What you do if you were to be given a large sum of money? Say you were to be given a million dollars. Think of what you can do with a million dollars. I think of it every day. Right now I am drowning in student loan debt, I am working an annoying part time job, my car is breaking down every time I drive it, and I am so sick and tired of living at home. First thing I would do with a million dollars I would pay off my student loans and my credit card debt (screw school books and my car breaking down!). Then I would buy a car and move away somewhere particularly California where it is nice and warm and where some of my good friends are. But what if that million dollars were to come at the price of someone’s life? The benefactor of the million dollars has told you to kill someone for them. Would you do it? The 1964 film The Visit asks that questions and puts on displays, not greedy but desperate people.
The small town of Guellen is in a tizzy preparing for the arrival of Karla Zachanassian (Ingrid Bergman). Karla lived in the small town almost twenty years ago. Since that time Karla married a rich man and inherited all his money when he died. The money has made her very powerful. The town prepares for her visit as if she were royalty. The entire town is cleaned and all the people are told how to act in Karla’s presence.
Karla is on a diplomatic train that was not supposed to stop at the train station in Guellen. She pulls the emergency cord for the train to stop as it nears Guellen. The townspeople are surprised the train has stopped and are taken a bit off guard when Karla comes out. She does not look at all pleased to be there or see anyone. The train conductor comes out of the train in a huff because she pulled the break. For his trouble Karla gives the conductor a large sum of money without batting an eye. The mayor of the town welcomes Karla back home and gives a whole speech. Karla is not interested. She is looking for Serge Miller (Anthony Quinn). When Serge comes forward she is not very happy to see him but she is kind to him. They walk together and the whole town follows them wherever they go.
The newspaper owner, the mayor, the priest, and doctor all sit at café. They all hope that Karla will be kind enough to donate money to the town. The priest already makes plans for his church when Karla gives money.
Serge and Karla go to a hut they used to frequent when they were younger. In their youth they were madly in love. They talk a bit about their life since they last saw each other. Karla tells Serge she met her husband in a whore house. Serge had married another girl whose father had owned a general store.
At a dinner that night the mayor gives a speech praising Karla and how she used to be such an important member of the community. Immediately after his speech Karla calls him out for all the lies he has spoken. Karla and her family were no better than anyone else. Her father used to lay stones on buildings for a living and he was always drunk when he worked. Her mother died when she was a girl. Karla then gives the people some good news. She plans on giving one million dollars to the town. She will also give another million dollars to the people but on condition- Serge Miller has to be killed. Almost twenty years she brought Serge to court for a paternity suit. She brings forth the former judge of the trial whom she has hired as her personal lawyer. She also brings forth the two witnesses that Serge had bribed to tell that they had slept with her. Karla wants justice. Because of Serge and his lies she was forced out of Guellen at seventeen years old. Their child was taken away from her and later died before it was one. Because of Serge she could not get a decent job because the trial was on her record and she was forced to become a prostitute. The people refuse they will not kill a member of their community no matter what she has promised them. Before she leaves the party Karla tells them all that she can wait.
Serge serves in the city council. A meeting is called the day after the dinner. He knows the meeting is about him and Karla’s offer. He is afraid they will go against him but they all vote to protect him.
Sometime later, Serge goes into his store. It is crowded with almost the entire town packed in. He is confused as to why they are all in there. Someone tells him that they are buying everything on credit. Serge flips out because he knows they are all hoping he will be killed and they will get their promised money. That night Karla ups the game and the temptation. She has trucks full of cars and clothes and TVs and household appliances brought into the town square. An announcer proclaims that everything they see can be there’s if they buy on credit. The whole town is lured by the siren’s call.
Serge goes to Karla to plead with her to tell the people her condition is a joke. She refuses. He tries to choke her but she tells him if she dies the people will not get their money. He lets go. That night he tries to get out of town on the only train for the next week. The townspeople come together to overcrowd Serge to stop him from getting on the train in time.
The city council makes rape punishable by death. Their death penalty before all the calamity had been revoked since it had never been used. Some of the council members go to see Karla to try to get her to stop. They tell her they want help in the form of investments such as buying the old mine and some of the factories. Karla laughs in their faces and informs them she owns almost the entire town already. She destroyed Guellen because everyone betrayed her when she needed help the most.
The mayor tries to give Serge a gun to kill himself instead of going ahead with a trial. Serge refuses he will not give in to their wants. He will stand and face a fair trial. Of course Serge is found guilty of his crimes at the trail the following day. As soon as the judgment is given Karla hands the city council members two checks. They grab both checks greedily. Karla then turns to the townspeople and asks if anyone feels what has happened is unjust. No one speaks up. Karla announced everything that has happened has all been part of her plan. She calls them all out for their greediness and their terrible conscious’. Karla bought was able to buy them and their conscious’. Karla tells Serge she wants him to live so he can be among the people who were ready to kill him. They will see Serge walking around every day and be guilty.
The Visit was really good. Ingrid Bergman is just royalty. I know that is not a good description but to me she was just so regal and so in command the only way I can describe her as Karla Zachanassian is royalty. This is one of my favorite performances I have seen Bergman in. She was devious and evil and no nonsense and I loved every minute she was on screen. Anthony Quinn I have never seen in a film before. He was good. I would like to see him in more films. The story of The Visit is great. Every single character is greedy and morally corrupt. The twist at the ending and how Karla wanted Serge punished was fantastic. I think psychological punishment is worse than physical punishment. Serge might as well have just been physically killed for all the pain and suffering and embarrassment he will cause. I also loved to see how the desire and greed for money drove the townspeople to do things they never would have even thought of. I would like to say I would do the moral thing and never dream of killing another human being for a million dollars. I have watched too much CSI and true crime shows to murder anyone because I know I would be arrested and that terrifies me. But I have to think if I were desperate and poor like the people of Guellen I may want a man dead so I can have some money. If you can get your hands and eyes on The Visit absolutely see it especially for the story and Ingrid Bergman’s stunning performance.