Tuesday, August 29, 2023

A Woman’s Face/En Kvinnas Ansikte (1938)

A Woman's Face/En Kvinnas Ansikte (1938) was the first of Ingrid Bergman's Swedish films I had ever seen, and to say she impressed me is an understatement. I've been wanting to revisit it ever since, and The 6th Wonderful Ingrid Bergman Blogathon hosted by The Wonderful World of Cinema gave me the push I needed (make sure to visit her blog and see all of the other entries celebrating this great actress' birthday).

Bergman plays Anna Holm, an embittered young woman whose face was disfigured in a fire as a child. Anna and her gang of criminals are in the business of blackmail. One of her "coworkers" provides the group with names of wealthy men and women he sees going out with someone who is not their spouse at the establishment where he works as a waiter. One of the persons they are blackmailing is a woman whose letters to a man not her husband are now in the possession of the group. Just before Anna goes to her house to collect the money in exchange for the letters, they entertain a prospective client, a young man named Torsten Barring, who could become heir to his uncle's fortune IF a certain something should happen to the current, heir, his little six-year-old grandson. The job would require a young woman to pose as a nanny for several months, earn the love and respect of the family, and then engineer an "accident," eliminating the little boy so that the millions he is set to inherit will go to the nephew instead.

Ingrid's performance in this scene is masterful. She alternates between steeliness and ruthlessness, unconscious shame as she covers her scar with her hand when the client looks at her - in a gesture meant to look like she's simply rubbing something away, diffidence, and anguish when her disfigurement is pointed out. It is especially that last action that reveals the self under the tough facade. She reacts as if she has been slapped. A wild, wounded look in her eyes springs forth as her hand flies to her face to cover it. 

We see the anguish again when she goes to collect the money from the wife of a wealthy doctor. She arrives with hat pulled low and collar turned up but reveals her face to frighten the wife into meeting her demands. The wife gives her some jewels, then leaves to get more money. While she is away, Anna walks around and, going into the doctor's home office, comes across a book showing before and after photos of the facial reconstruction of WWI soldiers. At the sound of the doctor coming home unexpectedly she tries to hide but she stumbles in the dark and injures her foot. Seeing the jewels in her bag, he thinks she was robbing them. He goes to call the police before noticing she is injured. All of the bravado is gone and she is like a child, frightened and needing help. Being a doctor, he binds her foot.

The wife arrives home and convinces her husband to not press charges, pretending to "feel sorry for the girl." The doctor asks Anna why she doesn't have "honest work." "With my looks?" she scoffs bitterly. As he questions her further the defenses come up. "But what's it to you? It's my face! It's none of your business! I know I'm a monster." And when he tells her the next time she is caught she won't be so lucky she screams out "I don't care! The way I look, life is hell anyway. If I look this terrible my life must be terrible." Before she becomes hysterical, he turns the subject back to her injured foot. After finding out she has no one to take care of her, he tells her he will send her to his clinic to heal her foot and possibly give her a better outlook on life. "I'm afraid I will disappoint you," she replies." You think I can compete with honest people? Not a chance!" He examines her face and then asks her a life-altering question: "What if I gave you a chance?"

The day arrives for Dr. Wegert to remove the bandages from her face. If he is successful then Anna will return the letters to Mrs. Wegert for free. However, as Anna is being wheeled out of the room, she hands them over to her, her bitterness gone. The scene where the bandages are removed is tense, with that half of her face hidden from the camera by the doctor, the light, and the mirror she uses to see the positive results.

Suddenly we jump to a scene at the train station. Torsten, the young man from earlier, is putting Anna on the train to Forsa. He doesn't recognize her as Miss Holm, thinking she is a Miss Paulsson recommended by Miss Holm. It is only when he introduces her to Harald Berg, another uncle to the little boy she is going to take care of, and she moves her hand in the old familiar gesture to conceal her face that he realizes who she is. Harald and Anna make the journey to Forsa together and he introduces her to the family. Lars-Erick, the little boy, is loved and spoiled his grandfather and the housekeeper Emma. Grandfather Barring is a little concerned at how serious Anna is at first, and tells her his hopes for her and Lars-Erick, whose parents died when he was a baby.

After putting Lars-Erick to bed, he asks her to kiss him goodnight. Anna leans over stiffly but the little boy embraces her and showers her face with kisses. She is shaken at this uninhibited demonstration of love and a change comes over her face. It doesn't take long afterwards for Anna to dote on Lars-Erick the way the rest of the family does. Her newfound happiness doesn't last long, however. Torsten comes for a visit and, getting Anna alone, tells her his plans for the "accident." There are some falls nearby, very treacherous to anyone getting too close to the edge. When Anna refuses, he becomes the blackmailer, telling her he knows who she is. He threatens to expose her. Anna fights back, saying she will tell his uncle that Torsten had been forging checks in his name. Back up in her room, Anna cries, then comforts Lars-Erick when he has a bad dream. The caresses she gives him are no longer wooden, but tender and natural. 

Anna and Harald go skiing up to the falls, where Harald tells Anna how he feels about her. Meanwhile her old gang has arrived and they try to control Anna, as they have been involved with the forged checks. Anna once again refuses, saying she'll quit first. Torsten declares that if she doesn't come through with the deed he will do it himself. 


The opportunity arises at a birthday sleigh ride. Torsten takes Lars-Erick in his sleigh, while Anna rides with Harald, who plans to propose. A fallen torch spooks the horses of Torsten's sleigh and it takes off. Anna screams that he will kill Lars- Erick and spills out the entire story as she and Harald chase after the runaways. They manage to catch up and get Lars-Erick into their sleigh, but Harald falls out, seriously injuring his head, and Torsten is killed. When Anna's old gang hears the news, they take the next train out of town. 

Later, a baffled Grandfather informs Anna that Harald has quit his job and is going away to recover, instead of staying with them. Anna reassures him that Harald will come back. We know by the way she looks sadly at Lars-Erick that she intends to leave.

Harald is sent to Dr. Wergert's clinic. Anna goes to see Harald, and tells the Dr. she took the chance he gave her to change her life. She goes in to see Harald and tells him about her dismal childhood and the fire that scarred her and took her parents. He tells her he wants to run away with her where no one will know who they are, but she knows it would never work, and they part. 

She is unsure of the future until Dr. Wergert, who is going to China with the Red Cross Ambulance (he is also starting a new life after splitting from his wife), offers her the job of governess to his cousin's child living in China. The movie ends with hope for the future. On the boat as it leaves the harbor, Dr. Wergert says to Anna, "Let's agree on one thing. Nothing has existed before this moment The future begins now."

* * *

Bergman had to beg for the role of Anna in A Woman's Face. At first Swedish Films refused, saying her fans wouldn't want to see her disfigured. But she eventually won by agreeing to do another film they wanted her to do, Only One Night, which she considered "a piece of junk." And it was her husband, Petter, who devised the brace Ingrid wore in her mouth to distort her face. Once, she accidentally went out with her disfiguring makeup and noticed people looking at her in horror, pity, or averting their gaze. She quickly left. "I learned a valuable lesson that day. We all live in different worlds, and I am one of the luckiest people ever. Some people are so terribly tested by life. From the first days I could remember, I had known only smiles and compliments" (Ingrid Bergman: A Personal Biography, Charlotte Chandler).

If you've never seen any of Ingrid's Swedish films, I highly recommend that you seek them out. If your library has Kanopy you can watch it on there, as well as elsewhere online or on Criterion dvd.

Thursday, August 3, 2023

Movies I Watched in July

LOVE this dress on Lauren Bacall in Woman’s World (1954).

I finally read the Fred MacMurray biography by Charles Tranberg (the copy at the library disappeared and I finally found an inexpensive used copy-signed by the author!). I also read Shane by Jack Schaefer (been waiting for the library copy to be returned so I could check it out lol). I want to buy my own copy now but I want one with Alan Ladd on the cover and so far I've only seen one pictured online. I would have thought there would be several to choose from, given the popularity of the film. I also finally finished reading Mrs. Miniver. I had started reading it on the Internet Archive, liked it, ordered a copy, and then when I got it didn't get back to reading it. It doesn't have a flow to the story like the film, as each chapter was originally an article in a magazine. Some chapters felt very much like the film, while others not so much. I greatly enjoyed it though. 

* indicates a rewatch

  1. Passport to Destiny (1944) - Elsa Lanchester
  2. Horizon’s West (1952) - Robert Ryan, Rock Hudson, Raymond Burr, Julie Adams, James Arness 
  3. *Shane (1952) - Alan Ladd, Jean Arthur, Van Heflin, Brandon de Wilde, Jack Palance, Ben Johnson
  4. Plunder of the Sun (1953) - Glenn Ford, Sean McClory
  5. The Las Vegas Story (1952) - Victor Mature & Jane Russell, Vincent Price, Hoagy Carmichael
  6. Woman’s World (1954) - Clifton Webb, Lauren Bacall & Fred MacMurray, June Allyson & Cornel Wilde, Arlene Dahl & Van Heflin
  7. The Tarnished Angels (1957) - Rock Hudson, Robert Stack, Dorothy Malone, Jack Carson
  8. *This Could Be the Night (1957) Jean Simmons, Paul Douglas, Anthony Franciosa 
  9. Third Man on the Mountain (1959) - James MacAurthur, Michael Rennie, Janet Munro, Laurence Naismith
  10. *Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curst of the Black Pearl (2003) - Johnny Depp, Keira Knightly, Orlando Bloom, Geoffrey Rush
  11. *Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006) - Johnny Depp, Keira Knightly, Orlando Bloom
  12. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007) - Johnny Depp, Keira Knightly, Orlando Bloom, Naomi Harris
  13. Viceroy’s House (2017) - Hugh Bonneville, Gillian Anderson
  14. *Wonder Woman (2017) - Gal Gadot & Chris Pine
  15. *Downton Abbey: A New Era (2022) - Maggie Smith, Michelle Dockery, Hugh Bonneville, etc.

Least Favorite Film: Hmm, probably Plunder of the Sun. I love Glenn Ford but I don't like Sean McClory, and I just couldn't get into the story. I picked up the dvd at Goodwill. The special features were great though! Fascinating history tidbits and behind-the-scenes photos!

Favorite Movie: I really enjoyed Elsa Lanchester's performance in Passport to Destiny. A unique little film. It's been over a decade since I saw the Pirates of the Caribbean movies and I definitely enjoyed them more this time around. I'd seen several scenes from the third film before but am counting it as a first-time watch. I liked the first one best.

Love Lauren Bacall's outfit here!