Arne Mattsson – Vaxdockan aka The Doll (1962)


A night watchman (Per Oscarsson) in Stockholm interrupts a burglary and finds a mannequin that he takes home; in his mind, it’s a beautiful and very much alive woman. Director Arne Mattsson knows how to use the shadows of black-and-white cinematography to chilling effect; that along with Oscarsson’s performance elevate this psychological look at loneliness and mental illness. The star must have studied Anthony Perkins in Psycho (1960); he looks like him and plays his character in a similar fashion. Behind the youthful façade lies insanity. Gio Petré is credible in the transition between doll and human. ~ Movie Hamlet.

More on the film (edited for spoilers):

“… this movie is both disturbing and sad.”… …”The movie has several subjects worth pondering, such as the problems which can be caused by pervasive loneliness, the way fear can overrun and take over our lives, and finally that it is much easier to fall into madness than to get back out of it. The movie is hard to watch at times, but quite fascinating, and peopled with some interesting characters, including a scarred landlady who may well have strong feelings about the night watchman… …This one is definitely worth a peek for anyone interested in the cinema of madness. ~ Dave Sindelar – Fantastic movie musings.

“It’s a creepy tale that unwinds rather slow, but the nosey and obnoxious neighbours and Oscarsson’s fantastic performance as reclusive Lundgren with Petré’s stiff & sexy portayal of the manequin, really make it worth the while. There’s a few shocks and a surprise ending that suits this movie like a charm. If you like Mattsson and haven’t seen this one, it should be next on your list of movies to see. If you’ve never seen a Mattsson movie, well then it’s a great starting point. In my oppion it’s far better than his “Hillman” series, which are more Hitchcockian and border on swedish “Pilsnerfilm” feeling.” ~ Pappazilla.

“Who says she’s not real?” This was Bill Nestrick’s response to a student’s suggestion that the woman of Arne Mattsson’s The Doll was merely an illusion to her reclusive lover. Lundgren, a lonely department-store security guard, steals a mannequin and brings her to his attic apartment. In a startling moment of magical realism and cinematic brilliance, the doll becomes animated for both Lundgren and the audience. The doll/woman becomes the reflection before which this alienated man becomes someone; there is nothing he would not do to make her happy. ~ Link.

Atmospheric and borderline poetic, Arne Mattsson’s Vaxdockan, from Sweden, boasts a brilliant lead performance by Per Oscarsson, whom I have twice named best actor, including for his astounding performance as the starving writer in Henning Carlsen’s Hunger (1966), from Hamsun. His Lundgren in Vaxdockan pointed Oscarsson in the direction of his greatest film role. (Oscarsson claimed an even greater one on stage: Hamlet.)

Lundgren is a department store night watchman who resourcefully reports a burglary to the police as cover for his heist of his favorite store mannequin, which he takes home to his dim apartment and lavishes with attention and romance. The mannequin comes to life for him… …and, vicariously, for us. In a master stroke on Mattsson’s part, with considerable foundation in the script by Lars Forssell and Eva Seeberg, whatever the degree of our solitudinousness in viewing the film becomes correlative to the solitudinousness of Lundgren’s existence. Lundgren’s quiet, dignified voiceover narration also helps us slip into his experience.

Mattsson’s finest achievement perhaps lies in keeping his film from becoming a case study of mental illness. (Roman Polanski would have no such luck with his Repulsion, 1965.) Rather, Lundgren’s condition emerges as a magnification of urban loneliness with which a significant number of viewers may be able to identify. A long-shot of a passing train later connects, inside Lundgren’s tiny apartment, with the booming sound of another train’s passage, evoking a tremendous sense of isolation, entrapment, alienation—as though Lundgren unconsciously wishes he could get on that train for somewhere else. The overhead shot of Lundgren’s hauling the mannequin up to his top-floor apartment recalls Norman Bates’s carrying “Mother” down to the cellar in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), and this perhaps also nudges the delusional young protagonist in the direction of being an Everyman. ~ Grunes.


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