November 14, 2021
Smiles of a Summer Night (1955)
Grade: 43/100

Director: Ingmar Bergman
Stars: Gunnar Björnstrand, Eva Dahlbeck, Ulla Jacobsson

What it's about. Set in Sweden circa 1900. Fredrik (Gunnar Björnstrand) is a lawyer and a man of the world, and yet absurd at the same time. He lives with his grown son Henrik (Björn Bjelfvenstam), a morose, bitter, and confused young man who wants to join the church but has the hots for both flirtatious young maid Petra (Harriet Andersson) and Henrik's equally young and sensual stepmother Anne (Ulla Jacobsson).

Fredrik is married to luscious Anne, but instead pines for lost love Desiree (Eva Dahlbeck), a celebrated stage actress. Desiree is having an affair with Count Malcolm (Jarl Kulle), a pompous, rash, and threatening military officer. Malcolm's attractive young wife Charlotte (Margit Carlqvist) knows of his affairs but loves him anyway. Late in the movie, Frid (Åke Fridell), a coachman, shows up as a romantic interest for Petra.

Desiree would like have Fredrik back, so she has her elderly mother (Naima Wifstrand) host a party with Anne, Charlotte, Fredrik, Malcolm, and Henrik as guests. A happy ending eventually ensues despite a suicide attempt by Henrik and a game of Russian Roulette between the Count and Malcolm.

How others will see it. Smiles of a Summer Night was Bergman's first commercial success. It was an international sensation with critics, with prestigious nominations at Cannes, BAFTA, and the Bodil Awards.

Today at, it has a respectable 13K user votes and a lofty user rating of 7.8 out of 10, which climbs to 8.2 among women over 45. Women presumably like it because the film's four beautiful women each end up with the man they want, even if one scene suggests that Anne would most like to bed Petra.

How I felt about it. When a was a novice about classic movies, I confused Ingmar Bergman with Ingrid Bergman. This is especially the case because Bergman (Ingrid) once appeared in a Bergman (Ingmar) film, Autumn Sonata. I didn't like that movie much either.

I prefer Ingrid to Ingmar. Not only was she nicer to look at, she made better movies. Oh, The Seventh Seal is a good movie, and so is Fanny and Alexander, but only barely.

Two good movies makes Ingmar Bergman better than Federico Fellini, who apparently made no good movies. Still, it's an unimpressive output relative to Woody Allen, a Bergman admirer who remade (sort of) the present film as A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy. And did a much better job of it.

But what is wrong with Smiles of a Summer Night? For starters, there is the first conversation between Anne and Charlotte. Why would they already be friends, or even know each other? How would Anne know that Charlotte's husband is having an affair with Desiree?

We are to believe that Fredrik has been married to a hot willing young woman for two years and has never made love to her. We are to believe that Charlotte wants only to be with her philandering, reckless, selfish husband. We are to believe that free-loving Petra wants to marry an older penniless coachman when she could easily have Henrik, who as a husband could promote her from servant to the upper middle class. Why would Anne want Henrik, when she already has a life of ease and luxury with Fredrik. One can see why Desiree would want to get rid of the annoying and demanding Count Malcolm, but why does she have particular interest in Fredrik, when as a famous stage actress she can likely have an affair with any man in any of her casts.

When Frid shows Petra the bed from the other room that comes out from the wall, we know that it is certain to happen again. Naturally, it does so when Anne is in the bed and Fredrik is not in her bedroom. Only in a movie could a bed be delivered from the other room.

Why is it that being blunt, to the point of cruelty, is considered great wit, when it is simply rude behavior. Why are pretentious speeches about love considered insight, when love is the most tired subject (to talk about) of all.

The title should have been An Insufferable Summer Night. At least Bergman is kind enough to his audience to provide four beautiful women to admire. And all four of them must have the man they want, because the audience must have a happy ending, no matter how unlikely.