A Woman’s Face (1938, aka En kvinnas ansikte)

Synopsis:

Anna Holm (Ingrid Bergman, For Whom the Bell Tolls) is a disfigured and vicious kingpin who concocts a devious plan to make money that involves killing the young heir to a large fortune. But after a brilliant surgeon restores Anna’s looks, she begins having second thoughts about her nasty murder plan.

Reaction & Thoughts:

The Swedish A Woman’s Face (aka En kvinnas ansikte) isn’t as well-known as the 1941 American remake of the same name. I think the Hollywood version makes for an altogether better movie experience, but the original is quite good too. Only the ending disappoints — it goes on and on, as if they were not sure how to end the story.

Based on a French play by Francis de Croisset, Gustaf Molander’s A Woman’s Face allows us to see a peculiar psychological metamorphosis; a criminal whose outlook on life changes after experiencing a physical transformation. The film raises an interesting question: Are personality characteristics caused by DNA or environment?

The “nature vs. nurture” argument is one of psychology’s oldest debates. It’s interesting to see a 1930s movie tackle this issue in a serious manner. There is also something very noirish about the movie. Since the film predates classic noir — 1941’s The Maltese Falcon is often credited with inventing the genre — A Woman’s Face reinforces the idea that noir isn’t really a movie genre but a style of filmmaking.

A Woman’s Face contains perhaps Ingrid Bergman’s most atypical work. Before she became a Hollywood darling, Bergman was a popular actor in her native Sweden. I’ve seen most of Bergman’s Swedish films and they are all very good. They don’t have the production values of her Hollywood movies, but they are worth seeking out. A Woman’s Face is probably the most interesting of her pre-Hollywood movies.

That being said, Bergman’s performance is good but not great. I feel about Bergman’s performance, the same way I feel about Audrey Hepburn’s work in My Fair Lady: Bergman is excellent after the transformation but a bit actressy as the sadistic criminal. There is something about Bergman that prevents me from accepting her as a ruthless underworld figure. I don’t know how to explain it, but like Hepburn, Bergman projects too much class to be believable as some low-life hoodlum.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

As I said before, I liked the remake (with Joan Crawford as Anna) much more. But this version is something I can safely recommend to fans of noir. And if you’re a fan of Bergman, you won’t want to miss out on a rare opportunity to see her act heartless and cruel. B&W, 101 minutes, Not Rated.

6 responses to “A Woman’s Face (1938, aka En kvinnas ansikte)

  1. I never got Bergman. I always thought of her as a milkmaid. The recent documentary revealed her to be an enormously charismatic and feckless creature who ignored her children for her numerous lovers but they still adored her. She was fiercely ambitious and craved fame more than anything from a very young age. I would really like to see this!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve read her bio, My Story, and she comes across as being a self-aware person. Bergman had no qualms acknowledging her flaws. I tend to like her work, but her personal life was indeed a huge mess.

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  2. I have this one recorded and will be interesting to compare to the MGM Crawford version, which I like very much.
    Every time I see Bergman, I enjoy her performances, from Gaslight to Autumn Sonata, but she does not remain at top of mind like Davis and Crawford and Stanwyck…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I very much enjoyed your review. To my mind, seeing the original helps make sense of some of the awkward choices of the Cukor remake from the blur of accents at the trial to the decision to retain the Swedish names and context. I actually much prefer this version, including the ending, which I like better than the Hollywood romance with Melvyn Douglas that concludes the film. Admitedly, I don’t like Douglas in much of anything, but even Cukor noted the swing from good acting to celebrity queen in Joan Crawford once she shifted from tough to docile. Would love to discuss this and more if only we weren’t limited to WordPress boxes!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Read your comparative essay and enjoyed it very much. You made some good points. I just discussed the two movies with a friend. Like you, he preferred the Bergman film. Above all, he doesn’t like Crawford much.

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