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Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Hollywood Hands Out Moral Instruction

1947 Art House Encore To Trade On Ingrid Bergman's Then-Current Popularity

Intermezzo (1939) Is Life Like Nobody Lived It

Hollywood, as with much of business, government, and any number of other powerful institutions, had a "Don't Do As We Do, Do As We Say" policy. Movies were in virtually no way a reflection of real life. Ideals of behavior, seldom applied by members of the audience, saw Happy Endings in terms of sacrifice laid down where moral good was best served. There was, for example, no way Casablanca could end other than how it did. What percent of actual men would forfeit Ingrid Bergman to furtherance of a cause, and incidentally, a husband she has expressed every desire to leave? Movies were always for virtue signaling, and I wonder how many Classic Era viewers confused that with daily struggle that made them oft-do un-virtuous things. Was it enough to at least recognize a difference between right and wrong, admiring films for good example they set and hoping that perhaps others would be influenced by them. Virtue signaling is defined as "the action or practice of publicly expressing opinions or sentiments intended to demonstrate one's good character or the moral correctness of one's position on a particular issue." This neatly sums up terms of the Production Code under which Intermezzo was produced in 1939, and never mind that the artists involved were anything but adherents to it insofar as their own brakes-off private lives.




Intermezzo has a line that crops up sure as sunrise in every old film about adultery: "It's hard to derive happiness from the unhappiness of others." If only we all lived by that precept, but how many do when real temptation is put before them? Lives and marriages get routinely wrecked because someone strays, but what of Hollywood stars and producers rich or powerful enough to insulate themselves against consequence for bad acts? They can, have, and continue, to thrive lifetimes. David Selznick knew the right-think message to plug onto Intermezzo, but did he live by its ennobling theme? Not for a minute. DOS had a wife and two children at home, but he went after newcomer Ingrid Bergman like white on rice. His "associate producer" and star Leslie Howard torments over the affair he indulges as concert violinist "Holger Brandt," and will indeed return at the end of Intermezzo to the wife and two children he left, but Howard, who had his own wife and two children, kept a separate life for himself, and mistresses by bushel, one of which, Merle Oberon, he introduced to his daughter as "your future step-mother." Howard's offscreen romances weren't slowed by discretion, and it was for his wife to make peace with them for a whole of their life together.




Leslie Howard's saga and habits are revealed in a new documentary TCM ran during its month devoted to the actor. Whatever the reality of his own pursuits, Howard could play guilt over infidelity to the nines. He was a persona star for which the persona seems narrow today, but within that range, he had no equal. Howard's was a passivity to which women were drawn, onscreen and off. He's more maligned than not by the character of Ashley Wilkes for which he is by far best known, the role wholly anathema to him despite its being a principal in the most famous picture Hollywood had made to that point. If not for Gone With The Wind, Howard's name would be barely known, premature death in 1943 making him seem the more remote to modern viewership. Intermezzo's Holger Brandt is much more congenial to the Howard image, and he looks better in black-and-white than Technicolor. As line producer, Howard had creative input to likely account for quality of the finished Intermezzo, for it seems less likely that credited director Gregory Ratoff brought such result off. Ingrid Bergman as the luminous new face would command interest then, and afterward. Intermezzo is too brief at 70 minutes to sag under weight of expected outcome. It is among great emotional wringers from the late 30's. Kino offers a very nice Blu-Ray as part of their Selznick line.

4 Comments:

Blogger Donald Benson said...

Trying to recall where I read it, but one movie's repentant adulterer expressed remorse by describing how he took the girl to a motel, closing with "What was I thinking?" That question reduced a juvenile audience to hysterics.

2:10 PM  
Blogger radiotelefonia said...

The best thing about this film are the Osvaldo Venturi posters for its reissue by Guaranteed Pictures.

https://i.pinimg.com/originals/97/96/d2/9796d2e857868e3f99dbdf6daaface15.jpg


https://i.pinimg.com/originals/3c/ee/a3/3ceea331e7152f2565c81ebe918cfde6.jpg

10:04 PM  
Blogger Dave K said...

I love this topic! I kinda think audiences always knew they were just playing along even in more naive times. They bought the fan magazines as well as watching the movies, they knew this month's girl-next-door went through husbands, and other women's husbands, like Kleenex. Things got especially weird in the mid-sixties, as the production code was gasping for air. Old guard Hollywood would allow themselves newly won leeway with more direct sex jokes when cranking out stuff like MARRIAGE ON THE ROCKS and I'LL TAKE SWEDEN but still try to hold the family values line on fidelity and marriage using such dubious spokesmen as Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin! I guess these things were supposed to have multi-generational appeal, since they dragged in kids like Tuesday Weld and Nancy Sinatra to make their pitch. But by that point, greatest generation or boomer, who didn't think this junk sounded phony?

2:42 PM  
Blogger Sooke said...


I found this fascinating tidbit on Leslie Howard's Wikipedia page:

"Former CIA agent Joseph B. Smith recalled that, in 1957, he was briefed by the National Security Agency on the need for secrecy and that Leslie Howard's death had been brought up. The NSA claimed that Howard knew his aircraft was to be attacked by German fighters and sacrificed himself to protect the British code-breakers.[52]"

10:04 PM  

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