The Finest Performances of Ingrid Bergman
By Mallika Chakrawarti

A mere glance at Ingrid Bergman was enough to tell you that she was not the proverbial American film star. Her strong face hardly bore any signs of make-up and she didn’t have the airs of a superstar. Driven by a fierce love for acting, Ingrid Bergman stunned audiences both on-screen and on-stage.

Ingrid hailed from the cold lands of Sweden, where theatre received cultural patronage. Orphaned at an early age, dramatics brought succor and joy to Ingrid’s life. At the tender age of twelve, her mind was made up; she was to be an actress. While auditioning for a program at the Royal Dramatic School in Stockholm, she was selected within mere seconds by the judges. Such was the impact of her stage presence.

Having planned initially to be a stage actress, Ingrid had a change of heart when movie-making caught her interest. Her first film Munkbrogreven, in 1935 (The Count of the Old Town) proved to be a success, and from then on, Ingrid would be seen in several other films.

Intermezzo earned her international acclaim and irresistible opportunities in America waited for her. Impressed with the film and Ingrid’s compelling performance in it, producer David O. Selznik chose to cast her in the American remake of Intermezzo. He was quick to notice that Ingrid was very different. He had planned an entire makeover for her in keeping with Hollywood’s beauty standards, but she politely turned down his offer. Selznik knew that he had a natural actor on his hands. He was perfectly right on that score! Ingrid indulged in none of the frivolities that famed actors such as Greta Garbo were associated with.

Intermezzo won the hearts of the American audience, and no sooner than later, Ingrid relocated to California with her husband and child to pursue a full-fledged career in Hollywood.

In the period of 1939-1982, Ingrid Bergman lent her talents to several spectacular films and some of her performances are still fondly remembered. Bogart and Bergman were paired opposite each other for the first and the last time in the iconic, Casablanca. Her portrayal of the devoted lover helped build an image of a femme fatale that Hollywood was heretofore unused to. After Casablanca, Ingrid’s career as a movie star took off in real earnest.

Gaslight (1944) introduced audiences to Ingrid’s versatility and expressiveness. The movie’s plot was novel, and Ingrid’s trepidation as a young woman who was systematically driven to the brink of madness by her husband is utterly convincing. The terror, confusion, helplessness and paranoia in her performance seem eerily raw and real.

By 1945, Ingrid had already consolidated her position in the industry as the “anti-star”. She was the ‘no frills’ actor, and her natural charms had already enamored many a fan. This image probably helped her pass off as the strong willed, yet angelic Sister Superior in The Bells of St. Marys”. She even earned an Oscar nomination for the role.

Ingrid Bergman was not untouched by scandals. An extra-marital affair with director, Roberto Rossellini and a love-child from the relationship caused Ingrid and her first husband to break apart. She was once hailed as the queen of Hollywood, but the scandal stole most of her former glory. Undeterred by the criticisms, she went on to star in Fear (1954) which was directed by Roberto Rossellini, whom she married soon after her divorce. The storyline ran parallel to Ingrid’s private life, as it was centered on the intense love affair of a married woman who faces harassment from her lover’s old flame. Ingrid plays Irene Wagner, a woman who faces the ugly prospect of losing everything if her sordid secrets are spilled. In all probability, her personal experiences enabled her to handle this role with ingenuity.

In the 1950s, Ingrid’s stardom had taken a beating as a result of her affair with Rossellini and she opted to work in Italian films. Notwithstanding, she would not be kept away from the glamorous world of Hollywood for long. Her marriage with Rossellini failed, and she returned to the big screen to enrapture audiences once again, this time with Anastasia (1956). Picked off the streets by an exiled Russian general (Yul Brynner) to pose as Anastasia, Ingrid performs the role of an amnesia victim whose character is a bit of mystery throughout the film. Her incredible work was lauded and she won an Oscar for the role.

Taking on the role of an antagonist, Ingrid starred in The Visit (1964) and managed to radiate spite and malevolence, as was necessary for the part. A rare choice in her career, The Visit helped alter Ingrid’s previously famous angelic avatar on-screen. She was also noticed by the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock. Notorious (1976) made famous the powerful pairing of Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant. In the film, Ingrid is a bold and daring woman who risks everything to infiltrate a cell full of German ex-pats. Ingrid could be seen in a different light in Notorious. Hitchcock moulded her into a sexually liberated character and Ingrid proved to be a fast learner! Ingrid’s passionate performance packed with Hitchcock’s genius made Notorious a classic.

Towards the end of her life, Autumn Sonata (1978) marked one of her final, finest performances. Another film that seems to lift an episode from Ingrid’s personal life, Autumn Sonata is about a neglectful mother who attempts to revive contact with her daughter. Ingrid’s performance as a cold and frosty mother stands as one of her best in all her years of fame.

Nothing could take away the brilliance from Ingrid Bergman’s work. Not even cancer. The anti-star of Hollywood died tragically, but continues to live on in our hearts.

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