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Sawdust and Tinsel (1953)

Gycklarnas afton (original title)
Not Rated | | Drama | 9 April 1956 (USA)
The complicated relationships between a circus ringmaster, his estranged wife and his lover.


Ingmar Bergman
1 nomination. See more awards »


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Complete credited cast:
Åke Grönberg ... Albert Johansson
Harriet Andersson ... Anne
Hasse Ekman ... Frans
Anders Ek ... Frost
Gudrun Brost ... Alma
Annika Tretow ... Agda
Erik Strandmark ... Jens
Gunnar Björnstrand ... Mr. Sjuberg
Curt Löwgren Curt Löwgren ... Blom
Kiki Kiki ... The Dwarf


While traveling in caravan through the country of Sweden, one member of the decadent Alberti Circus tells the owner and ringmaster Albert Johansson a sad story about the clown Frost: seven years ago, his wife Alma was surprised by him bathing naked in a lake with a regiment. When the circus arrives in the town where Albert's wife Agda and sons live, he decides to pay a visit with his young mistress Anne to a famous local troupe to borrow some capes, hats and vests for their tonight show. They are humiliated by the director Mr. Sjuberg, but he lends the pieces, and the lead actor Frans gives an unsuccessful pass on Anne. When Albert decides to visit Agda, the jealous Anne meets Frans, who seduces her with an apparently valuable necklace, and they have a love affair. Anne finds that the necklace is actually worthless and returns to the circus. Meanwhile, Agda refuses to accept Albert back and he sees Anne leaving the theater and going to the jewelry. During the exhibition, Albert and ... Written by Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


DESPERATELY they fought the desires, the passions that dragged them down deeper and deeper into... "The Naked Night" See more »




Not Rated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »






Release Date:

9 April 1956 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Sawdust and Tinsel See more »

Filming Locations:

Arild, Skåne län, Sweden See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Sandrews See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


This film is part of the Criterion Collection, spine #412. See more »


Anne: I can't help it if my dress smells of manure. Everything in our wagon does.
See more »

Alternate Versions

The missing scene (above) is in the Criterion Collection release. See more »


Referenced in Ingmar Bergman on Life and Work (1998) See more »

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User Reviews

has gained a reputation as a triumph of Bergaman's pre 'Seventh Seal' period; rightfully so
17 December 2007 | by Quinoa1984See all my reviews

Sawdust and Tinsel- or The Swedish Master, or The Naked Night, take your pick on a title- is about a man who can't stand himself in his profession, but loves it so much at the same time: the low-brow sensibility of it, the wildness, the freedom to cut it loose with drink or with mad gimmicks during a show, and abandon of the rules when confronted with the law. But he also has a love whom he has his problems with, and her with him as well, leading to an infidelity drama that plays out harshly. Ingmar Bergman said this was a personal film for him, in a big sense, because of the connection to the excitement of the profession being played out against personal turmoil and trouble in professional terms (Bergman even said it was easier for a scrawny director to have a "fat actor" play the part of Arthur). It was reviled by critics and a box-office flop- one of the more expensive films, relatively to others, Bergman made up to that point.

It's a film that, seen years later now through the prism of Bergman as one of the world's true artists in the profession, also is deceptively high-brow about the world of low-brow, where experimentation filters in early on and Bergman makes one of his more distinctive marks as a director more-so than a screenwriter (usually, however much Bergman is always an absorbing and challenging director of scenes, writes like no other). The opening scenes, with the story of the sad/pathetic clown Frost (could be a distraction if overdone, but it's an interesting side-not throughout the film as a reminder of true melancholy), are shot like some crazy silent movie, where all we hear are sounds of laughter and little sound effects, brightly lit, shot and composed like some manic tale of desperation and defeat and humiliation, stylized so highly one might think a mad German too control of the reins and made it his own. It's not something all of Bergman's fans will like, but it shows him, even in 1953, trying new things, letting himself be free with the material as he sees fit.

Then, after this, we get into the "typical" Bergmania; a sort of square-block played out between Arthur, who is meeting his ex-wife in the town he's at for the circus performance (the actress playing his wife, I forget her name, is brilliant at displaying just enough pragmatism to show her as the most sane of anyone in the film), and Arthur's current beau Anne is somewhat attracted to a sneaky actor named Frans, who plays a wicked game of arm wrestling and leading to a somewhat Albert and Anne, and how this casts a dark shadow on the rest of the proceedings- including through the circus performance, which becomes a daring act of do by Bergman where he makes things effective once squaring in on the 'duel' between Arthur and Frans. For those that love Bergman doing relationship drama, this is solid, if not exceptional, stuff on display. And the ending, truth be told, might just be one of the most engrossing, and completely bleak (if you could imagine that Bergmanites) that he ever made (who doesn't cry with the scene with the bear?)

It might sound like Bergman has made a depressing little tome on circus life, the sorrows of living with the filth and lice and reckless frivolity of life as vagabond entertainers. But it's also a lot of fun, as the low-brow material displays another side to Bergman, which is something close to weird, comic excess. Sometimes Bergman even mocks his own world; a scene with Albert asking Gunnar Bjornstrand's theater director (the latter always shown in low-angle, a smart choice) makes the theater come off satirically compared to Bergman's more serious treatments of the profession in his films. And, seriously, where else will we get a dwarf tossing in a work by this filmmaker? And meanwhile, he also has a great turn from his would-be Emil Jannings in Åke Grönberg, who is big and over-emotional and strung-out on his excesses of anger and resentment, mostly with himself (watch for that gun!) And Andersson, of course, is ravishing as she was- if not erotically as such- in Monika, filmed the same year.

Now finally available just a bit easier than previously thanks to Criterion, Sawdust and Tinsel is a fine spectacle of a director branching out stylistically (if not to the spectacular Felliniesque aspirations it might have as a pre La Strada or The Clowns), while keeping his feet tethered to his personal cinema. Not quite in my top 10 of Bergman's, but considering how many great films he made it's close.

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