Ingrid Bergman's Swedish Years is a collection of six early works from one of the best actresses in film history, who is most famously known for her countless Hollywood classics (including Casablanca and Hitchcock's Notorious) and later collaborations with her husband, director Roberto Rossellini.
With this collection, audiences can explore some of her very first performances, seeing works made in her home country of Sweden. The set starts out with smaller roles where she is a big supporting player before developing into lead roles where it's clear she was becoming a leading star. It isn't difficult to see why Bergman went on to carry entire productions with her presence: she shines through as a star in the making at each turn.
The first film in the set, The Count of the Old Town (1935) was filmed in Stockholm. It is an early example of Bergman's comedic timing and sensibilities. This is the most charming and lighthearted film in the collection.
In the story, Bergman plays a young chambermaid who starts to fall in love with a fellow young man named Ake (Edvin Adolphson), who might just be a jewel thief. There is also a charming cast of zany supporting characters attempting to party with some booze during their country's days of prohibition. These goofball characters add some enlivened spirit to the romance and mystery surrounding this early comedy.
Directed by Sigurd Wallén and Edvin Adolphson, who provide the film with a surprisingly robust pacing for the-period. The film is entertaining and offers a very early glimpse of the blossoming talent of Bergman. Though it was just a supporting part, she shines through radiantly.
In Walpurgis Night (1935), directed by Gustaf Edgren, Lena (Ingrid Bergman) is considering getting an abortion as she falls head over heels in love with her boss, Johan (Lars Hanson) . Causing controversy in Sweden upon its original release for having a frank (for the time) approach to discussing abortion on film, the story unfolds with dramatic turns.
Walpurgis Night is perhaps most noteworthy for exploring a topic rarely depicted on film back in the early 1930's. It begins Bergman's turn from smaller to larger supporting roles. Situations unfold with one dramatic sequence leading to another. It's a serious dramatic part for Bergman, who begins to showcase her wider range as an actress.
With Intermezzo (1936), which is more well recognized as a title for its later Hollywood remake (which also starred Bergman). This entry is the first of three films in this collection directed by Gustaf Molander. The film is a romance starring Bergman as Anita Hoffman. It explores an affair between a violinist and pianist.
Bergman flexes her acting chops more as she begins her longer running collaborations with director Molander. Though the film is less impressive overall when compared to the preceding films in the set, it does offer Bergman's first leading role. She starts to expand her horizons more in this early lead performance.
In Dollar (1938), the second film in the set directed by Gustaf Molander
A Woman's Face (1938) offers the biggest drama turn for Bergman in this collection. Bergman herself was worried about how audiences would respond to the part. She plays a significantly darker character, Anna Holm, a blackmailer who has a disfigured face. The story explores this much more serious storyline with surprise turns when Anna must go undercover in order to be a nanny for a wealthy family. As the story develops, her face is restored and Anna discovers new aspects of her personality. Directed by Gustaf Molander, this film takes many surprising turns along the gravely road of its darker storyline.
June Night (1940) is the best film in the set as it stands out as the most accomplished. Bergman stars as Sara, a young woman who gets shot by her lover. After her lover goes through trial, she begins life under a different name and identity, living at a new house with fellow residents. She begins a new romance and attempts starting over.
This is a surprising romantic drama that explores a modern romance. Out of all of the films in the set, June Night offers Bergman's best performance and the clearest indication of her growing star power which would carry into her future Hollywood career and her collaborations with Roberto Rossellini. Directed by Per Lindberg, the film has the most compelling narrative and Bergman delivers a fantastic turn.
Each film in the set is presented in the original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.37:1 full frame. The black and white cinematography looks moderately good. Each film in the set seems to have comparable quality with decent presentations which are in moderately good shape all things considered. There isn't much in the way of print damage or debris. These aren't pristine HD restorations but given the age of the films and source it's difficult to image fans feeling too disappointed by the quality of the work done by Criterion.
Each film is presented in Mono 1.0. In Swedish with English subtitles. The subtitles are excellent and are free from having any glaring grammatical errors. The audio fidelity is extremely limited. However, each film's soundtrack seems to have been given a decent polish with little in the way of distracting hiss or distortion and the dialogue is easy to understand.
There are no extras on this release.
The Criterion Collection has done a fantastic job of putting together this set of early works from Ingrid Bergman. I especially enjoyed the first and last films in the set, The Count of the Old Town and June Night. Though Bergman is terrific throughout the entire collection, I wasn't overly fond of the three films directed by Gustaf Edgren. They offer terrific performances featuring Bergman but Edgren's directorial style felt less appealing and too perfunctory.
Given several different directors and styles, the set may appeal more to some fans than to others. The performances of actress Ingrid Bergman are reason enough to see the films collected in this set. However, these are all minor works in compared to her later legacy of films.
It's a set best appreciated for its historic value at examining the career of actress Ingrid Bergman. For some that might make this release an easy purchase. However, in comparison to DVDTalk Collector Series set 3 Films By Roberto Rossellini Starring Ingrid Bergman (which I also reviewed), this collection is less mandatory and more precursory for interested viewers.
Ingrid Bergman's Swedish Years absolutely demonstrates the actresses growth as an actor and her star power but it also contains several films which might be best viewed once. Consider purchasing if you feel a need to complete your collection but otherwise it's a set well worth renting once but which may offer limited replay value.
Rent or purchase accordingly.