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Review: Walpurgis Night-Valborgsmässoafton (1935)

Director: | 75 minutes | | Actors: Lars Hanson, , Victor Sjöström, , Erik ‘Bullen’ Berglund, , , , Georg Blickingberg, Richard Lund, Linnéa Hillberg, , Gabriel Alw, Greta Berthels, Allan Bohlin, , , Harry Hednoff, , Anders Henrikson, , Ivar Kåge, Hjalmar Peters, , , , Olof Widgren, Carl-Gunnar Wingård,

Ingrid Bergman had a good year in 1935. After she had worked with her youth idol Gösta Ekman in “Swedenhielms”, things could not go wrong for her and thanks to Edvin Adolphson her career took off. In that year, no fewer than four films with Bergman would be released. In “Walpurgis Night” (also known by its original Swedish title “Valborgsmässoafton”), she starred alongside Lars Hanson and Victor Sjöström, two other greats of the time. People from whom she could also learn a lot. One of the things she picked up first was a growing confidence in her ability. Veteran Karin Swanström, who also acted as the film studio’s casting agent, experienced this firsthand when she criticized the young Bergman, who was on her way to shoot ‘Walpurgis Night’, on the choice of her hat. ”, Here I make the decisions. We shall have another hat, ”barked Swanström. “And I am the one who is playing the part, which gives me the right to have an opinion,” was Bergman’s courageous reply. She proudly continued her way to the recording set, leaving Swanström in astonishment.

In “Walpurgis Night” (1935), Ingrid Bergman plays the role of Lena Bergström, the daughter of an influential newspaper publisher (Victor Bergström), who maintains a somewhat traditional moral. Although he has been a widower for some time, he still believes in romance, especially around Walpurgis Night – the night when the Swedes celebrate the onset of spring. He explains the drop in the birth rate in his country to a lack of love. His daughter Lena is not yet in a relationship, but she is head over heels in love. Her married boss Johan Borg (Lars Hanson). He also develops warm feelings for her, especially now that his wife Clary (Karin Kavli) has stated that she does not want to have children so that she does not want to give up her hedonistic lifestyle just like that. What Johan does not know is that Clary was pregnant, but had her child taken away by the dubious “doctor” Dr. Smith (Richard Lund). Bergström’s newspaper is on the heels of the illegal abortion clinic. One of Smith’s henchmen (Georg Rydeberg) is sent to blackmail her. Just when she wants to confess everything to Johan, this Roger turns up and Clary shoots him in a reflex. Johan takes the blame for his wife to be free from all blame – and as a last service to his ex. Much to Lena’s chagrin, he flees from the police and the press, but also from her, his great love.

Director Gustaf Edgren, together with Oscar Rydqvist, was responsible for the script, which tackles a particularly daring theme at the time, namely abortion. It is a pity that this theme is not given an appropriate interpretation. The tenor of the story is quite old-fashioned: marriage is sacred and those who choose not to have children will sooner or later be punished for it. In other words: a controversial theme such as abortion is broached but has a negative impact. In the Sweden of the 1930s people apparently did not dare to come up with a progressive position. What does argue in favor of the film is that the existence of abortion – and the possibility of free choice for women – is in any case recognized. But the opinion that Edgren has about it is clear. “Walpurgis Night” is mainly seen as a plea for marriage. The Swedes had to have more children, to boost the birth rate again. As a result of this preachy approach, some dialogues come across as very pre-programmed; as if they came straight out of a science magazine.

Ingrid Bergman manages to save the film together with Victor Sjöström. Although the forced approach of the story and the dialogues clashes with her own, natural acting style, she still manages to make Lena Bergström a credible character. ‘Walpurgis Night’ was only her fourth speaking role, but she shows that she learned a lot from her collaboration with Gustaf Molander, the director of ‘Swedenhielms’ (1935), with whom she would make six more films, including the great successes’ Intermezzo ‘(1936) and’ A Woman’s Face ‘(1938). With just a glance, she shows the complete world of thought that lies within her character. She receives support from Victor Sjöström, who clearly represents a different generation – also in his acting – but the audience is quick tor manages to win. Sjöström would still make fame in his old age (he was 78) as the protagonist in Ingmar Bergman’s classic “Wild Strawberries” (1957). Lars Hanson is a bit pale as Lena’s great love, certainly compared to Bergman, Sjöström and also Karin Kavli, who impresses as the selfish Clary. Cinematography by Martin Bodin is beautiful, although the lighting here and there leaves something to be desired. Unfortunately the music sometimes comes across as somewhat amateurish.

“Walpurgis Night” touches on a theme quite controversial for the 1930s. In the United States, where censorship at that time had a major impact on what the public saw or not, the print was not shown in an adapted version until 1941. The way in which director Edgren tackles the theme of abortion is disappointing, however, because the prevailing – for us old-fashioned – morality nevertheless prevails. Nevertheless, the film is worth a look, if only because of another interesting role of the legendary Ingrid Bergman.

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