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Sånt Händer inte Här (This Can’t Happen Here) (1950): …And yet, Somehow, It Did

Sånt Händer inte Här (Ingmar Bergman, 1950)

[note: review originally published 17Jul2011]

photo credit: avaxhome.ws

The lost (by design) Bergman film resurfaces.

 

Sånt Händer inte Här, which I will from here on out refer to by the literal English translation This Can’t Happen Here despite the fact that the movie was never, to my knowledge, released in an English-speaking country (I’m lazy and want to avoid cut-and-paste with charmap), is by far Ingmar Bergman’s weakest movie. I say that not as someone who has seen every movie Bergman has ever made, but as someone who knows that if Alan Smithee had existed in 1950, his name would be listed here, and I trust Bergman to know these things. Once he had the clout (can’t tell you for certain when that was, but certainly by 1957, after the release of Wild Strawberries), he disowned the film, and asked that it never be shown again. The Swedish film authorities seem to be respecting his wishes; the man’s been dead almost five years and, to the best of my knowledge, it has still not seen a home video release in any form, and it is very rarely screened anywhere. And thus, I’m going to do something I almost never do—give a film that’s getting a low rating a hearty recommend. Because if you find yourself with a chance to see what is, essentially, a lost Bergman film, you take it. No matter how mediocre the movie in question.

 

photo credit: avaxhome.ws

“Look at my facial expression. Look at it! Don’t I radiate sincerity, passion, and Brylcreem?”

The plot is rather similar to that of many Cold War-era spy thrillers (I was put in mind of Shack Out on 101 for much of the film), though it’s told more as a fumble-fingered allegory than a straight thriller. Atkä Natas (Ulf Palme, who would show up five years later in Bergman’s Dreams), a secret agent from a country called Liquidatzia (to carry on the incredible subtlety, “Atkä Natas” is an anagram of the phrase “real Satan” in Swedish), is trying to patch things up with his ex-wife Vera (Signe Hasso, perhaps best remembered for Lubitsch’s Heaven Can Wait), a chemist. Problem is, Vera is prominently placed in the Liquidatzia underground, and is involved with smuggling political prisoners out of the country. The two of them argue, they struggle, and Vera accidentally kills Natas, after which she discovers on the body a master list of members of the resistance. Problem is, no one will believe her, since Almkvist (Torment‘s Alf Kjellin), a policeman, suspects her of being involved in the death of a prisoner the resistance were trying to smuggle out.

photo credit: avaxhome.ws

“For the love of God, Mr. Lubitsch, get ahold of my agent and save me from this!”

 

None of this should sound at all unfamiliar, and none of it is. I haven’t read the Waldemar Brøgger novel on which the film is based (as far as I can tell, none of Brøgger’s work has ever been translated into English), but given the film’s lack of Bergman’s trademark felicity with delicate, complex characters, I can only assume that the problem is the novel, or Herbert Grevenius’ adaptation of it. One thinks Bergman did this in order to score a quick paycheck; “he phoned it in” would be an overly kind assessment for this by-the-numbers thriller.

And yet still: it’s Ingmar freaking Bergman, it’s so rare it’s almost nonexistent, and nothing I say about how mediocre it is could possibly change those two facts. Telling you not to jump at the chance to see this would be like saying “oh, someone found a pristine print of London After Midnight in a Spanish basement? Yeah, ignore that”. This is less a movie than it is an event, and if you get a chance to see it at one point during your life, it may be your last. Jump on that. **

At the time I wrote this, no one had uploaded the entire film to youtube. Now, someone has.

About Robert "Goat" Beveridge

Media critic (amateur, semi-pro, and for one brief shining moment in 2000 pro) since 1986. Guy behind noise/powerelectronics band XTerminal (after many small stints in jazz, rock, and metal bands). Known for being tactless but honest.

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