Archive for June 11, 2022

Beck 9: Cold Call

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 11, 2022 by dcairns

I’m sorry but the Martin Beck adaptations with Gosta Ekman are just NOT GOOD ENOUGH TO WATCH.

Apparently original co-author Maj Sjowall appears in all of them, like Stan Lee, but I haven’t spotted her. I don’t really know what she looked like in the nineties but she was cute as a button when the books were being written.

POLISMORDAREN aka THE POLICE MURDERER, adapted from the novel generally translated as Cop Killer, is completely without interest, except where it’s purely incompetent. The novels mix tones quite freely, but Sjöwall and partner Per Wahlöö always know what effect they’re after, even when mingling violence with humour. But this straight-to-video yawn, directed by Peter Keglevic, stages a key shooting incident with both tragic flute and slomo for epic tragedy, and slapstick pratfalls for farce. There might be a way to make that work, but not here.

One good thing: this geezer looks exactly the way I pictured him in the novel.

The book has some fun stuff — the killers from the first two novels in the series reappear. One is chief suspect in a sex killing in an out-of-the-way village. He’s done it before, served his time, but due to Sweden’s forgiving laws, been released as no longer a threat to society. Now, that book has been filmed as ROSEANNA in 1967, but it had also been adapted as an Ekman vehicle in 1993. But they could hardly feature the same killer in this piece, made a year later. Swedish justice isn’t THAT lax. The journalist killer from the second novel, The Man Who Went Up in Smoke, also appears, still working for the press, under a new identity. Both characters really do seem to have settled down, though “the man called Folke Bengtsson” is still deeply weird.

So, none of that features in this adaptation, and I guess it couldn’t. What’s left? There’s a petty crime spree that ends in fatalities, and it’s tied in a coincidental way to the initial sex murder (staged with an unwelcome lasciviousness). One crime provides a clue to the other, a trick Sjöwall & Wahlöö were very keen on, as in The Man on the Balcony, where the witness who can identify a child killer is himself a violent robber.

This isn’t the strongest of the novels — the series is probably at its best from around volumes three to seven. But it’s very engaging. The film version, not so much. It reminds me way too much of nineties episodes of Taggart, Scotland’s own cop show, which outlasted its leading man, who was visibly dying of alcoholism onscreen (his afternoon closeups were rumoured to be filmed with a crewman on each side holding him up by the arms). The show went from dingy video in its early days to a glossier preudo-cinematic look which never achieved actual style or scale: much like this.

Also, we say “Polis” in Scotland too. Pronounced “Poe-liss.” So the cop cars in Beck are strangely amusing.

Michael Tapper’s book Swedish Cops dishes up an impressive amount of backstory — the various true crimes that inspired Sjöwall & Wahlöö, including the case that gave us the concept of Stockholm Syndrome, though the book and the show never get as far as a hostage situation.

“More than in the novels,” Tapper writes, “the films linger on Beck as a tragic hero, living the lonely, heartbroken and empty life of an inspector. Only his daughter comforts him from time to time. Repeatedly, we see images of Beck’s sad face accompanied by a melancholy piano score, in hindsight almost a blueprint for the sad, lonely and frequently ill Swedish inspector in innumerable novels and films. During the completion of the films, a statue called Det svenska tungsinnet (“Swedish Melancholia”) with actor Gosta Ekman’s features was completed by the actor’s wife, director and artist Marie-Louise Ekman. It is installed in the Altona Park in Malmö.”

Perhaps worth mentioning: the eighth Beck novel, The Locked Room, was adapted for Czech TV as Záhada zamčeného pokoje in 1986. I don’t think it looks very interesting — people in rooms talking in flat, uninflected shots — but you could argue that’s a decent approximation of the novels’ prose style and their dour hero. Anyhow, it’s here if you want to try it. Let me know if it turns out to be gripping.

One more to go!