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.