Feature Film, 1947

A Ship to India

A hunchback officer competes with his father for the affections of a beautiful music hall artiste.

"When I had finished A Ship Bound for India, I was swimming in euphoria. It was great. I thought I was terrific, just as good as the French directors who were my idols."
Ingmar Bergman in Images

About the film

Martin Söderhjelm's stage play Skepp till Indialand was first performed at the Swedish Theatre in Helsinki on 23 October 1946, and later had its Swedish première in the small town of Katrineholm, south of Stockholm.

Ingmar Bergman writing on the genesis of the film in Images: My Life in Film

Lorens Marmstedt came back with another project, again for Sweden's Folkbiografer: a play by the Finnish-Swedish author Martin Söderhjelm, A Ship Bound for India. The author had written his own screenplay, but it was unusable. Lorens suggested that he and I go to Cannes. I would write the screenplay, and he would play roulette. In between we could eat and drink well and meet ladies suitable to the purpose. We had a good time. I lived in a small room on the top floor of the Hotel Majestic with a view of the railway and two fire wall and wrote like one obsessed. In less than two weeks the screenplay was finished. There were not many words left of Martin Söderhjelm's play.

Shooting the film

Shooting began on A Ship Bound for India on 28 May 1947, and came to an end on 16 July the same year.

Bergman in Images

"Before we had time to reflect, we were in production. This time I had, against Marmstedt's whishes, insisted that Gertrud Fridh would play the female lead. She was highly talented but not a conventional beauty by any means. Lorens became alarmed when he saw her screen test and demanded that her makeup be redone. The result was that she looked like a cheap whore in some French melodrama." 


Epilogue

Ship to India was screened at the Cannes Film Festival in 1948, where it caught the favourable attention of French critics.

Bergman in The Magic Lantern:

I myself thought I had made a magnificent film. I was terribly proud of it. Lorens Marmstedt, who had produced it, wasn't sure what he should think, but he took the film down to Cannes, showed it to various buyers and called home saying: 'You have to cut at least 400 metres, it's far too boring.' But I loved every single metre of this masterpiece equally well.

Just before the premiere everything was last minute as usual, and on that wretched evening the copy came direct from the lab to the cinema. I was there with Stina Bergman, Hjalmar's widow, who had previously been my boss in the script department at SF and I'd travelled up from Gothenburg where I was working at the City Theatre, having promised to be on the first plane back there in the morning. Well, the film starts and the sound is wrong. I rush out and bang on the door of the machine room, yet nothing happens. Back in the stalls I now discover that the fourth act is being shown before the third, so once again I'm standing outside that damned metal door to the machine room that nobody wants to open for me, screaming and bawling. And this at a time when critics actually went to premieres and then back to their newspapers to write their copy. When the film finally came to an end there was a ridiculously long period of silence, and then we went off to drown our sorrows at a place (the restaurant Gondolen) next to the Katarina Lift, and that was actually the only time that I've drunk so much that I don't remember a single thing. I was woken up by a newspaper boy treading over me in a doorway on Artillerigatan. I went out onto the street, flagged down a taxi and went straight to Bromma airport.

When I got to the tiny waiting room, who should be sitting there, well-dressed, smelling good, fresh and awake, reading the morning papers that all contained ghastly executions of my film, but Hasse Ekman, and with him an Eva Henning, beautiful as a Lady's Mantle*. I myself smelt of God only knows what, looked like shit and was the spitting image of the Great Failure. I sat at one end of the waiting room praying they wouldn't notice me. But Hasse came up to me and said 'Some of the reviews are bloody awful – but then again, the film wasn't too good either.' 'It would at least have been better if the acts had been in the right order,' I said. 'Are you sure about that?' he said. And we laughed together. Then he sat down beside me, and that actually felt rather good.

* A flower of the genus Alchemilla, relatively common in Sweden.

Sources

  • The Ingmar Bergman Archives.
  • Ingmar Bergman, Images: My Life in Film.
  • Ingmar Bergman, The Magic Lantern.

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