One of the Pordenone Silent Film Fest’s highlights this year was a season of neglected Swedish silent cinema. Most serious silent film lovers will be familiar with Sjostrom and Stiller’s work, but the movies screened here shone light on less celebrated directors such as Gustaf Molander, whose EXTREMELY long career (1920-1967) took in collaborations with both Bergmans, Ingmar and Ingrid, which not many people can say.
SYND (1928) brings considerable star power to bear on a story adapted from Strindberg (whose play was called Crime and Crime — not one of your snappier titles, August). Lars Hanson, in fuil-on eccentric artist mode and apparently channeling William Powell or something, is a struggling playwright and the radiant Elissa Landi is his devoted wife. When Hanson sells a play he is immediately tempted by the lead actress (French import Gina Manés). thereby graphically illustrating the marital advice given me by Michael Fitzgerald in Telluride (“Getting married is easy, but staying married when you become successful…”)
Very slick filmmaking — Molander’s favourite move is to push in at the end of scenes, which maybe he does too often, but it never fails to add a frisson. During a police investigation scene, witnesses describe events which are seen in noirish chiaroscuro to match the melodramatic slant these excitable members of the public put on things, then the same events are shown again with normal lighting as the hero supplies his innocent explanation.
Landi is too much of a doormat, albeit a fragrant one, and Manés, while exuding woman-of-the-world vampishness, isn’t appealing enough to explain why Hanson would ditch his loyal, gorgeous and dementedly submissive wife — and consider murdering his child. I choose to quote Landi’s intertitle from the film’s climax, when Hanson slinks home and tries to win her back. She’s starting to weaken, but can’t think of a way to turn the conversation around to “I forgive you for considering the murder of our adorable child.” This is what she comes up with ~
“But Maurice, maybe you haven’t eaten?”