Hon dansade en sommar (1951)

From an international perspective, the 1950s in Swedish film is known for two things only: Sex and Ingmar Bergman. The Swedish classic Hon dansade en sommar (One Summer of Happiness) gives us a bit of both. Bergman had nothing to do with the production, but it is very much a child of the same time, and if you are familiar with Bergman’s early works, you will find many similarities. And as for the sex, well …

Ulla Jacobsson and Folke Sundquist in Hon dansade en sommar / One Summer of Happiness (1951)

It is really quite impossible to write about Hon dansade en sommar without mentioning Ulla Jacobsson’s breasts, so let’s get that done and over with. The film has often been cited as the start of the Swedish wave of sin. Yes, there is some (very tasteful) nudity, and yes, there are strong suggestions of extramarital sex. But even though it is nothing compared with modern Hollywood fare, it was explosive at the time. The film was a huge scandal and a big financial success.

Today, the film seems extremely innocent, so if this film has any remaining qualities as a classic, you will have to look for them somewhere other than sex. Fortunately, there is plenty to look for.

Even as the titles start rolling, the director will not let us doubt that this is a tragedy. The title music is filled with doom and despair, and the first scene shows a young man entering a graveyard where a burial is underway. All eyes are immediately upon him, and the priest’s words of condemnation appears directed only at him.

Flashback to a graduation ceremony in early summer. From here on, most of the film is considerably brighter in tone, and there is even a bit of comedy here and there. We follow the newly graduated Göran as he makes a trip to spend the summer at his uncle’s farm in the Swedish archipelago. There he meets Kerstin and falls in love. But many around them are opposed to the union.

In case you do not understand Swedish very well, a separate srt file is available with English subtitles. The translations are excellent, so there is no need to let the language barrier be a hindrance. For my own part, I strongly dislike dubbing, and good subtitles are far too rare for films downloaded from the Internet. Besides, the typical Swedish 1950s prosody is something which can never be recreated in a dub, no matter how good.

This film is best enjoyed if you focus upon the plot and the dialogue. In the shadow of Bergman, who was at this time striving to establish himself (his international breakthrough was still a few years into the future, and Swedish critics were not always pleased with his early works), Hon dansade en sommar appears today as a good and pretty typical example of what Swedish cinema could offer around this time. If you like Bergman and want more of same, or if you are just curious about Swedish film, then this is a good choice. And, of course, whatever you may think of it otherwise, it is the start of the Swedish sin.

Ulla Jacobsson and Folke Sundquist in Hon dansade en sommar / One Summer of Happiness (1951)

Hon dansade en sommar
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Year: 1951
Language: Swedish (English subtitles in separate file)
Running time: 1 h 43 min
Director: Arne Mattsson
Stars: Ulla Jacobsson, Folke Sundquist
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (640×480)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: Cinepack (1.1 G)

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Duck and Cover (1952)

“This is Tony, going to his Cub Scout meeting. Tony knows the Bomb can explode anytime, day or night, any time of year. He’s ready for it. Duck and cover!”

Oh, yeah. Those American kids of the 1950s were ready, all right. Thanks to governmental terror propaganda, every kid knew what to do when the Communists dropped the Bomb. After all, they were told what to do in the film Duck and Cover, part of our October Short Film Month spotlight.

Bert the Turtle and a monkey in Duck and Cover (1951)

Duck and Cover is part animation, part live action. It begins and ends with Bert the Turtle giving some sound advice about what to do when faced with an atomic bomb, or a monkey with a stick of dynamite. In between, a soothing voice tells us that everything will be allright if you take cover underneath your school bench, or behind a low wall, or just anyplace you can find.

Today, Duck and Cover may look silly and ridiculous, but it must be remembered that in the 1950s, the danger of nuclear war seemed very real, and probably was. Even though Russia and Communism are not mentioned, even indirectly, the film was nevertheless a tool for strengthening patriotic awareness.

The advice given, to duck and cover, may not be as inane as it seems at first glance. Even an atomic bomb will not kill every living thing within the blast radius, and the more cover you have, the better your chances of survival. The film only becomes ridiculous because it nowhere gives any hint of exactly how dangerous and terrible a nuclear explosion actually is. It gives the impression that if you just cover yourself with a picnic blanket, you might be perfectly safe.

Duck and Cover is not a great film by any standards. The animations in particular are cheap, and the rest is nothing special. So you do not watch this film on any cinematographic merits.

This film is best enjoyed for providing some amusing perspective on a world that was still a reality only thirty years ago. But if you think about it, the film can also be seen as a powerful allegory to some politicians’ solutions to today’s problems like climate change, migration or foreign wars. Just duck and cover, and everything will be all right. (And don’t forget to cover your head with that newspaper.)

Man hiding under newspaper when the Atomic Bomb strikes, from Duck and Cover (1951)

Duck and Cover
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Year: 1952
Running time: 9 min
Director: Anthony Rizzo
Stars: Robert Middleton (voice)
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (640×480)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: MPEG2 (322 M)

Scrooge (1951)

Christmas is rushing closer by the minute and the panic is definitely here. Bottle of spumante wine for mother-in-law, some nice book for daughter, no idea even what to get for wife (she claims she likes film, but never watches any, so DVDs are out of the question). And then we need to pack for the trip to the family, and we have not even had time to put up much in terms of decorations in our home.

Well, that is the way it goes, but in the middle of that rush, what could possibly be better than to grab a mug of mulled wine and sit down in front of a nice old film. A film like Scrooge.

Alastair Sim and Francis De Wolff in Scrooge aka A Christmas Carol (1951)

Scrooge, sometimes released with the title A Christmas Carol, is a breathtakingly beautiful film. The actors are good, and Alastair Sim in particular is marevellous as the aging miser who is reformed through divine intervention. Special effects are simplistic, but that is not really a problem. Dobule exposure and effective lighting go a long way when it comes to creating ghostlike gosts.

Charles Dickens’ classic tale has been filmed a great many times, and many of the versions are good. The versions available at the Internet Archive are too many for me to list them all, but I would like to mention just two short silents. The very first film adaptation of the story, Scrooge, or Marley’s Ghost (1901) is available. Like many early literary adaptations, it requires a good deal of knowledge about the original, or it will be completely impossible to comprehend. It is a truly historic film, especially considering that it has been said to be the first film with intertitles, and anyway it is only about three and a half minutes long. The other interesting silent is a really good ten-minute adaptation from 1910, titled simply A Christmas Carol. That one is a small masterpiece in compact story-telling and well worth the ten minutes it takes to watch it.

The 1951 film is best enjoyed around Christmas time, to get in the right mood. Pathetic? Why, certainly, but just a wee bit, and not so much as to ruin it.

Alastair Sim, Olga Edwardes and Brian Worth in Scrooge aka A Christmas Carol (1951)

Scrooge
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Year: 1951
Running time: 1 h 24 min
Director: Brian Desmond-Hurst
Stars: Alastair Sim
Image quality: Excellent
Resolution: High (978×720)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: MPEG4 (1.0 G)

The Crystal Egg (1951)

Normally, I do not include films that are considerably less than 40 minutes in length, but I am going to make an exception for The Crystal Egg. Partly, I do this because it is the only screen adaptation I have seen of a very good story by H.G. Wells (Wikipedia says that it was also adapted for a 2001 TV series, but I suspect that one may be hard to find), but also because it is an example of what American sci-fi fans could watch on television in the early 1950s.

Thomas Mitchell and Edgar Stehli in Tales of Tomorrow: The Crystal Egg (1951) by H.G. Wells

Specifically, it is an episode from the first season (out of two) of the anthology series Tales of Tomorrow. Tales of Tomorrow was all science fiction, usually based on literary sources. Famous examples include Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (not available at the Internet Archive) and Frankenstein. Like most early television, it was broadcast live.

The Crystal Egg is the story about an antique shop owner who asks his friend to help him examine a strange crystal egg. The egg turns out to produce strange images that can only come from the planet Mars. In the episode (but not in the original story) there is also a mysterious stranger who wants the egg for himself. The TV episode makes a number of changes to Wells’ story, but in my opinion these are tastefully executed in order to make the story suited for the short TV format.

Tales of Tomorrow is notorious because of the uneven quality of its actors. The Crystal Egg illustrates this well. Thomas Mitchell is good as Professor Vaneck (Mr. Wace in the original story), whereas Sally Gracie as his girlfriend can barely remember her few lines. Little problems like this shine through very clearly in a live broadcast, but today it must be considered part of the charm of old-time television.

Another problem is image quality. Old television shows with good images are practically non-existent. This is because video technology had not yet been invented, so episodes had to be filmed from a television screen, when they were preserved at all.

Wells’ story is good enough to be interesting in itself, but also because there is a neverending debate among fans and scholars as to whether Wells intended it as a “prequel” to his famous novel The War of the Worlds. We shall never know whether he did, but it is always fun to speculate.

This episode is best enjoyed as an introduction to Tales of Tomorrow. If you like it, a few dozen more episodes, including radio shows, are available. Many actors appear that either were famous already (e.g. Boris Karloff), or were to become famous (e.g. Paul Newman).

Saturn seen from Mars in Tales of Tomorrow: The Crystal Egg (1951) by H.G. Wells

The Crystal Egg
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Year: 1951
Running time: 24 min
Director: Charles S. Dubin
Stars: Thomas Mitchell
Image quality: Poor
Resolution: Medium (620×480; not counting black border)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: MPEG2 (432 M)

Flight to Mars (1951)

Tomorrow, Mars reaches opposition to the sun, as seen from the earth. It does so about once every two years, and this is the time when it can most easily be observed by the human eye and amateur telescopes. In the mid 20th century, many still thought that Mars was capable of harbouring advanced life, and Mars and the Martians often appeared in films in the 1950s and 60s. Producers of movies such as Flight to Mars also mistakenly believed that an opposition was the perfect time to send a spaceship to Mars.

Flight to Mars is one of the many science fiction movies that were produced in the wake of Rocketship X-M. An amusing detail is that it even reused much of the spacecraft interiors from the 1950 film. If you look closely you can see that the rightmost panel in the image below is the same as the leftmost one in the first screen shot I used in my Rocketship X-M review.

Richard Gaines, Cameron Mitchell, Arthur Franz, Virginia Huston and John Litel in Flight to Mars (1951)

The first half of he film is very simple in terms of story. A rocketship is going to Mars, and a team has been put together to pilot it. We get some early glimpses of the different personalities and their varying reasons for wanting to make the journey.

In movies, as well as in literature, a template seems to exist for the archetypal exploration story. Whether it is about exploring a hidden jungle (as in the 1925 adaptation of The Lost World), going into the interior of the earth (Unknown World from the same year as the subject of this post) or travelling into outer space, there is always a team of about half a dozen people, one of whom is the scientist who came up with the idea. There is usually also a newspaper reporter and there is exactly one woman, so that there can be a romantic interest for the hero.

Flight to Mars is no exception to this. After the initial half hour’s trip to Mars, however, the film goes off in new directions and becomes much more interesting after the ship’s arrival to the red planet. This part is probably inspired by the Russian film Aelita (1924), which will doubtlessly appear on this blog sooner or later.

This film is best enjoyed if you are interested in corny sci-fi architecture and fashion. Both clothes and buildings seem awfully impractical (“We find these [clothes] very comfortable.”), but they certainly are evocative. Also, the men’s leather jackets produce a never-ending stream of farting noises that are rather amusing.

Arthur Franz and Marguerite Chapman in Flight to Mars (1951)

Flight to Mars
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Year: 1951
Running time: 1 h 11 min
Director: Lesley Selander
Stars: Cameron Mitchell, Marguerite Chapman
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (640×481)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: MPEG4 (2.1 G)

Royal Wedding (1951)

There is something rather ridiculous about a royal wedding, such as Swedish Princess Madeleine’s last Saturday. Oh, not the wedding itself. I definitely endorse wedding as an institution and a tradition, and I also acknowledge anyone’s right to do it in pomp and style when the situation so requires. And I guess all the circus and media coverage around it is sort-of necessary as well.

The problem, rather, is that the occasion seems to be the signal for every single person in Sweden to have an opinion, whether warranted or not. The royalists, of course, tell us what is right and wrong, just as the anti-royalists tell us why it is all wrong. The newspaper editorials are full of opinions. The stand-up comedians cannot pass up on a chance for below-the-belt punches. And the Swedish tabloids are having a field day.

The film Royal Wedding, with Fred Astaire as the dancer Tom Bowen, has a lot less to do with royalty than the title may suggest. The film is set in 1947, with the wedding of Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II) as a backdrop to the story.

Fred Astaire dancing with a hatstand in Royal Wedding (1953)

A tragic piece of trivia connected with this movie is that it marked the end of Judy Garland’s career at MGM. Due to mental illness and drug problems, Garland was often absent from rehearsals. As a consequence she was fired from MGM and made a half-hearted suicide attempt. She was replaced by Jane Powell in the role of Tom’s sister and dance partner Ellen.

Royal Wedding has been criticized for a stupid plot and bad dialogue. Well, that may be true, but is not of very much consequence. Quite frankly, I cannot think of a single musical that I would want to watch again because of the story. The point here is the music and the dancing. And with Astaire the dancing can only be top quality. The music is not bad either.

So, forget about the story and all the world’s royal weddings. Sit back, relax, and enjoy one of the all-time greatest artists of musical cinema. If you are unfamiliar with Astaire, you can do much worse than this for a first acquaintance.

This film is best enjoyed as a lesson in dancing creativity.

Fred Astaire dancing on the ceiling in Royal Wedding (1953)

Royal Wedding
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Year: 1951
Running time: 1 h 32 min
Directors: Stanley Donen
Stars: Fred Astaire, Jane Powell
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (720×540)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: MPEG2 (2.9 G)