Tag Archives: Ingrid Bergman

Top 100 Films #34 – Casablanca (1942)

 

annex-bogart-humphrey-casablanca_13#34. Casablanca (1942)
Directed by: Michael Curtiz
Written by: Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein, Howard Koch (based on Everybody Comes to Rick’s by Murray Burnett, Joan Alison)
Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Conrad Veidt, Peter Lorre, Dooley Wilson

Casablanca is another film on my list that has been talked about by fans, critics, and historians for decades, and one which few revelations can still be made about.  In my opinion, it’s one of the most perfectly constructed films ever made, featuring a tremendous romantic plot, humor, action, style, and suspense – what else could you ever need?  Casablanca takes place in the titular city of Casablanca, Morocco during World War II, where people of many political and social allegiances come to enjoy the sights and nightlife.  Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) is a proprietor Casablanca, running “Rick’s Café Américain” where he has made a name for himself, and formed relationships with people of all cultures and beliefs.  Rick soon meets a former lover named Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) and her husband Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), who bring with them a number of complications that Rick thought he had finally escaped. Casablanca is a film that is better viewed with little knowledge of the major plot points, as it has been parodied and paid homage to on dozens of occasions over the years.  It’s screenplay is one of the greatest in the history of film, using quick, snappy dialogue to push forward the already fast-paced plot.  The chemistry between all of the main characters is incredible, especially between those who are more permanent residents of Casablanca – Bogart’s Rick is familiar with every face that walks into his cafe, and has a different rapport with each of them.  When Bergman’s Ilsa finally comes into play, it’s immediately apparent that Rick holds some resentment towards her, taking it out on his piano-playing friend Sam (Dooley Wilson) – who manages to always take it in stride.  Bogart and Bergman are electric together on screen, making their scripted romance feel genuine and lifelike.  Both legendary actors put in some of the best works of their impressive careers, thanks in part to the Academy Award winning screenplay by Julius J. and Philip G. Epstein, and Howard Koch.  The way the screenplay uses humor and suspense concurrently feels incredibly modern and refreshing, making Casablanca feel like it hasn’t aged a single day.  Director Michael Curtiz’s vision of the city of Casablanca is dreamy and idyllic, especially for what was such a complicated and turbulent time for most of the world – it’s a place anybody would want to travel to for a few days, if only to get away from the complications of everyday life.  The characters are all fully realized and endearing for their unique character traits, with Rick, Ilsa, Sam, Victor, and Captain Renault (Claude Rains) being some of the all-time most memorable in classic films.  Casablanca is a masterpiece from start to finish, and a perfect example of how a screenplay can almost single-handedly carry a film.  Luckily, great performances and inspired direction push Casablanca over the edge, creating one of the all-time greats.

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Top 100 Films #49 – Autumn Sonata (1978)

 

lead-autumn-sonata#49. Autumn Sonata (1978)
Directed by: Ingmar Bergman
Written by: Ingmar Bergman
Starring: Ingrid Bergman, Liv Ullmann, Lena Nyman, Halvar Bjork

Sweden’s Ingmar Bergman knew familial drama like few others before or after them, and his 1978 film Autumn Sonata may very well be one of his most powerful late-career projects.  Starring the always marvelous Liv Ullmann as a pianist named Eva who invites her aging mother Charlotte (Ingrid Bergman) – a world class pianist – to visit her and her husband Viktor (Halvar Bjork).  Eva’s disabled sister Helena (Lena Nyman) makes an appearance in the home, shocking Charlotte and bringing about a wide range of difficult feelings.  Eva feels as if Charlotte has never truly loved her daughters as a mother should, which also brings with it a simmering tension ready to boil over at any moment.  Autumn Sonata is a beautiful, small film that likes of which are hardly seen anymore, especially from auteurs like Ingmar Bergman.  It deals with the usual Bergman themes of death, regret, and sorrow, but also delves deep into themes of reconciliation and the reconstruction of relationships, and does so very elegantly. The familial unit of Eva, Charlotte, and Helena feels genuine and depressing for a number of reasons – each character desperately wants to express themselves fully and say what they need to, but can’t for fear of furthering the chasms between them.  Eva and Charlotte’s subtle rivalry over their achievements and talents as pianists furthers the tension and Bergman uses it to produce some very subtle moments of building angst and bitterness.  The performances in Autumn Sonata are incredible, as they often are in Bergman’s best films.  Ingrid Bergman’s commanding performance as the cold Charlotte is one of the film’s strongest points – making viewers flip-flop between sympathy and genuine dislike of the woman.  Her chemistry with co-star Liv Ullmann is palpable and is a large part of why Autumn Sonata is such an affecting piece.  Ullmann’s more emotionally fragile Eva is terrific – she gives the audience a real sense that her current life is truly unsatisfying, living with constant regret and a desire for more. Lastly, Lena Nyman’s Helena stands out as being a very good performance – her character’s disabilities feel genuine and cause her and her family a great deal of real frustration and empathy.  If you’re unfamiliar with the films of Ingmar Bergman, Autumn Sonata may not be the best starting point – but it sure as hell represents everything great that the director tackled during his prolific career.  It features great performances, an emotionally charged script by Bergman himself, and excellent, un-shaking direction.  When the emotional fissures between the lead characters finally begin to widen, Autumn Sonata becomes a true masterpiece.  

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Women in Film Feature #3 – Gaslight (1944)

gasl2Gaslight (1944)
Directed by: George Cukor
Written by: John Van Druten, Walter Reisch, John L. Balderston (Based on Gas Light by Patrick Hamilton)
Starring: Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, Joseph Cotten, Dame May Whitty, Angela Lansbury

The Swedish born Ingrid Bergman has starred in some of the most iconic films of the 1940’s and 50’s, and yet remains undiscovered by an entire generation of people unenthused with the pictures, and uninterested in their storied past.  With an impressive resume of films including Casablanca, Notorious, Spellbound, The Bells of St. Mary’s, Anastasia, Murder on the Orient Express, Autumn Sonata, and a thematic trilogy of films with director Roberto Rossellini, Ingrid Bergman has an entire body of work ripe for discovery.  Renowned in Hollywood for her naturalistic performances, Bergman helped change the way actresses were viewed during the golden age of American films.  On screen, she was graceful, subtle, and effortlessly realistic – which stood out in an era filled with over-the-top damsel in distress performances by some of her contemporaries.  Ingrid’s realism focused performances managed to win her two Academy Awards for Best Actress, one for Best Supporting Actress, and saw her nominated a further four times throughout her career.  Her work with directors like Alfred Hitchcock, Roberto Rossellini, Ingmar Bergman, George Cukor, Leo McCarey, and Michael Curtiz remain some of the most acclaimed films of their time, and have ensured that Ingrid Bergman’s place in Hollywood history is rightfully recognized.

The man of the hour in 1944’s Hollywood was undoubtedly the Master of Suspense himself, Alfred Hitchcock.  With a Best Picture win just a few years previously for Rebecca, and a slew of hit American films under his belt, the man had quickly managed to leave an impression on other filmmakers of the time.  There’s no doubt in my mind that director George Cukor took a page (or an entire chapter) out of Hitchcock’s book when approaching the story of Gaslight.  Soaked in an atmosphere of dread, featuring incredibly suspenseful moments, packed with twists and turns, and filled with good performances, it has all the makings of a Hitchcock film.  Cukor had made a career as a director for hire for major studios throughout the 1930’s, and had succeeded in eventually making quite a name for himself.  With a pair of incredible performances from leads Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer, a tight and thrilling screenplay, and dark and moody cinematography, it’s no wonder why Cukor’s Gaslight instantly became one of the director’s biggest hits.   The film earned seven Oscar nominations including major categories like Best Picture, Best Actress (Ingrid Bergman), Best Actor (Charles Boyer), and Best Supporting Actress (Angela Lansbury).  The highly acclaimed Swedish-born actress Ingrid Bergman took home her first of three statues for her performance in Gaslight, praised for her portrayal of a paranoid and desperate woman trying to a solve a deadly mystery with suspects right under her own nose.  Gaslight is also notable for being the on-screen debut of prolific actress Angela Lansbury, multiple time Academy Award nominee, and star of the long running hit show Murder, She Wrote.  The film is seen as being somewhat dated to today’s standards, but remains an incredibly effective and suspenseful look at the forced descent into madness of a woman by a man who has managed to make his way deep into her heart.

gaslight

Paula (Ingrid Bergman) and Elizabeth (Barbara Everest) in 1944’s Gaslight.

Gaslight begins on a murderous note, with opera singer Alice Alquist turning up dead and her jewel-seeking killer fleeing the scene after being interrupted by a young woman.  The young woman is Paula (Ingrid Bergman), Alice’s niece.  The young Paula is sent to Italy soon after, in order to study under a famed opera singer, and so that she can hopefully forget about the events she saw unfold on that fateful night.  Soon, Paula meets a charming and wealthy man by the name of Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer), and the two quickly fall in love and marry.  Gregory convinces Paula that returning to London and living in her aunt’s vacant house would be best for her mental recovery, and the two set off for their new home.  Alice’s belongings are tucked away in the attic in order to help Paula adjust, and a young maid named Nancy (Angela Lansbury) is hired.  After accidentally finding a letter addressed to her late aunt and being forbidden by her husband to read it, Paula begins to notice odd occurrences around her new home.  The home’s gaslights begin to dim and brighten at random, pictures disappear off the walls, and she loses prized possessions from the safety of her own person.  To top it all off, the new maid seems to have taken a disliking to Paula, but her husband ignores all signs of this.  Convinced by Gregory that she’s imagining all of these events and that she’s still reeling from the trauma of seeing her aunt’s murder, Paula begins to doubt many aspects of her own reality.  She is soon isolated from outsiders by those inside the house, and her sanity is called into question by her husband.  Is there more at play than just a woman losing her mind, or is Paula being influenced by an insidious power?  Find out in George Cukor’s Gaslight!

While George Cukor and company may have taken many a page out of Alfred Hitchcock’s style book, there’s something very different and special about the way Gaslight plays out.  Its twists and turns aren’t quite as “big” as some of Hitchcock’s most effective moments, but Cukor instead opts for subtlety and making the audience think really hard.  The well-paced direction focuses on getting to know our principal characters initially, and then takes a sudden and hard turn into one woman’s battle for her own sanity.  The attention to detail and art direction is something to be admired, as the sets and costumes create a realistic and fully-immersive portrait of the film’s time and setting.  The real shining feature of Gaslight though, is its acting.  Cukor’s film is more than anything a moody and dark showcase for four incredible talents to give their absolute best performances possible.  The audience knows the twist from the very beginning, making Ingrid Bergman’s supposed descent into madness a truly frustrating and infuriating experience for viewers.  Bergman’s performance as the tortured Paula is incredible, as it’s never played in an over-the-top fashion.  Paula is a believably traumatized young woman who may have put what little trust she had left into somebody that is completely toxic for her.  Supporting Ingrid Bergman’s Oscar-winning performance is a delightfully evil Charles Boyer as Gregory, Paula’s charming husband.  Boyer’s Gregory is sly, cunning, and has a silver-tongue when it comes to dealing with his wife, and every scene featuring the two becomes a subtle and suspenseful power play.  Even Hitchcock would have trouble making a character so hateable and yet so fully-realized at the same time, but Cukor pulls it off masterfully.  Worth mentioning is the debut of Angela Lansbury, whose turn as the maid Nancy earned her an Oscar nomination as well.  Nancy aids in creating the tense and toxic atmosphere that is slowly driving Paula insane, and the very young Lansbury is perfect for the role.

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Oscar-winner Ingrid Bergman and Best Actor nominee Charles Boyer in George Cukor’s terrific Gaslight.

While it may not be a completely unique or unpredictable tale in the modern age, George Cukor’s Gaslight is an incredible tale of a web of lies, deceit, betrayal, and madness.  It gives Alfred Hitchcock’s very best a run for its money, and has been undoubtedly influential on modern day suspense pictures.  Guillermo del Toro should have taken a page out of George Cukor’s book when making 2015’s Crimson Peak, as the two films share a great deal of similarities.  Gaslight features an Oscar-winning performance from one of Hollywood’s most talented actresses, a terrific and believable antagonist, subtle and deliberate pacing, and hopelessly bleak atmosphere aided by the dark and foggy cinematography.  It’s slow, maddening, and chock full of incredibly admirable qualities.  George Cukor’s Gaslight is highly recommended.

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March Theme – Women in Film (An Introduction)

0010731846After learning a great deal about black culture and the history of diversity in Hollywood, I’ve decided to keep the ball rolling with the issue of diversity in the world of film.  March will focus on women in film, whether they’re behind the camera or acting in front of it.  The Women in Film marathon will span the entire history of talking films, starting in 1935 and ending in 1993, and will feature pictures from Hollywood, Belgium, and New Zealand.  I’ve left the rules relatively uncomplicated, with my only stipulation being that a renowned actress or director is behind the project.

The marathon will feature six films starring some of the greatest actresses in the history of Hollywood, most of them doubling as Oscar-nominated and other award winning performances.  On top of those, two more films will take a look at the world of women behind the camera, with their films coming from around the world. The goal of this series is to further my own appreciation for how far women in film have come over the last century, and to expose myself and others to some of the projects that helped women get a foothold in the famously male-dominated industry.

The films being covered will be as follows:

  • Alice Adams (1935) (dir. George Stevens) – This Academy Award nominated drama saw Katharine Hepburn jump back into the limelight after her career suffered from a short tailspin following her first Oscar win. Hepburn still holds the impressive record for most career Academy Award wins with four.
  • Now, Voyager (1942) (dir. Irving Rapper) – One of the all-time greatest dramatic performers in Hollywood, Bette Davis, was nominated for her sixth Oscar and is often considered to be one of the stronger performances in her illustrious career.
  • Gaslight (1944) (dir. George Cukor) – The famous mystery film earned Ingrid Bergman her first of three Academy Awards, and would help put her on a course that would eventually see her collaborate with filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock, Roberto Rossellini, Sidney Lumet, and Ingmar Bergman.
  • To Each His Own (1946) (dir. Mitchell Leisen) – The acclaimed romantic drama saw the great Olivia de Havilland win her first of two Academy Awards for her portrayal of a strong, but lonely, woman in the world of business.
  • Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) (dir. Blake Edwards) – One of the most famous American movies that has somehow managed to elude me for so long sees the lovely Audrey Hepburn in one of the most iconic screen roles of all-time. Hepburn was nominated for her fourth Oscar for her performance.
  • Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975) (dir. Chantal Akerman) – Often celebrated as the world’s greatest female film director, Chantal Akerman’s nearly four hour epic is an arthouse masterpiece. Akerman tragically committed suicide in October of 2015 after a long battle with depression.
  • Sophie’s Choice (1982) (dir. Alan J. Pakula) – Seen as one of the greatest performances in a career that is full of great performances, Meryl Streep took home her second of three Academy Awards, and would serve as her fourth of nineteen nominations at the world’s oldest award ceremony.
  • The Piano (1993) (dir. Jane Campion) – A massive financial and critical success that put director Jane Campion on the map, winning the Palme d’Or at that year’s Cannes film festival.  The film’s success would see her nominated for Best Director at the Academy Awards, making Campion only the second woman ever nominated for the honor.

The schedule for the Women in Film series is as follows:

#1 – Alice Adams – Katharine Hepburn (1935) (Mar. 2)
#2 – Now, Voyager – Bette Davis (1942) (Mar. 4)
#3 – Gaslight – Ingrid Bergman (1944) (Mar. 7)
#4 – To Each His Own – Olivia de Havilland (1946) (Mar. 11)
#5 – Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Audrey Hepburn (1961) (Mar. 14)
#6 – Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles – Chantal Akerman (1975) (Mar. 18)
#7 – Sophie’s Choice – Meryl Streep (1982) (Mar. 21)
#8 – The Piano – Jane Campion (1993) (Mar. 25)

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