Den Starkaste (The Strongest) was co-directed by Alf Sjoberg and cinematographer Axel Lindblom the latter having formulated the story whilst out filming documentary footage in the Barents Sea in the early twenties. Linblom clearly loved the outdoor life and quit cinema after this film to become a farmer. Here his mastery of capturing snowscapes is superbly counter-balanced with the cramped interiors of wooden sailing ships just as his close-ups of human emotional interplay are juxtaposed by long shots of man in the uncertain enormity of nature.
The film follows a group of Arctic hunters as they take their boats into the heart of brightness during the summer months of seal and polar bear hunting: harsh work if you can get it and even harder for a bunch of southern intellectual film makers. It makes Man of Arran look like a day trip to Southport (mind you, Lord Street on a Saturday night?!)
Sjoberg and Lindblom mix what looks like documentary footage with their action, there are a number of animals harmed in the film and one hopes that this wasn’t just for the benefit of the entertainment.
|Bengt Djurberg and Gun Holmquist|
|Maria Röhr, Hjalmar Peters, Anders Henrikson, Bengt Djurberg & Gun Holmqvist|
On his way to port, he encounters willowy Ingeborg (Gun Holmquist, another Swedish superior being…) the daughter of whiskery Larsen (Hjalmer Peters) the captain of The Viking (natch!) an ocean-going hunting vessel. Ingeborg would like her father to spend more time at home but he wants to be able to hand his ship (and daughter) over to a man he can trust.
|Ole about to take aim|
The Viking’s crew prepare for their summer campaign and set off for their last night on the town, a fight breaks out (as it seems it must) and in the kerfuffle a rival crew member steals the rifle...this will be important later on.
|Bengt Djurberg and Gösta Gustafson|
Gustaf joins the crew of The Maud, captained by the even more whiskery Olsen (Civert Braekmo) and which includes a hunter called Jens (Gösta Gustafson of Sir Arne's Treasure and later Summer with Monika) who carries a familiar rifle…
|Gustaf out muscles Ole|
All looks lost until The Viking sends Ole on a boat to rescue him… the latter rather disappointed when he discovers who he’s saved. Now things really kick on and the action and emotion starts to peak with rivalry, spiced by mistrust, envy and the question of that rifle...
Den Starkaste ranks with many a good Scandanavian silent outdoor epic. The story is an old one but told very well with a good narrative focus and superb use of those contrapuntal rhythms of man and nature.
There are no weak links in the cast with Henrikson and Djurberg excelling in the rivalry and as the subject of their competition (the girl not the rifle, although she is called Gun), Holmquist injects the right mix of doe-eyed and disaffected – if Ole’s the future she’s not looking forward to it and she reserves her affection for her father until the right man comes walking along the road…
|Gun Holmquist and Bengt Djurberg courtesy of SFI|
Once again Stephen Horne was on hand or rather hands, to add excellent improvisations to the visuals. Whether performing a pre-composed score or making it up on the spot, he puts so much lyricism into his playing – music for the big country and huge emotions!
|Axel Lindblom on site|
More detail on Den Starkaste is available on the Swedish Film Institute database which is where I've appropriated some of the above images - the SFI watermark is a give-away.