I really enjoyed the lavishly produced thriller RIDER IN BLUE, one of five commercial hits (for the local Swedish audience) directed by Arne Mattsson featuring Karl-Arne Holmsten as detective John Hillman. It is the least known of the five (each has a color in its title), with IMDb not even listing a translated English title.
Mattsson had one international success, his trailblazing romantic hit SHE ONLY DANCED ONE SUMMER, which held up extremely well when I saw it last year in 35mm at Lincoln Center. His métier was thrillers, even influencing Bergman's darker works like THE MAGICIAN and HOUR OF THE WOLF.
Here Mattsson is working with a big budget and shooting in color and 'Scope (2.35: 1 ratio), a widescreen format Bergman never used (his most devoted U.S. fan Woody Allen only did once, for ANYTHING ELSE). It's a thriller set among the horsey set, both military and civilians whose lives revolve around horses. In fact, there's more equine action here than Diane Lane witnessed recently in SECRETARIAT.
This insular world of hunts and competitions is marred by the appearance of the mysterious Rider in Blue, turning the bucolic atmosphere into a murder mystery right out of INNER SANCTUM. The rider's scenes are denoted by a spooky organ motif.
Film is mainly in a romantic vein, with the relationships of several strong-willed female characters dominating. Chief amongst these is Gio Petre, very impressive as an ingénue; she would later become one of the more popular Swedish sex stars as a MILF in numerous movies a decade later.
There's much attempted comic relief, typically the least interesting content in these efforts aimed at a local audience. Mattsson gets excellent performances from his cast, with dialog recorded crisply in direct sound, and highly theatrical thesping. Final reel is quite suspenseful with a good twist, punctuated by the relentless ticking of a Grandfather clock.
This film dates from a period when Hollywood had yet to fully dominate the international scene, making lavish local entries possible. Only the French have tried to keep big-budget local filmmaking going in recent decades, but even Luc Besson's most recent efforts are typically Americanized projects, shot in English (dating all the way back to his crossover entries THE BIG BLUE and THE FIFTH ELEMENT). In Sweden, recent thrillers have copied American (and British) styles with the blood & guts approach of the popular DRAGON TATTOO series, eschewing a national identity, and of course instantly Hollywoodized by no less than wonder boy David Fincher.
This, and the other Hillman movies like MANNEQUIN IN RED, have no real counterpart in American cinema -they don't resemble the glossy thrillers of the day like Doris Day in MIDNIGHT LACE or the expansive Vincente Minnelli melodramas like HOME FROM THE HILL. Latterday revisionists have tried to merge them into the ever-widening (and phony) invented genre of the "giallo" but that is ridiculous. I prefer to let Mattsson's impressive oeuvre stand alone.
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