Archive for Per Oscarsson

The ’68 Comeback Special: Doktor Glas

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on November 21, 2013 by dcairns

Scout Tafoya and I are reviewing all the entries from Cannes ’68, AKA the Cannes That Wasn’t there.


“I killed him for money and a woman. Well, I didn’t get the money and I didn’t get the woman.” So says Fred MacMurray in DOUBLE INDEMNITY, anticipating Per Oscarsson in DOKTOR GLAS, Mai Zetterling’s entry for Sweden in the abortive ’68 Cannes Film Festival.

The lanky Oscarsson, always a strange, appealing but unsettling presence, is a doctor in early 20th Century Sweden, tempted to murder by the case of a woman he’s besotted with who’s married to a man he can’t stand, the hypocritical Reverend Gregorius. Glas is initially consulted by Mrs G, who’s repulsed by her older husband and wants a medical excuse to stave off his vigorous and forceful exercising of his “marital rights,” but he starts to think that the only permanent solution is to remove the Rev from the picture altogether.


The only previous directorial work by Zetterling I had seen was her short, WAR GAMES, which I liked a lot. This one does have some trendy stuff — ’68 may have been THE big year for fashionable stylistic excess — but it’s inflected with enough imagination and originality to diffuse any sense of ennui. The diciest choice is probably the pop song at the start, performed by The Others — quite pleasant in its own way, and an attractive music video, with everything out of focus — but is it really appropriate? Still, it ties in with a whole series of contemporary sequences in which the presumably very old Glas walks the streets of Stockholm musing on his life, filmed in a myopic blur of hand-held subjective camera. Some of the transitions, led by sound design, from period to contemporary scenes are very neat, particularly a climactic scene where the camera pans directly from 1910s to 1960s in a single take, while going into its trademark hazy unfocused state.


Zetterling also creates a stream-of-consciousness quality by intercutting a pensive Oscarsson with fantasy images unreeling in his mind, typically set against a white studio cyclorama infinity wall — again, a little too forcefully reminding us of the sixties, but resulting in some nice graphic compositions. The cutting is at times near-subliminal, with the influence of MARIENBAD very much in the air. I suspect this movie, in addition to the brief glimpses of childbirth delivered with gouts of monochrome grue, would have been the first Cannes screening to feature close-up sexual penetration — although again these moments are blink-and-you-miss-it brief. I suspect the censor cut them everywhere outside Scandinavia anyway.

Being Swedish, there’s a fair bit of nudity, rather more than you’d expect for ’68 (which is kind of the year the nude scene was normalized, and also the year colour became the default setting for all US film — Europe obviously caught up with this a year later since Cannes featured numerous b&w movies that year). And despite being directed by a woman, the film enters the mind of Glas so thoroughly that the nudity is pretty clearly divided in purpose — the male nudes can be filed under “frankness” (the inevitable sauna) whereas the females are squarely “eroticism”. Several dream sequences show Glas fantasising about the woman he’s smitten with, and there’s a degree of menace to her oneiric provocations. We also get Glas rolling about in a quarry and other modish bits of Felliniesque peculiarity — I have a suspicion that Swedish filmmakers must have felt intimidated by the influence of Bergman so they’d scout around for other influences to plunge into. This certainly doesn’t feel anything like THE HOUR OF THE WOLF.


’68 was probably Zetterling’s biggest year as director — she also made her feminist film FLICKORNA, aka THE GIRLS — and then didn’t direct again until ’72. Soon she was confined to UK TV or else acting again (she’s great in THE WITCHES). This fatal loss of career momentum is to be deeply regretted, and I wonder what a successful Cannes screening of DOKTOR GLAS might have meant for her.

The Ice Man Cometh and Goeth

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on May 21, 2012 by dcairns

I had fond yet vague memories of THE NIGHT VISITOR, AKA LUNATIC (substitute title spliced in on a piece of cardboard in my VHS copy) — I knew it had some ingenious John Dickson Carr type plotting. In fact, that’s almost all it has…

Laszlo Benedek, near the end of his largely televisual career (it’s 1971 — he’d make one more movie in ’77), directs, with an interesting Scandinavian/British cast (the movie isn’t too precise about where it’s action is occurring, but we’re assuming some Northerly clime).

Max Von Sydow is Salem, unjustly committed to a bleak fortress of an insane asylum, at the connivance of his sister, brother-in-law, mistress and lawyer. But he’s getting out at night and killing them, as we learn in scene 1 (this info could usefully have been held back a little). The police are baffled because whenever they check on Max, he’s back in his cell with no sign of how he could have escaped. The perfect alibi.

If John Dickson Carr, master of the locked-room mystery, had written this, we’d have been tempted with some supernatural explanation, possibly astral projection, and a good bit of terror would have resulted — of course, some perfectly rational explanation would have emerged in due course. In Scooby Doo, this was always disappointing, but Carr just about made it work, dispelling the shadows with a wave of his logical wand.

The film’s real highlight is the prolonged, wordless sequence where we learn just how Max is effecting his nightly getaways, all rather suavely worked out and neatly presented. The whole thing comes with an ironic pay-off and good performances from a distinguished cast —

Liv Ullman is one of the rotters who stitched Max up. Liv and let die. Per Oscarsson is another. As Per usual. They make a beastly couple, but in their favour they do own a delightful parrot. Possibly a Norwegian Blue. The blue would be on account of the cold.

The local detective is played by a gallon of whisky wrapped inside a thin layer of Trevor Howard. The head of the asylum is Andrew Keir — Quatermass! I like to think he’s treating his patients with rocketry.

If only the film had more to it than its neat plot, it might be a minor classic. It’s certainly a movie which could be remade today in the light of all the Scandinavian noir we’re seeing. Trevor even has a Scandi jumper like that woman on The Killing. Movies with nothing but a good plot (and, admittedly, a superlative cast) make good remake fodder, if anybody’s listening…


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