Number of years ago I was eating in a New York restaurant when I looked up and noticed Ingrid Bergman’s eldest child, Pia Lindstrom, a short distance away eating dinner with her two young sons—Justin and Nicholas Daly—Ingrid Bergman’s grand-children. I knew Lindstrom by sight because she was the film and theater critic for a local New York TV News program. What I found fascinating watching them was how utterly disciplined her children were. They ate quietly, and when they finished eating went to the bathroom to wash their hands. When they returned, they held their hands up for their mother to inspect and after receiving her approval Lindstrom paid the bill and they were off. Watching them I wondered if I was getting glimpse at the home Lindstrom had grown up in; discipline and regulated. (Her father was a doctor after all) and was I learning something about her mother?
Contrary to her screen image Ingrid Bergman was a passionate, driven woman with a mind quite her own. Although David Selznick brought her to American, pretty much designed her screen image and carefully chose the films that she made—transforming her into a popular and beloved actress in America—she buckled under Selznick’s control of her career. Despite the fact that it was under Selznick’s guidance that she won an Oscar and was considered a great actress, Bergman, detested some of the films that Selznick forced her into making and wanted no more if it. Since she considered herself an artist, as soon as her seven year contracted with Selznick had run its course—and no matter how much persuading Selznick attempted—Bergman went out on her own so she could choose the films that she wanted to make.
In the process, from the time she left Selznick supervision until she had one of the greatest comebacks in screen history with the 1956 release of ANASTASIA and winning her second of three academy awards, Miss Bergman went from being the biggest star in the world into an actress pretty much blacklisted by the Hollywood studios with the films that she did make in Europe, seen by fewer and fewer people until in just 6 years she had become a has-been. Few movie stars have gone from such heights to such depths in such a short time as Miss Berman did and almost none of them were able to return from the desert as she did to once again become a popular actress beloved by audiences.
Here are the six
1948-ARCH OF TRIUMPH
On paper ARCH OF TRIUMPH had everything going for it. Based on a book by the author of ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT, directed by WESTERN FRONT’s director Leis Milestone, and a screenplay written of author Irwin Shaw. Along with Berman the starred stared the immensely popular Charles Boyer and Charles Laughton. The film was budgeted at $5,000,000 dollars (more than the Budget of Gone With The Wind) of which Berman received $175,000 and a 25 percent of the profits. In addition location work was done in Paris. I caught it once on television a number of years ago. It was boring. it was dull and as hard as I tried I couldn’t figure out what it was about and, frankly, I couldn’t make it to the end. Not only was it depressing, it was also boring. Worse the actors gave—what were for me— lack luster performances. I wasn’t alone in my feelings about the film. It only made a million and a half in the states and even with another $2,300,000 from the rest of the world not only didn’t it cover its costs but it was a big money looser. A first for Berman. Worse was soon to come.
1948-JOAN OF ARC
Bergman had tried her hand at Broadway and scored an immense success with Joan of Lorraine, a play about Joan of Arc. So, back in Hollywood, it was obvious that Bergman was perfect to make a film about Joan of Arc. But just not a film, an epic. Directed by Victor Fleming, the director of record on GONE WITH THE WIND, JOAN OF ARC film cost $5,000,000 and literally had a cast of thousands. The film played Roadshow but was cut by 45 minutes for general release. It was generally well received by the critics and received by 7 Oscar nominations. But once again the box over did not cover costs and the film lost two and half million dollars. It was Bergman’s second loser at the box office.
Alfred Hitchcock had also hated to be under contract to Selznick and couldn’t wait to go on his own exactly like Bergman. As the two had made SPELLBOUND and NOTORIOUS together—two of the biggest money makers of the 1940s as well as very well critically received—they decided to team again in UNDER CAPRICORN a live triangle melodrama taking place in Australia. Bergman played both an alcoholic and, to put it mildly, a woman with some mental issues. It also stared ex Selznick alumni Joseph Cotten who had worked with Hitchcock on SHADOW OF A DOUBT one of Hitchcock’s best films. It cost $3,000,000 and again not only didn’t cover its cost but lost money. It was eviscerated by the critics and today is considered Hitchcock’s worst film. (Although the French consider it one of his finest—but then again, that’s the French.) Bergman’s performance came in for its share of criticism. In short, UNDER CAPRICORN was a mistake for everyone. About the only thing that I can say good about the film is that this is the one where, after dealing which Bergman’s wanting everything to be just perfect, a frustrated Alfred Hitchcock uttered the now famous line, “Ingrid, it’s only a moooovie.” Moooovie or not it was Berman’s third big time box office loser in a row.
After her last three films Bergman realized that she needed a change and that change came in the form of Roberto Rossellini, the great neorealist director of OPEN CITY and PIASIN which were in style and content as different from Hollywood as day is from night. Using a documentary look Rossellini was putting reality on the screen and not Hollywood glamour. It was just what Bergman wanted. So she wrote the director and asked to be in a film of his. And that film turned out to be STROMBOLI, film in which the this world famous Hollywood actress worked with non-professionals on a pretty bleak movie about a woman who married a fisherman and their unhappy marriage. If Bergman wanted reality, she got it. But along with the film came a scandal so enormous that it found its way to both the floor of Congress and the Pope. Bergman, a married woman during the course of the film had an affair with Rossellini and instead of getting herself an abortion, decided to carry the pregnancy through. As soon as this hit the newspapers it was like an atom bomb exploding. Berman was vilified by the press, and the public turned its back on her. She was box office person and wouldn’t work in Hollywood again for nearly two decades. For all its press STROMBOLI died at the box office and pretty much sealed Bergman’s fate. Biggest star in the world now the least employable star in the world.
BERGMAN AND ROSSELLINI
After she got her divorce, Berman and ROSSELLINI married and had two other children. More importantly, they continued working together and made five additional films.
1953-WE, The WOMEN
1954-GIOVANNA D’AARCO Al ROG
1954-JOURNEY TO ITALY
Although these films drew less and less audiences and the film partnership ended when she and her director separated, these films are among the best Berman ever made and she gives performances that transcend anything she ever did in Hollywood. She plays real women in real situations that are filmed in a drab, black and white which only adds to their effect. Bergman’s performances are less affectated so much so that after a while viewers forget they are looking at Ingrid Bergman. The are immersed in the character she skillfully creates. This was the kind of work Bergman had been wanting to make since she left Selznick, and the films attest that she had been—at least artistically—correct in making her decision despite what it did to her career in terms of box office. She was always a very good actress before, but after these films she became a great one. As an actress these films tapped into areas she had never delved into and now, having done that she was at the apex of her art. Future performances would be nothing short of impeccable.
1956-ELENA AND HER MEN
Her last film in the wilderness was directed by Jean Renoir and was a light comedy of no real consequence but showed that Bergman—who had never been givenno opportunity to do this before—could handle farce and play light comedy as god as she was a dramatic actress. Her performance was praised and, as they say, time heals all wounds.
Fox, in making Anastasia needed a great actress to pull off the part. Realizing that they could get Berman cheap decided that enough time had passed so that Bergman would again be accepted by audiences. So they cast her in the lead of what was a major Hollywood movie although it was shot entirely in Europe. It proved a spectacular comeback. Her performance won Bergman another Oscar and she was back on top again. In a score of films which followed she did impressive work and at the time of her death was once again considered one of the world’s most admired women as well as true actress. Few actresses that worked at the time Bergman worked in Hollywood survived to do the quality work she did and that says a lot. She was a star right to the end. As I mentioned above she was a strong determined woman who was also a born survivor. There were few like her. What did observing her grandchildren interact with their mother teach me? The key to Ingrid Bergman was discipline which found its way into every performance she ever gave no mater the circumstances she found herself in. It was the key to her survival..