Saturday, August 13, 2011

När mörkret faller (1960)

Arne Mattsson (1919-1995) was one of more interesting directors to come from Sweden, even of he got manipulated out from the big league by Ingmar Bergman (who was no stranger to pull strings to blacklist former colleagues from the Swedish movie community) and stuck with being the laughingstock by the Swedish movie critics. Why? It’s a bit absurd to read the reviews now, so many years after, because most of his movies are among the best every produced in Sweden. It’s important to realize that Mattsson was a big fan of thrillers and detective stories and that was something he wanted to do, so he wasn’t forced to make more commercial movies like some sell-out, he really loved a good murder mystery and stayed with the genre for his whole career.

När Mörkret Faller (aka When Darkness Falls) is based on story by Maria Lang, THE female thriller writer for many years. Her work is often very uneven, but like Mattsson films, filled with sexual innuendos and an interesting look at class and generation in Sweden. This is not her best story and not Mattsson’s best movie, but that just means it’s still very competent and skilfully produced slice of detective melodrama. It’s set in small village over Christmas and New Year. On Christmas Eve the local shop owner Arne Sandell (George Fant) is brutally hacked to death with an axe and soon everyone is a suspect. An army of suspects. Police inspector Christer Wijk (Karl-Arne Holmsten) arrives and takes charge of the investigation, but soon the killer strikes again…

This is a very traditional murder mystery, shot in atmospheric black & white by master cinematographer Hilding Bladh. It’s almost a bit too generic to be Mattsson, who always found a way to include some kind of story gimmick to catch the audience attention. It’s both a blessing and boring that most of the story is set inside one house, with a few studio-bound shots outside the church. It makes the story very claustrophobic and gives us an interesting chamber play, but Mattsson has always been a visual director and he would probably have done even better if he had more to work with. Not for lack of trying, because When Darkness Falls is filled with his trademark dolly tracks, scenes shot with mirrors reflecting other parts of the room, long scenes without cuts with a lot of details and red herrings. Mattsson was a master of using the whole room, the whole frame, and here’s an excellent movie to see that. Sometimes there is three-four layers of intrigue, from one of the suspects close to the camera listening with moving at all to next layer were a dialogue is happening and to the last one were a silhouette is listening in the background.

While the story is far from the best, the film is packed with the best of Swedish actors. One fo the leading characters, vicar Tord Ekstedt is played by the former Hollywood star Nils Asther, who was forced to go back to Sweden during his golden years when jobs started to dry up in the US and he did some bad affairs which affected his reputation in the biz. He hit it big as a silent movie star, but his accent prevented him to continue rise even higher as a star and he played mostly foreigners and bad guys. He shot two movies with Mattsson, this one and the excellent Vita Frun (aka Lady in White), which show so clearly what a magnificent actor he was. I can recommend both just because of him. Karl-Arne Holmsten is Inspector Wijk, and he was one of the more popular and charming leading men during the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, but retired from the screen at the end of the sixties with a few sporadic acting gigs after that. The supporting cast is nothing less than spectacular, with George Fant, Sif Ruud (the leading nice old lady of Swedish cinema), Hjördis Pettersson (the leading evil old lady of Swedish cinema), Adolf Jahr, Sigge Fürst and the “angry young man”, my favourite, Bengt Brunskog. Elsa Prawitz, Arne Mattsson’s wife, do a great job as the wife of the first murder victim also. Almost everyone is a veteran or future veteran of Mattsson’s movies. He always used the same actors and gave them wonderful and original parts.

Rarely seen and I’m not sure it’s been released on home video, it was shown a couple of days ago in TV. Far from classics like Mattsson’s predecessor to Mario Bava’s Blood and Black Lace, Mannekäng i Rött (1958) and The Lady in Black from the same year, but still a very nice murder mystery, perfect for a dark winter night.

No comments: