11 September 2015

Nils Poppe

Actor, director and screenwriter Nils Poppe (1908–2000) was often referred to as the Swedish Charlie Chaplin. He is internationally best known for his dramatic part as the jester in Ingmar Bergman's Det sjunde inseglet/The Seventh Sea (1957), but in Sweden he was much loved as a comedian and participated in over 50 films on cinema and TV.

Nils Poppe
Dutch postcard by Scala Theater, Utrecht, 1949. Photo: Meteor-Film. Publicity still for Ballongen/The Balloon (Göran Gentele, Nils Poppe, 1947). Travelling from one time-frame to another by means of a magic balloon, Poppe is seen in this film as an 8th century Viking, a 13th century Turkish Caliph, a 17th century French King and a present-day (1946) college student.

Smash Hit

Nils Poppe was born as Nils Einar Jönsson in Malmö, Sweden, in 1908. His mother was unmarried and brought him into an orphanage. After two years he was adopted by Anders and Amanda Jönsson in Malmö. At school he became interested in acting and while performing in a school play, he already showed his comedy skills.

In 1930, he started as a serious stage actor at the Hippodromteatern in Malmö. He quickly realized that he was better suited for comedy, revue, operetta and musical, especially as he also was a good dancer and singer. Four years later, he moved to Stockholm to appear in the Klangerevyn (Klang Revue) at the Folkets Hus-teatern (People's House Theatre).

There he first did his Charlie Chaplin parody. Nils Poppe often would be compared to Chaplin. The similarities were numerous, even if Poppe over time developed his very own style.

In 1937 he made his film debut and appeared in Swedish romantic comedies like Skicka hem Nr. 7/Send Home Number 7 (Schamyl Bauman, Gideon Wahlberg, 1937) and Adolf i eld och lågor/Adolf on fire (Per-Axel Branner, 1939). His first leading role was in the comedy Melodin från Gamla Stan/The melody of the Old Town (Ragnar Frisk, 1939).

During the 1940s, he became Sweden's leading film comedian. His comedies included Beredskapspojkar/Prepared boys (Sigurd Wallén, 1941) with Carl Reinholdz, and Blåjackor/Sailors (Rolf Husberg, 1945). He directed himself for the first time in Pengar - en tragikomisk saga/Money - a tragicomic saga (1946). At IMDb, Anders Emil Lundin writes: “This film is a proof of Poppe's genius as an actor. Not only does the story with the seven workers in the forest and little innocent Harry Orvar resemble the fairy tale ‘Snow White’ but it also shows that Poppe could play all varieties of roles - from comedy to tragedy.” It earned Poppe the Swedish equivalent of the Oscar.

In Scandinavia, Poppe is probably best remembered for his character Fabian Bom, which he introduced in Soldat Bom/Soldier Bom (Lars-Eric Kjellgren, 1948) with Gunnar Björnstrand. Bom is the very meticulous stationmaster, who makes sure that the train leaves exactly on the second. But his beloved Plum-Plum, the major's daughter, is infatuated with army officers. To regain her attention, he joins the army. Bom becomes a soldier who loves the military training, long marches as well as hard labour as punishment. He meets Agnes, who falls madly in love with him. The film became a smash hit and ran for 48 weeks in Stockholm cinemas It was the start of a series of 7 films around Bom, including Papa Bom/Father Bom (Lars-Eric Kjellgren, 1949) and Tull-Bom/Customs Officer Bom (Lars-Eric Kjellgren, 1951), with Inga Landgré, who had become his wife in 1949.

Nils Poppe
Dutch postcard by Scala Theater, Utrecht, 1950. Photo: publicity for Tappa inte sugen/Don't give up (Lars-Eric Kjellgren, 1947).

A skillful blend of realistic drama

During the 1950s, Nils Poppe continued to star in Swedish comedies. The Bom films were international successes and especially popular in Germany. Another popular returning character was Sten Stensson, an academic upholding a high moral standard. He figured in Ballongen/The balloon (Göran Gentele, Nils Poppe, 1947) and Ljuset från Lund/The light from Lund (Hans Lagerkvist, 1955).

It surprised many when renowned film director Ingmar Bergman decided to cast him as the street performer Jof in his drama Det sjunde inseglet/The Seventh Seal (1957) opposite Max von Sydow and Gunnar Björnstrand. Tom Wiener at AllMovie: “The Seventh Seal is a skillful blend of realistic drama (the disillusioned knight returning from the Crusades in a land wracked by plague and madness) and the allegorical (most famously, the chess game and further encounters with a black-robed figure representing Death). The historical setting provides a convenient vehicle for Bergman to deal with issues of death and spirituality that are ultimately timeless.”

Poppe showed with his role that he could also convey much warmth and compassion. He would later participate in another Bergman film, Djävulens öga/The Devil's Eye (Ingmar Bergman, 1960), starring Jarl Kulle and Bibi Andersson.

After a period of inactivity in the early 1960s, Poppe started to work for television. In 1966, he took over the running of Fredriksdal´s Open-air Theatre in Helsingborg, where he produced a comedy for each summer. Through a deal with Swedish Television, he managed to make the theatre known throughout the country and also revitalized his own career. People flocked from all over Sweden to see Poppe in farces like Charley’s Aunt. He also played in productions of other theatres. Particularly memorable is his Tevye in the musical Fiddler on the Roof at the Helsingborg City Theatre in 1979.

He retired from the stage at the age of 85, still able to dance, but a few years later he suffered from several strokes, which left him both blind, speechless and immobile. In 2000, he finally died in Helsingborg, Sweden, at the age of 92. Nils Poppe was married twice; first to actress Inga Landgré (1949–1959), and then to actress Gunilla Poppe (née Sundberg) (1965–2000) who was 29 years younger than him. He had two children with each wife. They are actress Anja Landgré, Dan Landgré, dancer/actress Mia Poppe and troubadour/actor Thomas Poppe.

Scene from Soldat Bom/Soldier Bom (1948). Source: SandraF1990 (YouTube).

Official Trailer Det sjunde inseglet/The Seventh Seal (1958). Source: The Cultbox (YouTube).

This is a post for Postcard Friendship Friday, hosted by Beth at the blog The Best Hearts are Crunchy. You can visit her by clicking on the button below.

Sources: Tom Wiener (AllMovie), Hal Erickson (AllMovie), Anders Emil Lundin (IMDb), Peter Robsahm (Find A Grave), Wikipedia (Swedish and English) and IMDb.

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