Mattsson's most famous film and greatest hit came early in his career: One Summer of Happiness (Hon dansade en sommar 1951). It is made in the tradition of the Swedish summer film, a popular kind of film at the time and of which Bergman made several contributions, such as Summer with Monika (1953). The subject matter is usually a brief and passionate love affair that takes place during the summer, out in the country, and which then comes to an abrupt end when the summer is over. The dichotomy between the city (portrayed as a bad place) and the countryside, or archipelago, (a good place) is a key aspect of these films. Mattsson's film, which has Folke Sundquist and Ulla Jacobsson as the young, doomed, couple, was seen by almost half of all Swedes old enough to watch it and was successful across the world. It also won the Golden Bear at the Berlin film festival in 1952 and competed in Cannes, where the score by Sven Sköld won an award. The score has a flute chord that bears an uncanny similarity to Ennio Morricone's music for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Sergio Leone 1966). Whether this is a coincident or if Morricone saw Mattsson's film and borrowed from it I do not know, but since it was a success in Italy too it is not inconceivable that he did.
Sundquist and Jacobsson
This is one of Mattsson's really good films, and another is Kärlekens bröd (The Bread of Love 1953). It also has Folke Sundquist in the lead and is an existential drama about a handful of Swedish soldiers fighting in Finland during the Winter War (when Soviet, then allied to Nazi Germany, attacked Finland). The story is powerful but it is especially the style of the film that is magnificent, with one striking composition after another, lit by the cinematographer Sven Thermænius. It too competed in Cannes, and should really be resurrected by Criterion or some other distinguished distributor.
After One Summer of Happiness had been such an overwhelming success the production company Nordisk Tonefilm had given Mattsson carte blanche and Kärlekens bröd is what he chose to do. While an artistic success it was not popular among the audience, which was clearly more keen on watching lovemaking in the moonlight than watching people freeze to death in agony.
Those two films, made at the peak of Mattsson's career, show how he could excel in different kinds of films, that he was ambitious and that he had a distinct and forceful visual style, and he had a good few years at Nordisk Tonefilm. Beside those two mentioned above he made such fine films as the children's film Kastrullresan (The saucepan trip, 1950), the drama För min heta ungdoms skull (Because of My Hot Youth 1952), an adaptation of the Nobel Prize winner Halldór Laxness's Salka Valka (1954) and an uneven adaptation of August Strindberg's Hemsöborna (The People of Hemsö 1955). But then he left Nordisk Tonefilm for Sandrews, after an interlude in Argentina where he made Primavera de la vida (Livets vår 1957), and at Sandrews he switched to thrillers, entering a new phase of his career. He went from a maker of serious art films to becoming "Sweden's Hitchcock" as the critics said at the time, beginning with Damen i svart (The Lady in Black 1958) with Sven Nykvist as cinematographer. Hitchcock was himself aware of Mattsson's work and once allegedly gave him two cigars as a sign of appreciation. Although calling Mattsson "Sweden's Hitchcock" is a superficial comparison. They are not in the same league.
Thrillers with a touch of the macabre came naturally for Mattsson, this was where he most easily could express his view of humans as cruel and deceitful, driven by greed, hatred and jealously, and this is where his visual experimentation was at its most extreme. He worked with some of Sweden's most prominent thriller writers such as Stieg Trenter, Dagmar Lange (writing under the pseudonym Maria Lang), Per Wahlöö and Maj Sjöwall and made his first pure thriller already in 1947, Det kom en gäst (There Came a Guest), written by Trenter. Unfortunately, it is a film that fails on every level except for being mercifully short, 68 minutes, apparently cut down by the studio, Svensk Filmindustri. His next film Farlig vår (Dangerous Spring 1948) is excellent and among his best; both a thriller and a vivid depiction of student life in Uppsala. After his years at Nordisk Tonefilm, Mattsson would from 1958 onwards do almost only thrillers (often starring Anita Björk and Karl-Arne Holmsten) and he quickly expanded on his own style with long, tracking camera movements, subjective shots, extreme close-ups, cramped compositions, staging in great depth and abrupt and unconventional editing patterns. The films also became more and more strange, or estranged. A film like När mörkret faller (When Darkness Falls 1960) is so stylised and the acting a sort of expressionless affect that the distancing effect resembles something like early Fassbinder. It is difficult to know, or understand, how to approach these films. Is it a satire of detective films? Is it a deliberate attempt to do just what they appear as, a Brechtian art thriller? Or is it a failed effort to create something genuinely engaging and thrilling? Another intriguing one is Nightmare (Nattmara 1965), which ends with a long closeup of the face of the killer looking directly at the audience while a voice-over reads a police statement warning the public to stay clear of him. Critics at the time compared Nightmare to Polanski's Repulsion (1965) and Clouzot's Diabolique (1955) and assorted Hitchcock films, although those comparisons will only go so far. Mattsson said himself it was Siodmak's The Spiral Staircase (1946) who inspired him but that is not apparent.
Some of these thrillers are bad, including Ryttare i blått (Rider in Blue 1959) and Vita frun (White Lady 1962), sometimes they are mystifying as some of those mentioned above, and some rather good such as The Doll (Vaxdockan 1962), a provocative drama about a lonely friendless man who brings home a mannequin doll whom he treats as a live, human being. But from the mid-1960s most of his films are in various ways abysmal. This is also when Mattsson began looking for funding abroad and when his career becomes interesting on another level.
I mentioned above the similarity between the music of One Summer of Happiness and The Good, the Bad, the Ugly. Another link to Leone/Morricone is that the killer in Nightmare plays a harmonica, much like Charles Bronson's character in Once Upon a Time in the West (1968). But the Italian connection most people have made is between Mattsson's 1958 fashion house thriller Mannekäng i rött (Mannequin in Red), shot in garish colour by cinematographer Hilding Bladh, and Italian giallo films, not least Mario Bava's Blood and Black Lace (6 donne per l'assassino, 1964). It might also be a coincident but either way it points to the interconnections and modes that guides and influences films across borders. It also suggests how Mattsson was doing his own thing in Swedish cinema. Even though thrillers were popular then, both domestic thrillers and cold war thrillers (such as Mattsson's weird Den gula bilen (The Yellow Car 1963) or Rolf Husberg's Främlingen från skyn (Stranger from the Sky 1956)), Mattsson's contributions are unlike all others and had more in common with other European genre traditions. It is therefore not a surprise that he eventually began making films abroad.
Mannekäng i rött
In 1964 Mattsson made the musical Sailors (Blåjackor), which was a Swedish/Yugoslavian co-production. It is horrible. It was followed by the even worse Här kommer bärsärkarna that might be described as a farcical Viking epic, and also a Yugoslavian co-production. Bamse (1968) was a Swedish/Danish production, which had a lurid poster but was still a respectable relationship drama, which some compared to the films of Claude Lelouch. Ann and Eve (Ann och Eve - de erotiska 1970) on the other hand, another Swedish/Yugoslavian production, is ugly and nasty. While a tale of two young women on holiday, having plenty of consensual and non-consensual sex (including a gang rape), it is also an attack on film critics and shows how bitter Mattsson had become on the way his films were treated by Swedish critics. I would not say that the critics were unreasonable; they liked several of his films and Mattsson himself admitted at the time that some of his films were indefensible. But he felt that the criticism of both the thriller Mördaren - en helt vanligt människa (The Murderer 1967) and Bamse were unfair, and the failure of both films drove him to such despair he almost committed suicide he said at the time. So, fairly or not, he felt that he was being tormented by the critical establishment and Ann and Eve was a result of this, as well as being a sexploitation film.
Another Swedish/Yugoslav production is the political thriller/sexploitation film Black Sun (Mannen i skuggan/Crno sunce 1978), set in Spain, while the next film, Sometime, Somewhere (1983) was apparently produced in Monaco. (I know little about the film and have not seen it.) Mask of Murder (1985) was an English/Swedish production with Rod Taylor and Christopher Lee, shot in Sweden but set in Canada for unknown reasons. It is what was once referred to as a straight-to-video film, of little quality. The Girl (1987) was a British production with Franco Nero in the lead, as well as Christopher Lee again. Sleep Well, My Love (1987) was another British production but without known stars. And then finally The Mad Bunch (1989), a Swedish production in English with David Carradine in the lead and co-directed by Mats Helge Olsson, a hardworking filmmaker who in the 1980s and 1990s made a series of absurd and incredibly bad and cheesy action films with little money but a lot of enthusiasm. Mattsson and Olsson also directed The Hired Gun the same year, which might be Mattsson's last film.
From the mid-60s only one of Mattsson's films is of any real value, but it is on the other hand one of his best: Yngsjömordet (The Yngsjö Murder 1966). It is based on a real murder that took place in 1889 and written by the actress Eva Dahlbeck. It has a bold narrative structure, is much more restrained than his other films around this time, and well-acted. An achievement.
Ingrid Thulin in Yngsjömordet
While Mattsson's career and oeuvre is remarkably uneven and sprawling it should be of great interest for those studying European genre cinema, or Nordic Noir, or are working with psychoanalytical feminist film theory, or transnational cinema. As an auteur study it too is of considerable interest as his career is, as the liner notes for a Mattsson DVD-box says, "as if Bergman went from Summer with Monika to directing Dolph Lundgren". The comparison is apt.
There is little to read about Mattsson in English but in Swedish Cinema and the Sexual Revolution: Critical Essays (2016), edited by Elisabet Björklund and Mariah Larsson, there is at least an essay about him, written by Bengt Bengtsson.
For those who know Swedish, here is Leif Furhammar's famous review in the daily newspaper Svenska Dagbladet of Mattsson's Mördaren - en helt vanlig person: "Per Wahlöö och Maj Sjöwall har skrivit filmen, Arne Mattsson har regisserat den. Och den som sen minns 'Pensionat Paradiset' (1937) som den svenska filmbotten, han följer helt enkelt inte med sin tid."
More for those fluent in Swedish: there is an interview with Mattsson, Furhammar and a few others in the film journal Chaplin; the third issue of 1991. There is also a candidate thesis about Mattsson written in 1986 at Stockholm University by Bengt Bengtsson which is pretty good. But that is about it.
Both The Mad Bunch and The Hired Gun are available on YouTube so knock yourself out. Or not.