I love Ingrid Bergman. I love her acting, her beauty, her charisma, her strength of personality on the screen. So of course I am joining in the 2nd annual Ingrid Bergman Blogathon, hosted by The Wonderful World of Cinema. And, of course, I am writing about noir.
Last year, my entry was on Gaslight (1944). This year, rather than choosing another obvious Bergman-noir picture, such as Hitchcock’s Spellbound (1945) or Notorious (1946), I’m opting to write on a film I recently stumbled onto (just looking around online): Arch of Triumph (1948), directed by Lewis Milestone, an Eastern European educated in Germany who immigrated to the US after WWI. He is perhaps best known for directing All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) and to noir fans for The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946). He was blacklisted for a year in 1949 for left-wing affiliations dating back to the 1930s. His rebelliousness shows well in an anecdote in which producer Carl Laemmle Jr. demanded a “happy ending” for All Quiet and Milestone replied, “I’ve got your happy ending. We’ll let the Germans win the war.”
Arch of Triumph is a lesser-known Milestone picture. Released in 1948, it is based on the 1945 novel of the same name by Erich Maria Remarque, which he wrote during his nine-year exile in the United States. Remarque also wrote All Quiet on the Western Front (1928), and most of his works emphasized the terror of war.
In brief, Arch of Triumph is a tale of illegal refugees leading dark lives in Paris on the brink of war. Under a false name, a doctor (Charles Boyer) practices medicine illegally. He rescues a suicidal refugee (Ingrid Bergman), also living under a false name, after the death of her lover. They develop an intimate relationship, but can it last in such circumstances? The doctor is deported and Bergman’s character survives the best she can, becoming the mistress of a wealthy man. Driving the doctor is not only a desire to return to the woman he loves but a need for revenge against a Nazi officer (poorly cast Charles Laughton) as war is eventually declared between France and Germany. His accomplices include a sympathetic Russian royal who has become a doorman (a delightful semi-comic role for Louis Calhern)
I was drawn to this tragic film from the first by its cast and subject matter. Living in hiding as refugees makes every moment sadly suspenseful. Romance is impossible in such circumstances, even as the lonely characters played by Boyer and Bergman fight for it. Bergman is riveting when she plays characters who are depleted yet somehow still determined, and even her “betrayal” of Boyer is understandable in its context. She lives differently, based on gender norms and options available, and she suffers just as much as the devoted doctor, played with engaging reserve by Boyer — who only a few years earlier had played her abusive and evil husband in the Victorian thriller Gaslight (1944).
I find the film poignant in its messages about life, death, war, and love and beautifully filmed in dark noir fashion by Russell Metty (director of photography for Touch of Evil , among many others). For this and especially for Ingrid Bergman’s luminous performance, I am disheartened at the lukewarm reviews Arch of Triumph has received. Some claim it moves too slowly, others that Boyer and Bergman have too little chemistry. I disagree entirely, but see it and decide for yourself. (It’s free to screen with Amazon Prime.)