Watching 1939: Intermezzo, A Love Story (1939)

In 2011, I announced I was trying to see every film released in 1939. This new series chronicles films released in 1939 as I watch them. As we start out this blog feature, this section may become more concrete as I search for a common thread that runs throughout each film of the year. Right now, that’s difficult.

1939 film: Intermezzo, A Love Story (1939)

Release date: Oct. 6, 1939

Cast: Ingrid Bergman, Leslie Howard, Edna Best, John Halliday, Cecil Kellaway, Ann E. Todd, Enid Bennett, Douglas Scott

Studio: Selznik International Pictures

Director: Gregory Ratoff

Successful concert violinist Holger Brandt (Howard) returns home to his wife (Best) and children (Scott, Todd) after a concert tour. He falls for his daughter’s piano teacher Anita Hoffman (Bergman). Holger leaves his wife and goes on tour with Anita.

1939 Notes:
• Ingrid Bergman’s first English-language film
• Leslie Howard was in two films released in 1939, the other was “Gone with the Wind” (1939). Howard was also an associate producer
• Edna Best’s only film of 1939.
• Child actress Ann E. Todd was in 9 films released in 1939. She is billed as “Ann Todd” in “Intermezzo.”
• Character actor John Halliday was in two films in 1939.
• Douglas Scott was in three films released in 1939.

Other trivia:
•Toscha Seidel dubbed Leslie Howard’s violin playing.
• William Wyler was originally assigned to the film but replaced by George Ratoff, according to William Wyler: The Authorized Biography by Axel Madsen
• Norma Boleslawky dubbed the piano playing for both Ingrid Bergman and John Halliday.
• This is an English remake of a Swedish film of the same title, Intermezzo (1936). The 1936 film also starred Ingrid Bergman. Bergman reprised her role in this 1939 film.
• Some of the European montage scenes from the 1936 film were used in the film, according to the book Ingrid: Ingrid Bergman, a Personal Biography by Charlotte Chandler
• Remade in 1980 with a similar storyline in the film “Honeysuckle Rose.”
• Leslie Howard’s last film before returning home to England to aid with the war effort.

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
It’s hard to think of Hollywood without some of its major stars. In 1939, many careers were launched, including Ingrid Bergman’s.

Bergman was acting in films abroad when she caught the attention of Hollywood in the 1936 Swedish film, “Intermezzo.” David O. Selznick brought Bergman to the United States for a remake of the film and her first English language movie – this made her a star.

In the film “Intermezzo, A Love Story,” Leslie Howard is a concert violinist, Holger. When Holger returns from a tour, he meets his daughter’s piano teacher Anita, played by Ingrid Bergman. The two fall in love, and Holger leaves his family to go on tour with Anita has his accompanist. When the tour ends, the two live blissfully in Europe – being happy at the expense of others.

“Intermezzo” is a brief 70 minutes and features gorgeous cinematography. But while this film is visually beautiful and includes excellent music, I wasn’t a big fan of the story in general. I don’t always love films where our “heroes” have hurt others.

I’m not sure if the audiences is supposed to be cheering for Bergman and Howard and their love. But frankly, I found myself feeling sorry for Edna Best, who played Howard’s wife, and his daughter, played by Ann Todd.

Everyone involved (except maybe Holger) seems hurt by the affair. Even Anita is hurt because she knows Holger misses his daughter, and finally realizes everything is wrong and temporary.

“I wonder if anyone has ever built happiness on the unhappiness of others,” John Halliday’s character says while talking to Anita.

Though the story may not be remarkable, this is an important film for both of the lead actors.

While Ingrid Bergman’s American career began with this film, Leslie Howard’s career was shifting too.

This was Howard’s last Hollywood film before he returned to England to help with the war effort during World War 2. Howard didn’t return to Hollywood because he died in 1943.

As for the supporting cast, I felt that Cecil Kellaway was wasted in his role – he was in a total of three scenes.

I loved watching Edna Best’s performance as Margit Brandt, Holger’s wife. She was well cast as a wife who is losing her husband and also has to stay strong for her children. While her young daughter, who loves her daddy, eagerly listens to his concert on the radio, Best cries alone where her children can’t see her.

John Halliday has another great supporting roles as Thomas Stenborg, a friend and business associate of Howard. He tries to be supportive of his friend Holger but also not be overly sympathetic or supportive of his actions. I’m still uncertain if we were supposed to want Howard and Bergman together, though Halliday’s character pops up with subtle reminders that they are wrong: Presenting Holger with divorce papers from his wife (which Holger isn’t ready to sign), encouraging Anita to accept a scholarship which would make her leave, and encouraging Holger to return home to his family.

I also loved Ann E. Todd’s character as Howard’s daughter. She is sweet and earnest as a daughter who really idolizes her father.

To top it all off – the film has beautiful music. All of the violin music was dubbed by Toscha Seidel.

It’s odd that I found “Intermezzo” (1939) so off-putting because I do enjoy other films with similar plots, such as “Passionate Friends” and “Brief Encounter.” I think it has to do with Edna Best’s performance and how believable and sympathetic she is.

“Intermezzo” is an important film, mainly because of the careers that changed because of this movie. It is also very lovely to look at and listen to.

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