Gustaf Molander's Swedenhielms (1935) is adapted from the single most popular play in the Swedish theater, the 1925 comedy by Hjalmar Bergman (1883-1931). While Molander's 1935 adaptation is by far the best-known film version, the play was also made into a 1947 Danish film and various productions for Swedish television. The lovably eccentric Swedenhielm family--particularly the character of Rolf, an impractical dreamer--resonate deeply in Swedish culture. The family was an undoubted source of inspiration behind the Ekdahls in Ingmar Bergman's Fanny and Alexander (1982).
Hjalmar Bergman is commonly regarded as one of the great Swedish writers of the twentieth century. His prose fiction, especially that of the late 1910s and early 1920s, is marked by complex, often ambiguous symbolism and unreliable narrators; significant works include the novels His Grace's Last Testament (1909), Memoirs of a Dead Man (1918), God's Orchid (1919) and the short story collection Loewen Stories (1913). However, Bergman also had a gift for comedy, as demonstrated by the plays Swedenhielms and Dollar (1926). The former is often regarded as the first great comedy for the Swedish stage; the latter was also made into a well-regarded film by Gustaf Molander in 1938. Before his death in 1931 Bergman himself worked on a number of film scripts, including Victor Sjostrom's adaptation of His Grace's Last Testament (1919).
The prolific director Gustaf Molander (1888-1973) was the undisputed master of melodrama and comedy in Swedish cinema of the 1930s. He originally worked as a scriptwriter on many films of the golden age of Swedish silent cinema, including Victor Sjostrom's Terje Vigen (1917) and Song of the Scarlet Flower (1919) and Mauritz Stiller's Thomas Graal films and Sir Arne's Treasure (1919). While Molander has not the first director with whom Ingrid Bergman worked, he was the one most responsible for cultivating her talent as a film actress both in smaller parts such as Astrid in Swedenhielms and in subsequent starring roles in films such as Intermezzo (1936) and A Woman's Face (1938). Bergman recalls of Molander: "I found working with Gustaf wonderful. He had this marvelous facility for light comedy but there was always a serious thread underneath, something which gave it a basic reality in the same way that Chaplin's comedy had a basic reality of documentary fact. Gustaf especially taught me how to underplay, to be absolutely sincere and natural. 'Never try and be cute,' he said. 'Always be yourself and always learn your lines.' On the set he gave me a great sense of security. [...] He was always concentrating on you."
Given the popularity of the original source material and the presence of revered stage actor Gosta Ekman as Rolf, it is hardly surprising that Swedenhielms was a hit in Sweden, but it was also well received by the critics. The reviewer for the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter described it as "[a]n elegant, charming film, blessedly free from stereotyped characterizations or romanticism." The critic for Stockholms-Tidningen praised it for its emotional depth and "inspired sensitivity." The film was ultimately awarded a Special Mention at the 1935 Venice Film Festival.
Director: Gustaf Molander Screenplay: Stina Bergman, based on a play by Hjalmar Bergman Photography: Ake Dahlquist Music: Eric Begton Cast: Gosta Ekman (Rolf Swedenhielm), Bjorn Berglund (Rolf Swedenhielm, Jr.), Hakan Westergren (Bo Swedenhielm), Tutta Rolf (Julia Swedenhielm), Ingrid Bergman (Astrid), Sigurd Wallen (Erik Eriksson), Nils Eriksson (Pedersen), Karin Swanstrom (Marta Boman).
by James Steffen