Friday, May 16, 2008

Ingrid Bergman: Getting Personal

By David Luhrssen
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Ingrid Bergman’s screen career had several unexpected peaks and downward turns; her height was the quietly lucid performance she gave in Casablanca as the wife of an anti-Nazi agitator, torn between loyalty for him and love for the cynical expatriate played by Humphrey Bogart. Charlotte Chandler has enjoyed a career as a Hollywood biographer, working largely from interviews with the stars themselves. She presents the authorized, sometimes even star-struck view of the lives in question. As a result, her accounts are often a little dull.

Chandler’s biography of Bergman, Ingrid (published in paperback by Applause Books) is better than many of her previous books, probably because her subject is unusually candid and interesting. The Swedish actress grew up being photographed by her father, who owned a photo studio. Performing for the camera came as easily to her as breathing. After being discovered by Hollywood, she insisted on preserving her natural, unaffected beauty and demeanor in an era of fabricated movie glamour.

By the time of Casablanca (1942), she had already played memorable parts, especially as the romantic spark in the love story Intermezzo (1939) and the imperiled barmaid of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941). Bergman admits with a smile that she never wanted to be in Casablanca. No one else did either, especially Bogart. The movie was written on the fly and filmed with few expectations. It became the definition of an accidental classic, resulting from an unexpected chemical reaction when actors and dialogue were combined with the morally imperative wartime scenario and the peculiarities of Hollywood censorship.

As Casablanca’s screenwriter Julius Epstein told the author about Bergman: “There will never be another face like that. Ingrid didn’t have to speak a word. There was a look in those eyes that said it all.”

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