“This made-for-television film was based on Olle Hedberg’s script, which Ingmar Bergman had directed for the City Theatre of Hälsingborg as early as in 1945, and as a radio play the following year. Bergman, who called the play ‘an unpleasant piece’, used stage actors from Malmö. The scarce reviews of the film focused on Bergman’s faiblesse for the puppet theatre and the morality play, with the result that the characters functioned as types.”
“Countryside shop-keep Sixten (Åke Fridell) is being mean towards his mistress, the maid Jenny (Gunnel Lindblom). Jenny takes her revenge by causing a rift between Eivor (Bibi Andersson) and her husband-to-be, who in turn vents his frustration on his cousin Knut (Tor Isedal) a military career man who torments his inferiors. Private Sven (Axel Düberg), a student in his civilian life, compensates by being a bully towards the pupil whom he?s helping out with his studies. The latter retaliates against Sixten, the shop-keep.”
“A relay race of “scenes from human life”. The recurring theme is how mankind’s worst qualities spread like a disease: the person who gets rejected/humiliated/downtrodden takes it out on someone else. What goes around…”
From “Ingmar Bergman : a reference guide“
In 1944, bestselling Swedish novelist Olle Hedberg, whose forte was sharp depictions of middle-class life, published the fourth volumein a tetralogy about the medical doctor Bo Stensson Svenningsson. Titled “Slå dank” (“Loafing”), the novel included six chapters in dialogue form written by Svenningsson during a convalescence and based on the moral question “Are the woes of life ameliorated by the wailing of the likes of you?”. Bergman saw the dramatical potencial of Hedberg’s work, adapted it for the stage and renamed it “Rabies”. He also adapted the play for the radio in 1946.
In a program note, Bergman called the play “an unpleasant theatre piece” and warned the audience to hold on tight, for now “we are going to pull the floor from under your feet and take you down to horror chambers and dung heaps to look at the eyeless monsters that hide there”. Bergman justified his focusing on morbid and dark issues by calling them part of the pessimistic climate of the times.
Since “Rabies” was Olle Hedberg’s first presentation on stage, most reviewers focussed their attention on the dramatic text. Some critics took issue with Hedberg’s cynicism and the deliberately shocking tone of Bergman’s adaptation. The reviewer in Skånska Dagbladet wrote :
“Bergman and Hedberg have resorted to exaggerations that are much too strong to be taken seriously. (…) “Rabies” shocks more than it warns. It is depressing but does not move. It is not necessary to beat on hell’s gate to get us to wake up. A viewer must protest that he of she does not feel at all like a rabies-infected dog who must promptly rush ahead and bite others.”
The DN reviewer made the observation that Hedberg’s piece provided a glorious opportunity for Bergman to vent his sadistic impulses on the audience.
Despite such reservations, the production was highly praised as a theatrical event and became in fact a cause célèbre in the Swedish theatre world. Bergman’s ensemble was invited to a guest performance in Stockholm after a suggestion made by theatre critic Ebbe Linde in BLM.
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