SAWDUST AND TINSEL (Gycklarnas afton) (aka: THE NAKED NIGHT)

(director/writer: Ingmar Bergman; cinematographer: Hilding Bladh/Sven Nykvist; editor: Carl-Olov Skeppstedt; music: Karl-Birger Blomdahl; cast: Harriet Andersson (Anne), Ake Grönberg (Albert Johansson), Hasse Ekman (Frans), Anders Ek (Frost, clown), Gudrun Brost (Alma, bear trainer), Annika Tretow (Agda), Gunnar Björnstrand (Mr. Sjuberg, theater director), Erik Strandmark (Jens, coachman), Curt Löwgren (Blom, theater dresser), Kiki (The Dwarf); Runtime: 92; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Rune Waldekranz; The Criterion Collection; 1953-Sweden-in Swedish with English subtitles)

“It has great performances and is a visual treat, but its masochistic storyline might not be for all tastes.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Ingmar Bergman’s (“The Virgin Spring”/”The Seventh Seal “/”Persona”) thirteenth film is a landmark in the Swedish filmmaker’s oeuvre; it’s the beginning of a uniquely distinctive style that became known to the international community as a Bergman film. The Baroque style is adapted from the silent screen German expressionism cinema. It’s a misanthropic melodrama that has a dim view of marriage and love, believing it only leads to humiliation. It has great performances and is a visual treat, but its masochistic storyline might not be for all tastes.

It’s set at the turn-of-century Sweden. Aging, portly, traveling circus owner and ring master Albert Johansson (Ake Grönberg) is passing with his down-and-out troupe through a provincial town where his tobacco shop owner wife Agda (Annika Tretow) lives with his children. He hasn’t seen her for three years and has since taken as a mistress his headstrong gypsy bareback rider, the much younger Anne (Harriet Andersson). Tired of running and yearning for the stability of a bourgeois life, the struggling circus owner over a home cooked daytime meal begs to be taken back by his comfortable living wife. But she rejects him, preferring to keep her independence. In the meantime, Anne visits a rehearsal of the suave womanizing lead actor of a theater production, Frans (Hasse Ekman), who talks her into having sado-masochistic sex with him by promising her a valuable amulet that she can sell and live off the profits for a year. But the trinket turns out to be junk, and she’s humiliated that she she been taken for a fool. When Albert learns of her indiscretion, during the nighttime circus show he challenges Frans to a fight in the main ring and gets beaten up. The humiliated Albert thinks of shooting himself, but instead kills the mangy bear, the only exotic animal in the circus, trained by the fading beauty Alma– the unhappy sardonic clown Frost’s wife. The troupe then moves on in the middle of the night to the next town, with little hope the next spot would be any better.

The memorable film explores such things as brutal sex, betrayal, and Bergman’s main theme of humiliation between the sexes. It’s a scathing look at the human condition, and a key beginning to the filmmaker’s vintage trademark films. Some critics remember it best for the early flashback scene of the clown Frost being humiliated that his wife Alma is swimming nude in front of an army regiment doing a military exercise. But you can take your pick which scene of humiliation you like best, as they all work.

In America, the film was titled The Naked Night; Sawdust and Tinsel is the Brit title.