fredag 27 april 2012

Bergman's hidden demon

I have finally seen the movie that Ingmar Bergman didn't want us to see. During his life time, whenever there was a retrospectif of his films, this one was never shown. In Stockholm, there was a cinema called Fågel Blå where his films were screened continuously and in chronological order. But this partiular film from 1950 was never shown. In England it was called High Tension and in Germany the title was Menschenjagd. The Swedish title is much more to the point and its direct translation is: Stuff like that never happens here! What a ludicrous title for a film that has been denied its own existence.

Alf Kjellin, Ingmar Bergman and Signe Hasso.

It's a thriller about fugitives from the Baltic states being terrorised by Soviet agents and it features some of the best Swedish movie actors at the time: Ulf Palme, playing the evil spy Atkä Natas and Alf Kjellin as the heroic young police man, in love with the wrong woman. She in turn is played by Signe Hasso, one of the Swedish stars who left Sweden for an international career, and who was at the time living in Los Angeles and acting on the English stage.

The film has some of its most effective scenes in the streets of Stockholm: cars chasing up and down streets, harbours and peaceful suburbs. Especially the well known streets around Slussen and Mosebacke, where there is a beautiful old theatre and a famous out door elevator, Katarinahissen, are nicely used as dramatic scenery. There is a scene when Vera (Signe Hasso) goes to see her copariots who are having a secret meeting behind a movie screen where there is an animated feature being shown, with Donald Duck. The scene reminds me of a similar scene in Hitchcock's Sabotage, the one with the animated film about little Cock Robin being killed... And the creepy scene where Atkä Natas is chased into a corner, up on the bridge beteween the Katarinahissen and Mosebacke square, and jumps to his death, falling into a cluster of bikes on the ground at Slussen, reminds me also of Hitchcock.

There is even a rather amusing scene between Natas and the policeman Almkvist, where a gun travels between them, like a prize for the most eloquent, that reminds me of the constant balancing in Hitchcock's film between tragedy and comedy. It's no coincidence, of course. Bergman studied his competition closely and forged his own cinematography accordingly. High Tension - or "Stuff like that doesn't happen here" is not a bad movie. But it's not a typical Bergman movie either. It has its slow moments and perhaps rather weird twists in the story line - but it is a thriller, and gives a rather poignant picture of the lives of fugitives in neutral countries after the war. The end comes very close to Hitchcock's Notorious, with the woman who was bad being carried away to safety by the man who loves her.

Maybe Bergman thought that it wasn't original enough. He probably disliked it because it didn't live up to his expectations. But does it really matter what the film's director thought? The film works and has a life of its own - regardless of initial intentions and ambitions. I'm inclined to let High Tension live, and crawl out of the closet.

It's touching and it has its great visual moments, mostly due to the brilliant cinematography of Gunnar Fischer. And Ulf Palme is a great villain. It's amazing how Ulf Palme in just over one year would deliver three very different character portraits for the sceen: In Flicka och hyacinter by Hasse Ekman he plays a rather naive writer, trying to understand why a young woman has killed herself. In Fröken Julie by Alf Sjöberg, he acts out the battles between class and sex between Jean, the butler that he plays, and Julie, the high strung upper class lady played by Anita Björk. And in High Tension by Ingmar Bergman, he plays the spy and war criminal Atkä Natas (= Real Satan) who has come in from the cold and wants to surrender to the United States. Ulf Palme was a very sensitive actor who could play on his tenderness and beautiful melodic voice to appear threatening, or just plain weary of life. For his sake, at least, this movie should be seen.

Ulf Palme as Atkä Natas

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