Clu Gulager passed away in August 2022 at the age of 93 and, throughout his 65(!) year career, appeared in a wide array of supporting gigs -- from Don Siegel's THE KILLERS and THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, to A FORCE OF ONE and HUNTER'S BLOOD -- but rarely received top-billing. This quirky Swedish feature, which never made it to US theaters, was one of those rare exceptions. Director Lars G. Thelestam co-wrote the script with Max Lundgren (best known in Sweden for his popular children's books), adapted from the later's 1965 novel Gangsterboken [The Gangster Book]. The pair lace the story with eccentric characters and apprehensions about American influence, while also providing Gulager with one of his most unusual and flamboyant roles... When notorious US gangster Glenn Mortenson (Gulager) abruptly moves to Vitaby, a sleepy town in southern Sweden, the locals are justifiably curious. Outwardly charming, Mortensen arranges a press conference in order to allay any fears and, before long, has starstruck girls hanging around outside his house, little boys intrigued by Glenn's imposing black bodyguard and Sheriff Anders (Ernst Günther) suspicious due to this slick outsider's long-standing history of murder, smuggling and narcotics. Accompanying Mortensen is past resident Nils (Carl-Axel Heiknert), who returns to Vitaby and his family after a 30-year absence. Mortenson also starts to hold huge rallies in town, complete with speeches, bands and a chorus of Swedish schoolgirls, as he works the gullible attendees like it was an old-fashioned revival meeting -- even passing around the hat for donations. What the people don't know (but we do) is that Mortenson is actually a vicious thug who's often downright terrifying. He invites a cute 15-year-old admirer into his home for a "chat" and rapes her (off-screen, thankfully), mercilessly beats the shit out of a helpless drunk, and shows up plastered at the home of pretty teacher Maria (Anne-Lise Gabold), slapping her about when she refuses his advances. Meanwhile, the sheriff becomes increasingly obsessed with stopping this "evil" newcomer... The screenplay shambles along, briefly focusing on various townsfolk -- a bullied little boy; a raunchy vagrant; an elderly veteran who digs a foxhole in his yard and aims his rifle at passersby -- but is at its best when sticking to Gulager's sly, brutal yet magnetic character. Sporting a distinctly loud ‘American' wardrobe (wide lapels, white loafers, turtlenecks, sunglasses), Gulager only speaks English throughout, as do most of the characters he directly interacts with, while the rest of the film is in Swedish with subtitles. Cannes 1966 Best Actor winner Per Oscarsson (Henning Carlsen's adaptation of Knut Hamsun's HUNGER) co-stars as one of the few who refuses to buy into Mortenson's malarkey, but with the exception of a lengthy monologue about Sweden's Humanist beliefs in compassion and responsibility, he's given little to do. There's also color cinematography by Jörgen Persson (ELVIRA MADIGAN). At its core, GANGSTERFILMEN offers a chilling depiction of how other countries perceive the US -- seemingly benevolent but actually manipulative, power-hungry and willing to destroy anyone who disobeys them -- and while Mortenson's con man routine might seem a bit obvious, think of all the people who still continue to fall for this type of phony, religion-swaddled, self-serving bullshit.
© 2022 by Steven Puchalski.