espionage activities in Brazil, not to mention some of the most sustained love scenes filmed up to that time. The third Hitchcock film, Under Capricorn (1949), though much admired by French critics, seems by comparison heavy and turgid, and suffers from some signs of preoccupation on its star's part: she had already embarked on the affair with the Italian director Roberto Rossellini which was to make her an outcast for some years from a still on the surface prudish and moralistic Hollywood.

This began when Rossellini approached her with the idea of starring in a film to be made in the Neo-Realist fashion without studio work, without a formal script, working directly out of the location and the real life of its inhabitants. The location selected was a small Mediterranean island, and the story of Stromboli (1950) was in the event a somewhat flimsy and even novelettish affair of illicit love and psychological retribution.

Rossellini was in fact moving away from the directly social preoccupations of his earlier films, and the presence of Ingrid Bergman as his regular star and collaborator helped to turn him in four subsequent features more in the direction of inward, psychological drama and even a semi-mystical view of human nature, guilt, expiation and the importance of the word, of confession. Europa 51, Journey to Italy and Fear (this last made in Germany) were only very patchily distributed, and Joan at the Stake, a film version of the spectacular stage production of Honegger's opera-oratorio with which Rossellini and Bergman toured Europe, not even that.

It seemed as though the liaison (turned into marriage as soon as both were free) was disastrous for both parties, professionally at least - though recent years have brought about a revaluation of the films Rossellini made at this time, now seeable without the preconceptions inescapable in the heyday of Neo-Realism. The fact remains that at the time Ingrid Bergman's career seemed to have slipped into total obscurity. After the breakup of her marriage with Rossellini she began to rebuild it in various ways: she starred in the Paris stage production of Tea and Sympathy, and made a film in France with Jean Renoir, Elena et les hommes. And then in 1956 she achieved a triumphant return to the American cinema with Anastasia, an effectively fictionalized account of the main claimant to the Romanoff succession, for which she won the Academy Award of that year, her second.

No more conclusive sign of Hollywood's "forgiveness" could be given, and from then on she remained in a privileged position as a star who remained almost ageless, could work when she liked on what she liked, and has established the hard way her right to be independent of Hollywood and made Hollywood come to her.

Not all the films she made subsequently were altogether wise choices. Stanley Donen's Indiscreet (1958), in which she was teamed again with Gary Grant, was a comedy of considerable charm and polish, though in parts it suggested that light comedy was not perhaps her forte. The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958), in which she played the missionary in China Gladys Aylward, was one of her biggest popular successes, and The Visit (1964), Bernhard Wicki's ambitious version of Duerrenmatt's play, saw her doing her best with a role which, in its rooted malevolence, was far remote from her normal screen persona.

In 1967 she made a' brief return to Sweden for an episode in the composite film Stimulantia which brought her together again with the veteran director Gustav Molander in a polished adaptation of Maupassant. Of the other latterday films, Cactus Flower (1969) is probably the most effective, showing that even if comedy did not come very naturally to her on screen, she could when she chose be very funny indeed letting her hair down in broad farce.

In the 1970s, unexpectedly, she moved on to new triumphs in the cinema. In 1974 she won another Oscar, this time for a supporting role in the all-star Murder on the Orient Express (not that her role was any more supporting than anyone else's), appeared interestingly, cast against type, as the mysterious, mad old woman in Vincente Minnelli's A Matter of Time (1976), and gave one of her finest, most unsparing performances back in Sweden, in Swedish, for her namesake Ingmar Bergman's Autumn Sonata. She claimed that this would be her last, crowning film role, but promptly changed her mind to play the even more unlikely role of Golda Meir in a screen biography.

Throughout this time she had also continued to act on stage, scoring major successes in London in a distinguished revival of A Month in the Country with Michael Redgrave, and in New York in the first production of Eugene O'Neill's posthumous More Stately Mansions; in the 1970s she appeared in Captain Brass-bound's Conversion and The Constant Wife in both Britain and America, and played with Wendy Hiller in a London revival of N.C. Hunter's Waters of the Moon.

In all these performances, varied though they were, the keynote, as in her screenwork, was naturalness. It was difficult sometimes, such was her skill in suggesting that she was not acting but just living in front of the camera, to recognize her real skills as an actress, which tended (at least up to Autumn Sonata) to be underestimated. But there was a whole range of roles which were from the beginning unmistakably, unarguably "Ingrid Bergman roles", and that was that.