Smiles of a Summer Night (1955): Bergman’s Romantic Comedy, Turning Point in International Reputation

Ingmar Bergman directed Smiles of a Summer Night (Swedish: Sommarnattens leende), a Swedish romantic comedy of manners, set at the turn of the twentieth century.

Smiles of a Summer Night

It was shown at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival.

Fredrik Egerman is a middle-aged lawyer married to a 19-year-old beauty, Anne. Their two-year marriage is still unconsummated, due to Anne’s reluctance. Fredrik has a son, Henrik, from his marriage to his late first wife. Henrik is in his early twenties and is studying to be a minister but is currently tormented by his love for his step-mother, who secretly loves him in return. Henrik is distracting himself from his urges by attempting an inconclusive affair with Fredrik’s lusty young servant, Petra.

Between his two marriages, Fredrik had an affair with a prominent actress, Desiree Armfeldt, but she broke off the relationship. Desiree now has a young son named Fredrik, born shortly after her affair with Fredrik Egerman. (It is implied, but never directly stated, that little Fredrik Armfeldt is the son of Fredrik Egerman.)

Desiree is having an affair with an army officer, Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm, who’s married to Charlotte, is an old friend of Anne Egerman.

Fredrik goes to see Desiree one night to share his marital troubles and ask for her help. Fredrik falls into a puddle outside Desiree’s house, and Desiree dresses him in the Count’s nightshirt.

The violently jealous Count shows up and orders Fredrik to leave. After Fredrik goes, the Count and Desiree argue and decide to part amicably. When the Count returns home, he tells Charlotte about the encounter and orders her to tell Anne Egerman about Fredrik’s supposed infidelity.

When Charlotte visits Anne, she confesses her love for the Count, despite everything, and would do anything to be loved in return.

Desiree asks her mother to invite all the characters to her country house for Midsummer Night, the shortest night of the year, a traditional observance in Sweden, when party-goers stay awake all night.

Desiree and Charlotte become temporary allies.

Henrik and Anne, unexpectedly find themselves in a bedroom and after consummating their relationship, they elope with the assistance of Petra and her new lover Frid, a servant.

Charlotte then joins Fredrik in the garden pavilion. Learning his wife is with Fredrik, the Count bursts in and challenges Fredrik to a game of Russian roulette. Fredrik loses but the Count had loaded the revolver with soot so neither party was ever in danger. The Count reunites with his wife, his feelings for her renewed by his jealousy. Desiree comforts Fredrik and he asks her not to leave him. The dilemmas of the four pairs of lovers appear to be happily resolved in the course of a night, said by Frid to have smiled three smiles upon them all.

Critical Status:
Smiles of a Summer Night opened to highly positive reviews and is viewed favorably today. The film won the Bodil Award for Best European Film in 1957. It was nominated for a BAFTA Award in Best Film From Any Source category in 1957.

In 2005 TIME magazine ranked it one of the 100 greatest films since 1923.

The plot, which involves some couples who switch partners on a summer night, has been adapted many times, as the stage musical, A Little Night Music by Stephen Sondheim, Hugh Wheeler and Harold Prince, which opened on Broadway in 1973, and as Woody Allen’s film A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy (1982).

The film premiered at the Red Mill (Swedish: Röda Kvarn) cinema in Stockholm on  December 26, 1955.

Ulla Jacobsson – Anne Egerman
Eva Dahlbeck – Desiree Armfeldt
Harriet Andersson – Petra
Margit Carlqvist – Countess Charlotte Malcolm
Gunnar Björnstrand – Fredrik Egerman
Jarl Kulle – Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm
Åke Fridell – Frid
Björn Bjelfvenstam – Henrik Egerman
Naima Wifstrand – Mrs. Armfeldt
Jullan Kindahl – Beata
Gull Natorp – Malla
Birgitta Valberg – Actress
Bibi Andersson – Actress

Directed, written by Ingmar Bergman
Produced by Allan Ekelund
Cinematography Gunnar Fischer
Edited by Oscar Rosander
Distributed by Svensk Filmindustri

Release date: December 26, 1955

Running time: 108 min