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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Körkarlen (1921)

If you have been reading my posts about Ingeborg Holm (1913), Berg-Ejvind och hans hustru (1918) and Klostret i Sendomir (1920), then you know that I, along with many others, consider Victor Sjöström to be one of the greatest directors of the 1910s and early 1920s. Perhaps the peak of his creative period came with Körkarlen, best known in English as The Phantom Carriage.

Victor Sjöström and Tore Svennberg in Körkarlen / The Phantom Carriage (1921)

Körkarlen is a many-layered story about alcoholism, poverty, death and humiliation, but also about love, faith and atonement. It often balances on a thing edge between realism and sentimentality, and mostly manages to stay clear of any excesses in either direction.

The story is based on a novel by Swedish author Selma Lagerlöf (Nobel prize winner), and closely follows the original. At the core of the story, we find the Salvation Army sister Edit. She has been trying to save David from his sinful life in alcholism, but David has no wish to repent. That is when Death’s coachman (who drives around to collect the souls of the dead) steps in, and when David appears to die after a drunken brawl on New Year’s Eve, the coachman takes David on a journey through time and space to make him see the wrongs of his life.

The score of this version must be characterized as ambient. It is very mood-setting, but sometimes it seems to miss the mood a bit. On the whole, it works well, but I am sure better scores exist.

This film is best enjoyed as a true classic and an excellent example of Swedish film making around 1920. If anyone sees parallels with Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, that is no coincidence (compare Scrooge (1951)). Lagerlöf said herself that the story was inspired by Dickens, though this is far more than just a cheap imitation. Körkarlen deserves to be enjoyed on its own merits.

Tore Svennberg in Körkarlen / The Phantom Carriage (1921)

Körkarlen
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Year: 1921
Running time: 1 h 46 min
Language: Swedish; English subtitles
Director: Victor Sjöström
Stars: Victor Sjöström
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (480×360)
Soundtrack: Acceptable; partly adapted to the images
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: MPEG4 (1.3 G)

Ingeborg Holm (1913)

In 1913, D.W. Griffith was making silly shorts such as The Telephone Girl and the Lady, Charlie Chaplin had not yet started making films at all, and even Hollywood itself had barely even received its name. In short, American film was struggling to get on its feet. This is the kind of perspective you need in order to fully appreciate just how amazing a film such as Ingeborg Holm by Victor Sjöström was for its time.

Hilda Borgström and William Larsson in Ingeborg Holm (1913)

Sjöström created a delightful little melodrama about the struggling wife and mother Ingeborg Holm, who suffers the misery of seeing her husband die shortly after he has started up a new grocery store. She inherits the store, but due to mismanagement by the hired staff, the business soon goes bankrupt and she is faced with heavy debts. The film gives a fine portrait of a strong woman, and explores the limits of misery that a human being can suffer.

Today, Ingeborg Holm may appear somewhat static with all its stationary cameras and long shots, only very rarely featuring a closeup. But Ingeborg Holm is also the oldest film I have yet reviewed here, and compared with the films from the next few years, it is easy to see that Sjöström was way ahead of his competition. Even compared with a masterpiece like The Birth of a Nation (1915), Sjöström shows integrity in cutting and composition that few if any contemporaries could match. If you want to watch good feature film, you really cannot go much farther back than this.

This film is best enjoyed for its historical significance, and as a foretelling of what the future had in store. It is also interesting for its image of poverty in Sweden over a hundred years ago.

Aron Lindgren and Hilda Borgström in Ingeborg Holm (1913)

Ingeborg Holm
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Year: 1913
Running time: 1 h 12 min
Director: Victor Sjöström
Stars: Hilda Borgström
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (640×480)
Soundtrack: None
Best file format: MPEG4 (642 M)

Moonlight Sonata (1937)

Off the top of my head, I can think of no more than maybe half a dozen international fictional films where all or most of the action is set in my native Sweden. Therefore, it is extremely fascinating that out of this half dozen, two were made in the same country (England) and in the same year (1937). One is Dark Journey, which I reviewed almost exactly a year ago. The other is the subject of today’s post, namely Moonlight Sonata.

Ignacy Jan Paderewski at the grand piano in Moonlight Sonata (1937)

Other than the (coincidental?) connection with Sweden, however, these two films are radically different. While Dark Journey is a spy thriller with nationalistic and political overtones, Moonlight Sonata is a romantic drama, or perhaps rather melodrama, with very little thrill at all.

At the center of the story we find the young Swedish man Eric Molander and his beloved Ingrid, whom he wants to marry. She, however, is uncertain about her feelings, and when fate intervenes in the shape of a forced landing with a passenger aircraft things take some rather unexpected turns.

The plane carries two passengers, the pianist Ignacy Jan Paderewski and the businessman Mario de la Costa. While waiting for transportation from the island where the plane went down, they are invited to stay at the baroness Lindenborg’s mansion, where Eric and Ingrid also live. But not everything is the way it first seems, and the visitors affect their surroundings, each in different ways.

Paderewski, who plays himself in the film, was a very interesting person. He was a world famous composer and concert pianist, but he was also a Polish nationalist and politician. In 1919, he became one of Poland’s first prime ministers when the country was reformed after World War I. But in this film, made only a few years before his death, all focus is upon his skill and fame as a pianist. The film, in fact, begins with a very long concert performance. If, like me, you enjoy good classical music, then this is one of the film’s absolute highlights. From a dramatic point of view, however, it detracts from the film’s story.

There are some annoying logical glitches in the story. For one thing, according to IMDb, the downed plane shown in the film is a de Havilland 84 Dragon. It is highly unlikely that any such planes were ever used to travel between Stockholm and Paris, but if they were, it would have been completely impossible to make the flight non-stop. At least one refuelling stop would have been necessary, probably in Hamburg. So, why does de la Costa ask if they have yet reached Paris after he wakes up?

Perhaps not surprisingly, there is no Swedish family of Lindenborg barons. There is, however, a Danish manor by that name, owned for generations by the counts von Schimmelmann. Perhaps that was the inspiration behind the name?

Let’s face it: Moonlight Sonata is a boring film about boring people doing boring things for boring reasons. Yet I do not hesitate to recommend it, because even though it is not very good, it is still interesting.

This film is best enjoyed by lovers of classical music. Paderewski’s piano playing is impressive and deserves to be remembered. In addition, the film is interesting for its image of Sweden and Swedes.

Ignacy Jan Paderewski and Marie Tempest in Moonlight Sonata (1937)

Moonlight Sonata
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Year: 1937
Running time: 1 h 25 min
Director: Lothar Mendes
Stars: Ignacy Jan Paderewski, Marie Tempest
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (720×540)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: MPEG4 (833 M)

Terror in the Midnight Sun (1959)

As we are leaving the winter Olympics behind us, I stumbled across yet another film at the Internet Archive with a winter Olympics connection. Actually, I have seen it years ago, but forgot all about Barbara Wilson playing an American Olympic figure skater who is training in the Swedish part of Lapland. The film in question is Terror in the Midnight Sun, known in Sweden as Rymdinvasion i Lappland.

The monster from Terror in the Midnight Sun aka Rymdinvasion i Lappland (1959)

I have been trying to find some good background to this movie. Such as, who came up with the corny idea to make a Swedish horror B-movie in the first place? And how was anyone convinced to invest money in the production? Alas, no such info has emerged.

In America, it seems, this film is best known as Invasion of the Animal People, after Jeremy Warren butchered the original and added scenes and narration by John Carradine. The version at the Internet Archive, however, is not that. This is the original and much superior film. Oddly, it seems that this original was never distributed in America, even though it was a joint Swedish-American production.

Barbara Wilson gets ample opportunity to practice her screaming and fainting routine, as she does the standard female victim role with some bravado and less talent. She does provide some more interesting performance early in the movie, though.

There are some genuinely good aspects of this movie, such as the many mood-setting on-location shots from Stockholm and northern Sweden. There are also some well-made scale models that the man in the monster suit gets to wreck, and most of the dialogue makes sense (and I imagine native English-speakers find the genuine Swedish accents half amusing, half exotic). The music is good, too, especially during the closing credits.

But, of course, you do not watch Terror in the Midnight Sun for its qualitative moments, though they help to make the experience worthwhile.

This film is best enjoyed for the Swedish connection, the corny plot, the aliens looking like government officials in bathrobes and the laughable, low-budget special effects. And speaking of special effects, the white blot in the screen shot below is not the midnight sun; it is the alien ship.

Robert Burton, Bengt Blomgren, Sten Gester and Barbara Wilson (and the alien ship) in Terror in the Midnight Sun aka Rymdinvasion i Lappland (1959)

Terror in the Midnight Sun
No longer available for download
Year: 1959
Running time: 1 h 11 min
Director: Virgil Vogel
Stars: Barbara Wilson, Sten Gester
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (720×540)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: MPEG2 (3.0 G)

Dark Journey (1937)

Sweden is a small country, at least in terms of population, and very much less significant than we would perhaps sometimes like to think ourselves.

As a Swede, it interests me very much to see how foreigners’ prejudices about us are reflected when Swedes or Sweden are mentioned in popular media. Not only is it amusing to see what others think about us; it is also sobering to realize that our own prejudices are probably quite as gross and exaggerated.

Sweden is quite often mentioned in foreign movies (an entire web site, Alla Talar Svenska, is devoted to the subject). In fact, if we had to give out all the Nobel prizes that have been awarded in movies, the Nobel committee would go broke in a matter of minutes. But it is rare indeed to find a foreign film where most of the action is set in Sweden. British Dark Journey (1937) is such a film.

Vivien Leigh in Dark Journey (1937)

Dark Journey was made at a time when Europe was preparing for the coming World War II. The dark clouds were plainly visible, yet it would not do to openly criticize a foreign power. But it was perfectly acceptable to make a historical movie, so several World War I dramas were made around this period. Thus could the Germans be made the enemy without actually pointing a finger.

Vivien Leigh, before she became famous in Hollywood, plays French girl Madeleine who owns an expensive clothes shop in Stockholm. She meets Conrad Veidt who plays a German agent on a mission for his country. In spite of their countries being at war, the two start to fall in love. Entaglements ensue, both at the personal and international levels.

Dark Journey is not a remarkable film by any means, but it is not bad either. From what I can tell, several sets and situations actually reflect what upperclass Stockholm might have looked like in the 1910s (though except for some mood-setting shots of Stockholm just at the beginning, nothing is filmed on location). The actors deliver what they are expected to, and the story is original enough to keep the interest up all the way to the end. The best thing about it may be the excellent soundtrack by Richard Addinsell. Too bad this was probably never released on record.

This film is best enjoyed with a few glasses of ice-cold punsch, a Swedish liqueur which was popular at the time when this movie is set. As far as I can remember, “Skål!” is the only Swedish word spoken in the film.

Vivien Leigh and Conrad Veidt in Dark Journey (1937)

Dark Journey
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Year: 1937
Running time: 1 h 16 min
Director: Victor Saville
Stars: Conrad Veidt, Vivien Leigh
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (720×616)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: Cinepack (700 M)