Very dark thriller/black comedy, lost in the shuffle
I loved Arne Mattsson's MORIANNA, an adaptation of Jan Ekstrom's crime novel, and equally satisfying but in an entirely different vein is Lars Magnus Lindgren's SADIST, another Ekstrom book-to-film. Both have become unknown movies.
SADIST was never released in America in any form. I don't know why, but it is a peculiar movie that was probably designated "too Swedish" or parochial at the time.
Gunnar Bjornstrand, one of Bergman's greatest actors, stars in the title role, at least the English-language title. He plays a doctor who heads up a hospital, around which a series of murders are occurring, giving the viewer a typical whodunit format. With many other Bergman stock company players & other talented Swedes in the cast, there is no shortage of suspects.
Could it be Heinz Hopf, always cast perversely, and here seen eying an underage girl when not hanging out with nurse/receptionist Essy Persson, soon to become one of Sweden's greatest sex symbols. Apparently the film had some notoriety back in the day due to use of a body double to sex-up Essy's scenes (for export?), but the current Swedish DVD's contents feature only a very fleeting nude scene for her.
Or might the baddie be head nurse/nun Margaretha Krook, a wonderful Ingmar graduate whose stern countenance is always suspect? Maybe Allan Edwall, a kooky undertaker, is up to no good? Heroine in pop clothing, Catrin Westerlund, is above suspicion, because she's attacked twice.
Ake Fridell, very familiar from his starring Bergman roles of the '50s, is cast as the inevitably plodding police inspector, a role he plays with panache.
This film is entirely different in style and tone than its companion MORIANNA, loaded with black humor. The opening credits delightfully present the entire cast list, one by one, lying serenely (eyes closed) in a coffin, accompanied by church organ music that even includes a riff from "Dixie". Cinematographer Tony Forsberg, whose career ranged from many porn films to Gunnel Lindblom's delightful (and overlooked) SALLY & FREEDOM, provides extremely crisp, high-contrast black & white visuals -which could be usefully examined by any latter-day auteur who wants to follow in Woody's or the Coens' footsteps of reviving b&w filmmaking.
Bjornstrand, as expected, dominates the proceedings in more ways than one. He gets his kicks by whipping, biting and otherwise sexually abusing three of the actresses, including fan fave Essy. But that doesn't make him a murderer! Director Lars Magnus Lindgren does an expert job of tastefully handling the material -suggesting things rather than being overly explicit. It's a lost art, and his film claim to fame, 1964's DEAR JOHN, is completely forgotten, even though it was the key art-with-sex film to open up that market in the U.S. when imported in 1966, followed by an onslaught of such films as I, A WOMAN, INGA, and of course I AM CURIOUS (YELLOW).
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