Arne Mattsson's thriller Morianna holds up well after 40 years, but has fallen through the cracks. It's a very moody, very Swedish thriller, currently available on a Swedish DVD -no subtitles.
It's a companion piece to The Sadist, also adapted from a Jan Ekstrom novel and featuring many of the same cast members. It's an early scripting credit from the top crime writer Per Wahloo.
Structure is a familiar Gothic one, a strange family led by an octogenarian patriarch, hissable Verner Vade (played by toplined Anders Henrikson), who is intent on leaving his entire fortune to charity. Film becomes a murder mystery after Vade is violently attacked, only to come back to life and later actually get murdered. In a droll turn, portly young Inspector Durell (Olle Andersson) investigates the case as a peculiarly Nordic antecedent of Columbo. Watching him I wondered what it would have been like had Hitchcock cast himself as a plodding inspector, instead of just doing cameo appearances.
Mattsson, whose on-screen credits here are oddly misspelled twice as Matsson (I guess he never earned the requisite respect back on his home turf), keeps this melodrama very moody & morbid, with an excellent sense of "what will happen next?" maintained. He's abetted by a very strong cast, notably Bergman's familiar star Eva Dahlbeck as Vade's young wife and Heinz Hopf in one of his trademark pervert roles as Eva's nephew. The women are all beautiful and interesting characters, including Elsa Prawitz and Ella Henrikson.
For American release the film was retitled "I, the Body", to cash in on the incredible art house success of "I, a Woman", arguably the most influential Scandinavian movie of this period. For that reason Lotte Tarp, who appears briefly fully nude (! for 1965) as the maid, was elevated to top billing in the English-dubbed U.S. release, while she is not even listed at all in the cast roster on the 2007 Swedish DVD.
I recently saw Mattsson's biggest hit One Summer of Happiness in 35mm at Lincoln Center, and continue to be impressed by his work as a visual stylist. Obviously not in the ranks of Bergman, he does resemble some of the master's craftsmanship in a morbid vein, and perhaps Ingmar gave a tip of the cap to Arne in his sublime horror film Hour of the Wolf.
I'm off to see The Sadist, and hope to review several more of Mattsson's interesting '50s and '60s works as well. IMDb users' comments on his later films (see for example Ann & Eve's board) tend to be fatuous and are thoroughly ignorant of his career arc. Apparently an exclusive diet of watching H.G. Lewis, Franco, D'Amato, etc. does rot the brain or at least de-sensitize one's critical faculties.
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