Monday, August 17, 2009

Damen i Svart (1958)

Though it's hardly scary today, Damen i Svart still has some genuine creepy moments. I remember how I watched it in broad daylight when I was maybe ten-eleven years old and it scared the shit out of me. From this experience I've always been a big fan of director Arne Mattsson and his excellent work in swedish thrillers. He was the classic standard misunderstood director, who critics ridiculed and looked down upon as a "simple" director. The truth is that most of this comes from that he was a very successfull commercial director who just had a to big love for his detective-stories. He was never like Bergman, who wanted to focus only on human relationships Mattsson prefered to throw in a murder or to...

Annalisa Ericson and Karl-Arne Holmsten plays Kajsa and John Hillman, private detectives and of course also a loving married couple. In their first adventure they're going on vacation to some old friends at a big countryside mansion but get's quickly involved in a mysterious disapperance of a girl in the staff. Rumours is going that it's the "Lady in black", a legendary ghost, who's behind the evil deeds! And behold, not soon after the first body is discovered the lady in black is seen walking on the grounds looking for new victims...

This is a very old-fashioned thriller in the typical swedish style: some comedy, some creepy stuff. Just like the Edgar Wallace-thrillers. In the Hillman-series Mattsson never got into any real nasty violence or nudity like later in his career (he's probably had the first graphic decapitation in swedish movie-history a few years later in the masterpiece Yngsjömordet), but everything is quite family-friendly. If some of the dialogue and comedy is dated, the ghost-stuff is still very good and... yeah, a bit scary to. The lady in black-costume is cool and eerie and Mattsson handles these sequences with high international class. It's still good and I can understand that I as a child was scared witless.

The visuals is as usual wonderful with intelligent use of the camera and atmospheric shadows and light. Arne Mattsson was ridiculed for his use of camera movements by the way. They (the critics) called him "Orson Räls" (which literary means Orson Rails - meaning the camera track and a reference to someone they probably thought was better, Orson Welles) and never understood that he told the story as much with the camera as with the actors and script. In Sweden it's called "jantelagen", which means that you can't be better than anyone else - and Mattsson clearly was the master of camera work.

I don't need to say it, but of us fans of swedish cinema this movie has - as all his movies - a cast of superstars. Annalisa Ericsons and Karl-Arne Holmstens Hillman-couple is pure genius. Their friendly quarrels echos the Daria Nicolodi/David Hemmings-relationship in Deep Red, and there's never a hint of the woman being a lesser detective. Later in the series they even has one movie of their own, another way of showing how independent these characters are. Anita Björk is also in it and is known from several Bergman-movies and a fantastic actress that has worked with all the swedish greats. In minor parts there's also swedish-finnish actor Åke Lindman (Don Siegels Telefon and Jerry Lewis unreleased The Day the Clown Cried) and Per-Axel Arosenius (the father in They Called Her One-Eye).

Not all parts of Damen i Svart has aged well, but it's still a very effective thriller.


Tobias Thuresson said...

"Orson Räls" - Hahahaha!

Fun fact.

Ninja Dixon said...

Tobias: The english translation "Orson Rails" is better actually... so I will change it now!