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
Download link
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)

Klostret i Sendomir (1920)

I have already written about the height of Swedish filmmaking in my post about The Outlaw and His Wife. Another of Victor Sjöström’s most famous movies was Klostret i Sendomir (The Monastery of Sendomir in English).

Erik Petschler and Nils Tillberg in Klostret i Sendomir / The Monastery of Sendomir (1920)

The film begins with two travellers who decide to spend the night at a monastery. They become curious as to the monastery’s origins and convince one of the monks to tell them. It turns out that a man who became jealous of his cheating wife decided to fuond the monastery to atone for his sins in connection with this. The majority of the film is a flashback as the monk tells the story. In the end we revert back to the two travellers for a nice twist.

Like many of the Swedish films from this classical period, Klostret i Sendomir was based on a literary original, in this case a short story by the German writer Franz Grillparzer. Compared with modern Hollywood, these Swedish films stayed close to the originals, and in many cases, such as this, they also retained the tragic endings. In fact, Hollywood started to recognize the commercial value of happy endings at least as early as the 1920s, which Sjöström became aware of a few years later, when he moved to Hollywood to continue his career there.

This film is best enjoyed if you are curious about this classical period in Swedish film. It is a genuinely good film, especially compared with most other films from the same period, but directors and producers of the time were still very much experimenting with the medium, and parts of the film tend to feel a little stiff today. Still, it is a very good story, and told in the best way known in 1920.

Tora Terje and Tore Svennberg in Klostret i Sendomir / The Monastery of Sendomir (1920)

Klostret i Sendomir
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Year: 1920
Running time: 53 min
Language: Swedish; English subtitles
Director: Victor Sjöström
Stars: Tore Svennberg, Tora Terje
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (640×480)
Soundtrack: Poor; synthesized score not adapted to the images
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: Windows Media (939 M)

The Outlaw and His Wife (1918)

The Golden Age of Swedish cinema came quickly and went away quickly. Except for Ingmar Bergman (who decades later appeared as something of an isolated phenomenon) it lasted only a very brief period of about four years, towards the end of and just after World War I. During those short years, Swedish-produced films, helmed by the directors Victor Sjöström and Mauritz Stiller, were praised by critics and became international block busters. Time and time again. Not only that, but they became tremendously influential on contemporary film-makers all around the world.

Perhaps even more spectacular is that most of those films have withstood the test of time and still feel interesting and relevant today. They impress, both by their advanced imagery and their competent story-telling. Sjöström and Stiller worked in many different genres, and for the most part they based their films on prestigious literature.

Victor Sjöström and Edith Erastoff in Berg-Ejvind och hans hustru aka The Outlaw and His Wife (1918)

As far as I know, nothing by Stiller is available at the Internet Archive, but a good selection can be found across Sjöström’s career. One of Sjöström’s first international successes was Berg-Ejvind och hans hustru, known in English as The Outlaw and His Wife.

Sjöström often played the lead in his own films. Here, he plays the fugitive Ejvind, who falls in love with the rich widow Halla, played by his future wife Edith Erastoff, pregnant with their first child. Some have said that their real love shines through in their acting.

Unfortunately, the version at the Internet Archive has only English title cards, not the original Swedish ones.

After the peak of the Swedish golden years, Sjöström and Stiller both went on to international careers. Sjöström’s was successful but short, and he made few films after the silent era. His final one as a director was Under the Red Robe (1937), but he continued as a producer and a celeberated actor in his native Sweden for two more decades after that.

This film is best enjoyed for its use of forces of nature as an integrated story element. Sjöström was a pioneer in this.

Edith Erastoff in Berg-Ejvind och hans hustru aka The Outlaw and His Wife (1918)

The Outlaw and His Wife
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Year: 1918
Running time: 1 h 13 min
Director: Victor Sjöström
Stars: Victor Sjöström, Edith Erastoff
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (640×480)
Soundtrack: Poor; synthesized score partly adapted to the images
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: Windows Media (939 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)