Ok, we have some ‘splainin’ to do.
We suspect that you might be wedded to the idea that Ingrid Bergman never topped her magnificent performance opposite Humphrey Bogart as Ilsa Lund in 1942’s Casablanca. Well, perhaps and perhaps not.
Let’s just say that Bergman was such a powerful actress that she had more than just one magnificent performance in her. Case in point: check her out in one of her lesser-known features, 1953’s Journey to Italy.
Several reasons explain why this picture is not better known, including the fact that it was a big box office bomb when it was first released theatrically. And, more critically, the movie has until recently been gravely ill served in various video formats.
Frank first struggled through an early VHS version of Journey, and threw up his hands. Picture and sound quality were terrible. It was not until the 2013 restoration of the picture in the Criterion Collection DVD surfaced that it could be honestly assessed minus myriad technical distractions.
Now, Bergman’s performance comes through superbly, as in a more controlled way, does that of costar George Sanders.
Directed in black and white by Bergman’s then husband Robert Rossellini, Viaggo in Italia (Journey To Italy) follows a childless middle-aged couple’s visit to dispose of a deceased relative’s villa. They lead busy lives but rarely spend time alone together. He is work obsessed, she is frazzled and unhappy.
The tension in their marriage is evident early on as they share a Rolls Royce drive to Naples. Snarky quips are exchanged to break a long trip from England. Few movies portray the vicissitudes of a longer term marriage more realistically and honestly than this one.
There’s not much “action” in this picture, although it is beautifully paced, not a moment wasted. Our couple begins to confront the rift between them amidst the splendid ruins of an ancient culture. The vitality of the surrounding Neapolitans effects the couple in ways they could not have predicted.
Enough said, Journey to Italy comes to a surprisingly abrupt but emotionally powerful conclusion. Bergman is superb throughout, delivering an edgy yet sympathetic portrayal of a woman at the end of her romantic tether. Sanders is, amazingly, aloof and warm at the same time as the resigned husband.
As it turns out, Sanders hated making the picture. He had accepted the offer because of his admiration for the director and also because he wished to work with Bergman again (Sanders and Bergman were teamed at MGM, and appeared in 1941’s Rage In Heaven).
But upon his arrival in Naples, (Sanders) learned that the Maestro, as he came to call Rossellini disdainfully, intended to shoot the picture without a script. This and other of the director’s eccentricities — aimless shooting, jumbled dialogue, non-existent plot — eventually reduced George to tears of frustration, according to Sanders biographer Richard VanDerBeets.
When he asked to be released from the picture, he was told that Rossellini, whose reputation was at a low ebb, had been able to raise money for the production only by getting a ‘name’ actor to costar with Bergman and that backing had been secured on the basis of his being in the film. (Sanders) felt ill-used…
Be that as it may, Bergman wound up giving perhaps the performance of her career. She and Roberto Rossellini ended their marriage in 1957, three years after Journey To Italy limped into theatrical release. Consider this late blooming classic an accidental gift of a d0omed union.