Wednesday 7 June 2017

On DVD - Barrie Pattison unearths an early Ingrid Bergman movie THE COUNT OF THE OLD TOWN (Sweden, 1935)

A disc of Edvin Adolphson’s 1935 Swedish Munkbrogreven/The Count of the Old Town/Le Conte du point au moine has reached me. The reason why, of all the Swedish films of the thirties, this one has surfaced is that it has Ingrid Bergman’s first significant movie role. As a good looking girl (with poor posture), she gets attention away from the movie’s top billed character grotesques.

Munkbrogreven : Ingrid Bergman and Edvin Adolphson 
The opening is the most filmic passage, with bell chimes over wide shots of Stockholm’s old town introducing cloth cap robbers knocking over a jewellery store and fleeing the beat copper.

The plot then develops to include the comic newspaper seller/suitor to the fish shop lady and his layabout friends whose day starts with contraband beer. Shadows falling on the cobbles introduce the bumbling detective duo - what happens to the other one?  Adolphson, also the film’s director, shelters from them in the modest City Hotel where he claims to be a resident in the room occupied by young Ingrid in her slip.

Romance develops between the pair, running to him helping her to beat carpets hanging on the line in the street while Adolphson hides the beer the comics don’t want portly policeman Weyler Hildebrand to find. The community like the newcomer, not least because he has a license to buy Swedish vodka which he shares round. They worry that he may be the jewel robber.

The fish shop lady’s personal advert brings a hand kissing aristocrat who offers to help her with her investments now that the robberies have extended to the bank, while the false-bearded blind man prowls the streets at night from his room where the light always burns.

Throw in a band which set up on the pavement for a number which Ingrid reprises.

People turn out to not be what they seem and there is a quite lavish open air horse carriage parade multiple wedding ending where all the nice characters’ fortunes turn for the best.

Passable entertainment, this is mainly a curiosity, a window into the largely unknown Scandinavian pre-WW2 film.  It would seem representative of the more ambitious pre-Alf Sjöberg Swedish production. The film making is competent but ordinary with those involved sometimes having three figure filmographies running from Victor Sjöstrom’s silents to Ingmar Bergman. The designer did Scott of the Antarctic.

Removed from its original time and place, Munkbrogreven edges into simple minded and routine with some resemblance to the courtyard movies being made in contemporary France, like Pabst’s Du haut en bas or Renoir’s Crime de M. Lange.

We get some kind of comment in the scene of one of the colourful oldies selling used clothing in what appears to be a doss house and on the place of liquor in a country which retained prohibition until the 1970s. Disturbingly, after that was lifted, all the winos I saw sleeping it off in doorways were in their twenties.

My disc is pretty good with slight cropping top and bottom and more contrast than would be expected in a thirties film. It comes with embedded French sub-titles.

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