Archive for Per Oscarsson

Hatchet Job

Posted in FILM, literature, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 23, 2015 by dcairns


Sam Peckinpah’s TV play, Noon Wine, based on the short novel by Katherine Anne Porter, occupies a legendary position in his oeuvre, because it turned his career around when he was at a low ebb, making everything afterwards possible (although it’s THE WILD BUNCH which created his unstoppable momentum in the next decade), and also because it’s been almost impossible to see.

After being shut out of the editing room on the troubled MAJOR DUNDEE (Charlton Heston wondered why Orson Welles and Sam Peckinpah, so charming to their actors when they wanted to be, could not turn that charm on the moneymen; Peckinpah wrote to his producer, “You are a well-poisoner, Jerry, and I damn you for it”), and after being fired from THE CINCINATTI KID after allegations that he tried to shoot hardcore pornography on the MGM lot (screenwriter Terry Southern claimed, plausibly, that it was his idea of adding an interracial love scene that freaked out the suits; but see also Susan George’s allegations about Peckinpah’s initial plans for the rape scene in STRAW DOGS, which tends to support suspicions about the director’s enthusiasm for what might be termed “sexual realism”) — anyhow, after all that, nobody was willing to touch Peckinpah.


This low-budget TV play demonstrated that Peckinpah could be trusted to turn up, shoot to schedule, and get great reviews. What’s weird is how shonky Noon Wine is. Admittedly, the source material screened at Edinburgh International Film Festival, supplied by UCLA, may not have shown the film at it’s best — though this may be the best surviving material. It looks to have been shot on tape, filmed off a TV screen, and then dumped back onto digital, but it’s hard to be sure. The colour is streaky, the image sometimes displaying a tubular edge distortion, and the resolution is low, and there’s also the unpleasantly smooth, HOBBIT-like video movement, though one soon gets used to that.

The piece is obviously cheap as chips, with laughable production design in the courtroom scene — blank stage flats painted in streaks to try to add a spurious sense of detail. But much low-budget TV still impresses, due to story and acting and framing. Noon Wine is erratic in all of these aspects.

Technically, the piece is below the standard of most TV of the period, with music unconvincingly papering over gaps in the soundtrack where Peckinpah seems to have shot mute. The only visual sequences which don’t look flatly televisual are the frequent montages, layerings of lap dissolves to show time passing. Generally, whenever Peckinpah mucks about with lap dissolves, wipes, freeze frames, ripple dissolves or accelerated motion, I cringe. These examples aren’t outright offensive, but they get a little embarrassing sometimes.


Olivia DeHavilland is good, naturally. Jason Robards SHOUTS all the time, just like Steve Martin in THE JERK. Per Oscarsson is outstanding. Whenever I see him, I always think, Who is this strange man, where did he come from and what’s he doing here? I even saw him in a Swedish film, DR GLAS, and thought the same thing. So he’s perfect to play what the script calls “a stranger in a strange land.” Theodore Bikel essays a range of characterful tics including a Magoo chortle, and seems to have strayed in from another, more amusing but far worse film.

The story seems predicated upon an ambiguous event (an unseen axe murder) like the Marabar Caves in A Passage to India, but Peckinpah struggles to make the unclear clear. His use of monologues, internal monologues, expository dialogue and more montages is frequently awkward. I realized that Peckinpah’s movies are almost never solo writing jobs, though his work on The Rifleman and The Westerner on TV showed he could get the job done OK when he had to. But he never had to solve all the narrative problems of a feature script without help.


It feels almost ungrateful to get a rare chance to see something like this projected, and not like it better. But that leaves the enduring mystery of how Peckinpah’s career got rebooted by a tiny TV play that isn’t very good. The most interesting thing about it, to me, was that the film, so little seen but so significant in its repercussions for Peckinpah, is like the offscreen murder itself — it is responsible for everything that happens afterwards, but in itself it is unknowable, unseeable and impossible to understand.

I was just thinking, “Now all we need is Nick Ray’s The High Green Wall” — and then I thought to check YouTube and here it is! Hope it’s good.

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…