Director Alfred Hitchcock worked with several actresses multiple times including Grace Kelly, Joan Fontaine and Tippi Hedren. One of the most fruitful collaborations he had was with Ingrid Bergman in the 1940s. There was none of the mistreatment Hitchcock allegedly meted out to some other actresses, and he and Bergman became lifelong friends.
The Canberra International Film Festival is presenting a special event in October: Bergman-Hitchcock. Screening over three nights will be the three films Hitchcock and Bergman made together: Spellbound (1945), Notorious (1946) and Under Capricorn (1949).
The first two were popular and critical successes when released. Under Capricorn was a poorly reviewed box office flop that was Hitchcock's last production for Transatlantic Pictures, the company he had formed with associate Sidney Bernstein, after the similarly unsuccessful Rope (1948).
Festival director Andrew Pike says this is "a prelude to the next retrospective film festival in October 2020".
Pike says of the Hitchock-Bergman films, "It seems to have been a collaboration from which both gained a great deal: Bergman was stretched creatively in three films of great emotional intensity, and Hitchcock was driven to express some of his own personal anguish for the first time in his work."
He says the Motion Picture Association, which represents Hollywood studios, has supported the event, saying they are "keen to encourage retrospective programming".
Notorious (1946, PG, October 25 at 7.30pm), written by Ben Hecht, "is probably one of [Hitchcock's] most finely honed montage works - it's beautifully constructed".
The film is presented in a new 4K restoration by the British Film Institute. Bergman plays Alicia Huberman, the alcoholic daughter of a convicted Nazi spy. She is recruited by government agent T.R. Devlin (Cary Grant) to infiltrate a group of Nazis living in Brazil after World War II. Alicia meets an old flame, Nazi Alex Sebastian (Claude Rains) and when he proposes marriage, she accepts. She is able to use her relationship with Sebastian to find out information but is always in danger.
It seems to have been a collaboration from which both gained a great dealAndrew Pike
"That's the surface story," Pike says."The real story is the fulfilling of her love for Cary Grant."
There's a striking scene in which Devlin and Alicia have a long series of kisses interspersed with conversation (to get around the censorship of the Motion Picture Production Code).
Spellbound (1945, PG, October 27, 7.30pm) reflected Hollywood's - and particularly writer Hecht and producer David O Selznick's - interest in psychoanalysis. It was adapted from the novel The House of Dr. Edwardes by "Francis Beding" (a pseudonym for Hilary A. Saunders and John Palmer). Bergman plays Dr Constance Petersen. a psychoanalyst working at a mental hospital called Green Manors. Her colleagues regard her an "an iceberg". The hospital's director, Dr Murchison (Hitchcock regular Leo G. Carroll), is being forced into retirement, being replaced by Dr Anthony Edwardes (Gregory Peck). Dr Petersen discovers that Dr Edwardes is an impostor who suffers from severe amnesia and thinks he has committed a crime.
Pike says, "Bergman's performance, delivered in lingering close-ups, is brilliantly detailed and engaging: her hesitancy to engage with a young man suffering from amnesia is riveting as she gradually opens her heart to him''. The film features an Oscar-winning score by Miklos Rozsa employing the eerie sound of the theremin and dream sequences designed by surrealist Salvador Dali. Pike says the digital version being screened also features two frames coloured red at a climactic moment that originally had to be handpainted on each print.
Finally, there is Under Capricorn (1949, PG, October 27 at 2pm). This Technicolor film, shot in England, has a screenplay by James Bridie adapted from the 1937 novel by Australian writer Helen Simpson. It has been more favourably reappraised in recent years. Pike says the Hitchcock film is quite faithful to Simpson's story, set in Sydney in the 1830s. Simpson knew Hitchcock and had contributed to the screenplays of some of his earlier films.
While a costume drama was a departure for Hitchcock, the film features a number of familiar Hitchcockian themes and ideas - a love triangle, a secret, guilt, obsession, controlling relationships. As in Notorious, Pike says, Bergman plays a "fallen" woman, Lady Henrietta, who is struggling with alcohol and is haunted by a secret from her past. She is married to businessman and ex-convict Samson Fluskey (Joseph Cotten). Charles Adare (Michael Wilding), the new governor's cousin, knew Lady Henrietta when they were children and they become close, but she is bound to Samson by more than love.
One of the striking features, Pike says, is Hitchcock's continuing experiment with long takes - up to 10 minutes - that he had used in Rope. He did not do this throughout Under Capricorn but particularly striking is one take in which Bergman's character makes a confession. He says that "one sublime moment'' shines through: in one uninterrupted eight-minute monologue, Bergman reaches an emotional crisis that brilliantly validates the long takes that Hitchcock had wanted to use.
"It's very intense but she did it all in a single take."
- Bergman-Hitchcock. Arc Cinema, National Film and Sound Archive. October 26 to 28. Tickets: ciff.com.au and from NFSA reception: phone 6248 2000.