Sunday, January 21, 2007

Ingrid Bergman’s Birthday Bash

Ingrid Bergman, the most beautiful woman who ever lived, would turn eighty-four this week if the bells hadn’t tolled for her on her birthday in 1982 after a long bout with cancer. Ingrid Bergman was, however, a noble, stately woman who faced her death with the same grace with which she lived her life. In the spirit of her elegance, we would like to throw a birthday gala honoring her for the gifts she gave us.

Remember Paris? Arguably the greatest American movie, Casablanca is the story of Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), a former freedom fighter, self-exiled and running a bar in Morocco at the height of the Second World War. Unexpectedly, his true love Ilsa (Bergman), who had abandoned him a few years prior when the Nazi's invaded Paris, re-enters his life. She is seeking forged travel papers for she and her husband, resistance leader Victor Laslo (Paul Henreid), but when she sees Rick, she falls right back in love and decides to stay in Casablanca with him. The ending is legendary, the epitome of self-sacrifice and agape.

In George Cukor’s psycho-thriller Gaslight, Bergman delivers an incredible Oscar-winning performance as Paula Alquist, an innocent young woman who is courted by and marries a charming suitor named Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer), who soon turns out to be a devious bastard again, bent on driving young Paula insane.

Bergman won a New York Film Critics Best Actress Award for her performance in Spellbound, Hitchcock’s Freudian mystery romance. Bergman delivers a knockout punch as Dr. Constance Peterson, a psychiatrist at a mental ward, suspects that the new director of the mental hospital John Ballentine (Gregory Peck) is not, in fact, a doctor at all, but an amnesiac who may have murdered the real director. Nonetheless, Constance falls in love with Ballentine and eventually harbors (and psycho-analyzes) the possible felon in the home of her mentor.

In the enduring and endearing Christmas classic Bells Of St. Mary’s, Bing Crosby reprised the role of Father O’Malley made famous in Going My Way. O’Malley is sent to rescue St. Mary’s Academy, a parochial school in dire financial straits. Bergman is hilarious as Sister Benedict, the lonely nun who runs the school and butts heads with the good father and his methods. And the nativity play in which the kids sing “Happy Birthday” at the moment of the Immaculate Conception is priceless.

Bergman, of course, starred in a dozen other terrific films, among them Notorious, in which she re-teamed with Peck and Hitchcock, Joan Of Arc, The Arch Of Triumph, Anastasia and Inn Of The Sixth Happiness. Her scandalous affair and subsequent marriage to Italian director Roberto Rossellini produced one of my favorite gifts from Bergman -- her daughter, Isabella Rossellini, the second most beautiful woman who ever lived.

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