Director: Bo Widerberg
Screenplay: Bo Widerberg
Based on a Novel by: Maj Sjöwall, Per Wahlöö
Starring: Carl-Gustaf Lindstedt, Sven Wollter, Thomas Hellberg, Håkan Serner, Carl-Axel Heiknert, Ingvar Hirdwall
Country: Sweden
Running Time: 112 min
Year: 1976
BBFC Certificate: 15

Bo Widerberg’s Swedish thriller from 1976, The Man on the Roof (a.k.a. Mannen på taket), was based on the novel ‘The Abominable Man’ by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. The book was part of the Martin Beck series, which was hugely popular both in Sweden and abroad. The BBC even produced radio dramatisations a decade ago in the UK and TV adaptions of the novels are still going strong today.

The Man on the Roof itself was very popular in Sweden and is still considered one of the best Swedish crime films ever made. It was a big critical and commercial success in the country and won the Swedish Film Institute’s Guldbagge Award for Best Film, as well as Best Actor (for Håkan Serner, rather than the lead, Carl-Gustaf Lindstedt, who played Beck himself).

Overseas it’s not as well known but, hoping to address that situation, Radiance are releasing The Man on the Roof on Blu-ray. Intrigued by the sound of the film, I got hold of a copy and my thoughts follow.

The film begins with the brutal murder of Stig Nyman (Hadar Johansson), a police officer in Stockholm. Beck (Carl-Gustaf Lindstedt), a senior detective dedicated to his work, is assigned to investigate the case. He is aided by his team, including the unassuming but intelligent Einar Rönn (Håkan Serner) and Gunvald Larsson (Sven Wollter), a brash, confident younger officer.

As they look into who might have committed the crime, Beck and his cohorts discover that Nyman wasn’t as admirable as some would lead them to believe.

As they get closer to the truth, however, a mysterious man takes up residence on the roof of an apartment building in the city. Armed with a sniper rifle, he appears to be targeting only police officers in his terrifying siege. Beck and his fellow officers must race against time to end the killer’s reign of terror.

Inspired by American thrillers such as The French Connection and Bullitt, Widerberg takes a gritty, naturalistic but still exciting approach to the crime thriller. He strives for realism throughout, using real pig’s blood in the squibs and gore effects, for example.

Widerberg’s ‘realistic’ approach was reportedly quite chaotic during production, using largely real bystanders in street scenes (they placed newspaper ads for the finale, attracting a huge crowd) and some actual police officers and criminals appear in the police station sequences. By all accounts, Bo was a chaotic director in general with the shoot overrunning a great deal but, nevertheless, everything comes together perfectly.

The authors were groundbreaking in writing crime novels that were more interested in social critique than in solving a ‘whodunnit’ mystery. This can be seen in the film too. Take the final act, for instance. The case is swiftly tied up as the police are forced to deal with the sniper taking potshots at them (though the strands are, of course, linked). Whilst the action here is thrilling to watch, the police’s efforts are largely disastrous, with their chief’s decisions all failing miserably. It’s only when the officers make their own plans and refuse to listen to their boss that they have some success. Revelations about why Nyman and other officers were targetted also paint a damning picture of the Swedish police force.

I think Widerberg’s film was influential too. It wasn’t the first Beck adaptation but its success and approach likely helped pave the way for the swathes of ‘Nordic noir’ films and TV series that followed and are still popular to this day.

On a technical level, the film is also impressive, with some naturalistic yet atmospheric photography matched by fantastic editing. It was Sylvia Ingemarsson’s first feature film in this role but she went on to become Ingmar Bergman’s go-to editor. Not only does she expertly intercut elements of the investigation and craft some perfectly timed suspense and action sequences, but she also manages to effectively handle the complete change of pace the film experiences. About two-thirds in, we suddenly shift from the deliberately paced, methodical investigation of the police officer’s murder to the thrilling rooftop siege of the title. It’s a purposeful shock to the system but doesn’t feel terribly jarring, as it might have been in the wrong hands.

The dialogue is equally as wonderful, with some fantastic conversations throughout, often laced with dry humour. The film would work a treat even without the action-packed finale, as it’s a pleasure to listen to the actors deliver their lines.

This is aided, of course, by some fine performances. Carl-Gustaf Lindstedt was previously best known for comedic roles. As such, he seemed an odd choice to Swedish viewers to play Beck, as well as due to the character being described in the novels as a slightly younger, more handsome man. Nevertheless, Lindstedt is excellent, heading a cast full of beautifully nuanced performances. My favourite is probably Håkan Serner who, as previously mentioned, was awarded for his efforts in the film. He’s subtly very funny through his quiet reactions and droll delivery.

Overall, The Man on the Roof is a brilliantly constructed detective thriller-cum-action-movie. It’s an exceptional piece of work that grips from start to finish, expertly handling a major change of pace. Whilst clearly influenced by a few American thrillers, it went on to inspire countless imitators yet remains head-and-shoulders above most of them.

Film:

The Man on the Roof is out now on region-free Blu-Ray, released by Radiance Films. The picture looks gorgeous, with a rich depth of tones, clear details and a natural grain structure. I’ve used screengrabs throughout this review to give you an idea of how it looks. The audio comes through nice and clear too.

Limited Edition Special Features:

– High-Definition digital transfer by Svensk Filmindustri
– Uncompressed mono PCM audio
– Introduction by Bo Widerberg (1978, 3 mins)
– Scene-select audio commentary by critic and genre expert Peter Jilmstad on topics covering the film, realism, the cast, Sjöwall and Wahlöö, the crash and more
– With a View to Realism – A documentary by Ronny Svensson and Markus Strömqvist on the making of The Man on the Roof featuring extensive interviews with the cast and crew (2004, 81 mins)
– Bo Widerberg – An intimate portrait of the filmmaker by Karsten Wedel in which Widerberg discusses his films and approach to filmmaking (1977, 51 mins)
– Rapport – Bo Widerberg and Carl Gustaf Lindstedt are interviewed during the shooting of The Man on the Roof for SVT TV (1975, 3 mins)
– Original trailer
– Gallery of promotional materials
– Reversible sleeve featuring designs based on original posters
– Limited edition 52-page booklet with contributions from Widerberg biographer and critic Mårten Blomkvist, archival writing by Widerberg, Anders Marklund on genre filmmaking in Sweden, Daniel Brodén on the film and society, and an overview of contemporary reviews
– Limited edition of 2000 copies, presented in full-height Scanavo packaging with removable OBI strip leaving packaging free of certificates and markings

The selected scene commentary by Peter Jilmstad runs for roughly 50 mins in total. It starts out by discussing the work of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, who wrote the novel the film was based on. Then it moves on to the primary cast and crew, as well as discussing the production, reception and what makes the film special. The delivery is a touch dry and monotone perhaps but it’s well-researched and consistently illuminating.

‘With a View to Realism’ is an excellent feature-length documentary that covers every aspect of the film in detail. It’s filled with enjoyable anecdotes from the shoot, in particular. It’s a warts-and-all affair, with the contributors unafraid of telling some eye-opening stories. Widerberg sounds like he would go to ridiculous, often dangerous lengths for realism and his vision for the film. I was also happy to see the great Roy Anderson contribute. He was the 2nd assistant director on the film.

The ‘Bo Widerberg’ documentary, which is also pretty lengthy at 51 minutes, contains behind-the-scenes footage from The Man on the Roof, as well as other films and plays Widerberg directed, providing an effective look at his approach to the job. The documentary is largely based around interviews with Widerberg seemingly at home and on holiday with his family. It has a loose style that’s admirable but can feel a little meandering and aimless in places. I appreciated seeing some clips from his other films though.

The Widerberg introduction to the film is taken from the original Swedish TV premiere and is used as a warning and explanation for the violent and graphic content in the film. It’s an interesting piece.

‘Rapport’ is an archive on-set interview with Widerberg and Lindstedt (very briefly). The director is excitable here, captured during the filming of the famous helicopter scene. He claims to feel like a 15-year-old boy whilst making it.

I wasn’t provided with a copy of the booklet to comment on that, unfortunately.

Overall then, it’s an impressively substantial package for a film that deserves to be much better known outside of Sweden. Very highly recommended.

Disc/package:

The Man on the Roof - Radiance
Film
Disc/Package
4.5Overall:
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