Saturday 17 May 2014

The Soldier and Jenny (Soldaten og Jenny) (1947)

Soldaten og Jenny
”Soldaten og Jenny” (The Soldier and Jenny) is the third replacement in the Danish edition of the Book. It replaces “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” and it is the final movie from 1947.

Lately I have been watching a number of excellent films. Sometimes the production value is really good, sometimes the story or the acting is of high quality and a few time everything just work out perfectly. By 1947 the standard has become pretty good. Unfortunately Danish movies do not seem to be on par with the rest of the world at this time. On so many levels this particular movie seems to be two or three steps behind the level of its contemporary foreign films. This surprises me since the last Danish film I reviewed (Ditte Menneskebarn) was of very high quality, but perhaps that was the exception.

I am a bit confused why this film is on the list. It is unexceptional on almost every account. There are a few bright spots, but not enough to really make a difference.

The Soldier, Robert Olsen (Poul Reichhardt) is complaining about his lot in life to a bartender (Per Buckhøj) when an acquaintance enters the bar. This is Gustav Skow (Gunnar Lauring), a chauffeur, who brags about how awesome he is with the girls. His date enters the bar hesitantly. This is Jenny Christensen (Bodil Kjer). Gustav immediately sets about wooing her and his technique involves pouring lots of alcohol on her, clearly against her will. Robert intervenes and knocks down Gustav. Pling, Jenny and Robert are a new couple.

This single scene takes about 20 minutes and that is characteristic for the entire film. The pace is soooo slow. It is not just that the movie takes its time to explore characters and makes room for plenty of dialogue. I would not even say that it does that. We do not really get to know the characters very well. It is more that everything happens in that glacial pace that I suspect that the film is stretched to become a feature length film. Too many sets may have been too expensive.

While Jenny and Robert explore their newfound love we follow a different thread. State prosecutor Olaf Knauer (Elith Pio) is working on a case of utmost importance, a crusade from the minister of justice against abortion. Not just against the shady doctors who perform them but particularly against the unfortunate women who went to these dodgy practitioners to get an abortion. This is back when abortion was illegal in Denmark and I suppose the film has a political side there. This may be the other end of the social spectrum from Jenny and Robert, but everything is not good in the Knauer mansion. His wife Birgit (Karin Nellemose) has an affair with the very lawyer that Knauer has arranged to run the case and even worse, Knauer’s chauffeur is none other than Gustav Skow who lost his girl and drowned his sorrow and hurt pride in booze. In this unfortunate state he crashes Knauer’s car, kills himself and sends Knauer to the hospital.

Meanwhile Jenny is being contacted by the police. It turns out that she is one of the unfortunate girls and apparently the charge fills her so with shame that she is contemplating suicide.

There are a few surprises, but really when you think about them they are not surprises at all. You see them coming a long way off. In fact as you sketch up the plotlines there is here the basis for a very interesting and even relevant crisis, but it fizzles and without revealing too much of the resolution I can safely say that the ending is rather anticlimactic.

Poul Reichhardt and Bodil Kjer were for decades the first lovers of Danish film. They made countless movies being exactly these kinds of characters and the audience loved them. They are pretty and charming and that likability goes some way to save the film. They are the kind of people you would want to root for. Unfortunately, and that may be the age, they do come about rather meek and colorless. There is not a lot of fire in these people and that despite that Robert has been equipped with a violent streak. He manages to punch three different people to the ground in the course of the film.

The best scene of the film is Roberts visit to the parents of Jenny. They are terrible people, but so exaggerated terrible that they are actually funny. The mother (Maria Garland) was born of a well-off family and has never forgotten it. She is obsessing about status and titles and measures Jenny’s boyfriends singularly along this parameter, so much that she adores the pig of a boyfriend who impregnated Jenny and left her simply because he was the son of a wealthy fur trader. Watching her mourn the loss of that potential son in law to Robert’s face is actually funny. The father (Johannes Meyer) is even worse. He is an embittered customs assistant who never made any career advances and blames the world. Despite his own failure he sets a high standard for his family and takes his anger out on his wife and Jenny. We get a spectacular tantrum at the dinner table when he gets disappointed by his food. Great behavior on the first visit of the prospective son in law. Hilarious really.

The worst scene (and there are a few candidates although the film does not really hold that many scenes) would be when Birgit plays the sexy and cunning femme fatale for the lawyer George Richter (Sigfred Johansen). I have a lot of respect for Karin Nellemose in general, but here, instead of being a sexy snake, she looks and sounds like she is falling asleep. It is horrible. And the reaction of George is almost as bad. He is supposed to be a badass womanizer who considers himself above the many women he frequents, yet he is impossibly allured by the sleeping beauty. It is not bad casting, but horrible direction.

“Soldaten og Jenny” is symptomatic for many Danish movies over the next two decades. The movies were simple, cheap and inexpertly made, but generally loved by the public. They would be fairly harmless to watch and would be considered wholesome entertainment for the entire family. Maybe this is why this one was picked. By touching the abortion issue it went into slightly more dangerous ground than the average movie of the period and that could have set it apart.

To me the one thing I did find interesting was that this was a contemporary film as opposed to the previous Danish entries which were all period pieces. Many of the shots are from the streets of Copenhagen and it is really fun to see how everything was there in 1947. Frankly I would have preferred spending an hour and a half exploring Copenhagen anno 1947 than following these characters. That would have been really nice.


  1. I also feel it's not great enough to be in the book. I think it works as a time capsule depicting the era, but for today's audiences the story is dated. I actually thought the opening bar scene was the most memorable part, but in hindsight it is a predictable set up for her to find a better man. Yet I can see how various men could be attracted to her. Agree the visit to the parents of Jenny is a highlight.

    1. Thank you, Chris. I hardly remember this movie, it singularly failed to make an impression on me. My sister loves these movies heaps, but I always thought Poul Reichardt was overrated.